Have you ever wondered who invented some of the most famous sports in the world? Well, you’ve come to the right place. And, believe it or not, many of the sports you know and love have some very strange origin stories. Some go back thousands of years, while others were only recently invented. And while the history of many of sports don’t have a clear-cut beginning, we still have various pieces of evidence of when they were popular in certain civilizations. Curious to hear about where your favorite sports come from? Here are 25 Crazy Origin Stories Of Famous Sports That Are Strange But True.
Billiards, or Pool, was first a lawn game developed in the 1500’s in Northern Europe and France. At that time, it resembled modern-day croquet. Eventually, it evolved in-doors and was placed on a table with green carpet to simulate grass. Rather than struck, the balls were shoved with maces. Later, the cue stick was developed in place of the mace as the mace’s large head was too inconvenient to use. After the industrial revolution, the game evolved rapidly and became more popular.
Beginning as early as the 13th century, Cricket started with boys bowling at a tree stump or through the gate of a sheep pen. The ball was originally a stone until around the 17th century, and the bat was just a large tree branch. The game didn’t really evolve until the 19th century when new techniques and rules were cemented into the game.
Lacrosse was originally a Native American field game known as stickball. The game was mostly played by the Algonquian tribe near the Great Lakes. It was a major religious and athletic event for them with 100 to 100,000 people playing at one time. The rules at the time were very simple: Don’t touch the ball with your hands. Eventually, French missionaries witnessed the game and called it “Lacrosse.”
With roots in ancient western civilization, Badminton was originally called Battledore. In the 1600’s, it was a simple game of knocking the shuttlecock back and forth without letting it hit the ground. This evolved in British occupied India, where a net and new rules were added. The name eventually changed to Badminton.
Starting in the middle ages, Rugby was known as folk football or mob football and would be played between neighboring villages. An unlimited number of players could be involved and they would fight over a pig’s bladder. Rugby and its rules developed later in the 19th century.
Polo started in Persia around the 6th century BCE. It didn’t actually start out as a game but rather a training exercise for military units on horseback. For the soldiers, it was more like a miniature battle. Eventually, the training became a popular game played by both men and women and spread across the world from Arabia to China. As time passed, it entered into India, and British officers adopted the game, calling it “Polo” which is the Balti word for “Ball.”
Bowling can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt. A set of stones used for pins and a ball was found in a child’s tomb dating back to 3,200 BCE. But, the modern version probably started in Germany as a religious ceremony. From the 3rd to the 4th century CE, church parishioners would put a “kegel” or club at the end of a rolling lane. It represented a “heathen.” They would roll a ball at it as a symbolic act of cleansing themselves of sin. The game continued to evolve over time, becoming quite popular in many western countries.
In the 1950’s, Californian surfers wanted to take their boards to the streets and started inventing skateboards in the process. No one really knows who the first person to start it was, however. Over the course of five decades, the sport saw two crashes with many thinking it was a fad. It didn’t maintain its popularity until the 80’s and 90’s and eventually became what we know of it today.
Volleyball was originally called “mintonette,” and was invented by William G. Morgan in 1895. He wanted it to be a combination of basketball, baseball, tennis, and handball. The original net was only 6 feet, 6 inches and official rules weren’t set up until 1928.
In the early 1800’s, Micmac Indians in Nova Scotia played a game using a stick and a wooden block. Many believe it was influenced by the Irish game of hurling. Its popularity spread throughout Canada and the French name hoquet, meaning Shepherd’s Stick, became hockey. In the earliest versions of the game, thirty players could play on the ice and rocks were frozen into the ice to mark the goals.
The first mention of handball dates back to 600 BCE on an Athens tombstone. It was also used in Germany as a way to train soccer players during the off-season. However, it wasn’t until an official game was played in Berlin in 1917 that the game entered the modern age. Indoor handball was later developed in 1940, and in 1972, it was introduced into the Olympics.
Skiing is one of the oldest sports in history, dating all the way back to Cro-Magnon man during the last Ice Age. Ski-like objects were discovered in Northern Russia from 6,000 BCE. It wasn’t until the 1760’s that skiing took its next step forward when it was used by the Norwegian military. They held downhill races while shooting at the same time. The first national race took place in Oslo in 1860. It made its first Olympic appearance in 1924.
Unlike many other sports, we actually know who started Ultimate Frisbee. In 1968, Joel Silver brought up the idea to Columbia High School student council. Within the next year, the first game was played between two groups of students using a Wham-O Master disc. More rules were made in 1970, and the first intercollegiate game between Rutgers and Princeton was played in 1972.
Most believe Golf was first created in Scotland, but that’s only partially true. Historians point back to the many different stick-and-ball games invented in the Middle Ages as the origin of the game. The Scottish merely adopted one of them and created their own rules. The first mention of Golf on record was by King James II of Scotland in 1457. The two things the Scottish contributed to the game were its defining features, namely getting the ball in a hole with as few strokes as possible and digging a hole into the ground.
Boxing probably first started when one person threw a fist at another person. Sumerian carvings of people boxing go all the way back to 3,000 BCE, and the first recorded official boxing event dates to 688 BCE at the 23rd Olympiad. It’s believed that even in 1,500 BCE, the people in Minoan Crete used gloves and helmets during boxing matches rather than the common bare fist boxing. The Greeks considered the sport their most dangerous and even have a quote saying, “A boxer’s victory is gained in blood.”
The first organized motor race was in 1887 by “Le Velocipede” in Paris. Only one competitor showed up, so the race was canceled. In future years, when races were underway, the winning speeds only reached 10.5 mph (17 km/h). As technology improved and races gained more notoriety, speeds naturally increased. From this point all the way up to 1928, formulas were developed on the weight and size of an engine for the Grand Prix. Those were abandoned afterward for Formula Libre rules. Well-known car manufacturers such as Bugatti, Peugeot, and Ferrari all came out of this era. Modern Formula One came out of the 1946 era.
The origins of Tennis is heavily disputed. While the official game and rules are attributed to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield in 1873, many claim similar versions of the game were played before him. Indeed, the game was a clear adaptation of badminton. It quickly came to the United States and gained vast popularity with the first official U.S. Tennis Association starting in 1881.
Frisbee Golf, or Disc Golf, has a blurry history of people using discs with golf rules. However, by 1965 after seeing kids playing the game, George Sappenfield came up with the idea to contact Wham-O to make the idea more official. Together, they held a Rose Bowl promotional event. Afterward, however, things died out and nothing was continued by Wham-O for almost a decade. It wasn’t until the late 70’s that Wham-O realized the business value of promoting disc golf. In 1975, disc golf was included in the World Frisbee Championships and the game took off from there.
Dodgeball started in Africa over two-hundred years ago, but it wasn’t for recreation and was far more deadly. African tribes would throw large rocks or petrified matter at each other. The object of the game was to knock out their opponent and then hit them further by pelting them with more rocks. Teammates had to defend the fallen player by throwing their own rocks at the attacks. When Missionary Dr. James H. Carlisle witnessed the game, he brought it back to Britain where it was adapted into a much less brutal game.
Broomball has many similarities to hockey except players don’t wear skates and instead of a puck, they use a ball. It’s believed the first game started in Canada when street workers played with corn brooms and a soccer ball. Eventually, the game came down to Minnesota, where it gained widespread popularity and is considered the official birthplace of the modern day sport. Leagues didn’t start until the 1960’s, and the first championship was held in 1966.
Believe it or not, Basketball has a clear origin story going back to 1881 when James Naismith was a physical education instructor at Springfield College. During the winter months, students needed something indoors for exercise to match the physical intensity of Lacrosse and American Football, but nothing really worked. So, Naismith went to the task of creating a game, combining Rugby, Lacrosse, Soccer, and an old game called Duck on a Rock. After receiving two baskets from the janitor, he hung them high up on the gym walls and developed the rules, positions, and 15 minute time periods. The game was an instant success and spread like wildfire. While the game has been somewhat tinkered with, most of the game has remained intact since Naismith invented it.
Much like skiing, surfing is one of the oldest sports on Earth. Riding waves with boards began in Western Polynesia three thousand years ago. Initially, it was used as a way for fishermen to get to shore easily after catching fish. In the 15th century, people in the Sandwich Isles would participate in “he’enalu” or wave-sliding. Of course, in modern times, surfing has never been more popular with professionals pushing the limits every day.
Also known as “Gridiron Football,” it was originally a combination of rugby and soccer played primarily at American Universities during the 19th century. Different versions of the game were played at various colleges like Harvard and McGill. Eventually, a combination came about thanks to the father of American football, Walter Camp. He guided the Intercollegiate Football Association and developed the rules that we know today.
An enduring myth claims a man named Abner Doubleday invented baseball, but as it turns out, it isn’t true. The origins of the game go back to the 18th century with two other sports: rounders and cricket. Children played several variations of the game at schoolyards and soon enough, adults started to get in on the action. In 1845, the New York Knickerbockers Baseball Club was created, and Alexander Joy Cartwright shaped many of the rules, including the diamond shape of the field and abolishing the dangerous practice of throwing balls at players to get them out.
Soccer, or more commonly called Football, can be traced back to many different origins. The contemporary version dates back 100 years when it broke off from English rugby in 1863. However, there’s evidence the exercise of kicking a ball around goes back to a Chinese military practice in third century BCE. It was called “Tsu’ Chu,” and they used a ball filled with feathers. Players were not able to use their hands and had to utilize every other form of their body while being attacked by other players. Other civilizations had their own versions as well, including the Greeks’ “Episkyros” and the Romans’ “Harpastum.” Of course, the act of kicking a ball around for recreation likely pre-dates human historical record.