The Rules of 100 Sports Clearly Explained in Short Videos: Baseball, Football, Jai Alai, Sumo Wrestling, Cricket, Pétanque & Much More

When you get down to it, every sport is its rules. This leaves aside great his­tor­i­cal weight and cul­tur­al asso­ci­a­tions, grant­ed, but if you don’t know a sport’s rules, not only can you not play it, you can’t appre­ci­ate it (the many child­hood after­noons I thrilled to tele­vised 49ers games with­out hav­ing any idea what was hap­pen­ing on the field notwith­stand­ing). What’s worse, you can’t dis­cuss it. “There is a shared knowl­edge of sports in Amer­i­ca that is unlike our shared knowl­edge of any­thing else,” as Chuck Kloster­man once put it. “When­ev­er I have to hang out with some­one I’ve nev­er met before, I always find myself secret­ly think­ing, ‘I hope this dude knows about sports. I hope this dude knows about sports. I hope this dude knows about sports.’ ”

Kloster­man is a cul­tur­al crit­ic, a posi­tion not at odds with his sports fanati­cism, and he sure­ly knows that his obser­va­tion holds well beyond the U.S.: just con­sid­er how deeply so much of the world is invest­ed in foot­ball. Despite its rel­a­tive sim­plic­i­ty, many Amer­i­cans nev­er quite grasped the work­ings of what we call soc­cer. But thanks to a Youtu­ber called Ninh Ly, we can learn in just over four min­utes.

Ly’s expla­na­tion of asso­ci­a­tion football/soccer is just one of near­ly 100 such videos on his chan­nel, each of which clear­ly and con­cise­ly lays out the rules of a dif­fer­ent sport. An Amer­i­can who watch­es it imme­di­ate­ly becomes not just able to under­stand a game, but pre­pared to engage with the cul­tures of foot­ball-enthu­si­ast coun­tries from Mex­i­co to Malaysia, Turkey to Thai­land.

Though British, Ly just as cogent­ly explains sports from the Unit­ed States, even the rel­a­tive­ly com­pli­cat­ed ones: bas­ket­ball, for instance, or what most of the world calls Amer­i­can foot­ball (as well as its are­na, Cana­di­an, and twice-failed XFL vari­ants), a game whose devot­ed fans include no less acclaimed-in-Europe an Amer­i­can nov­el­ist than than Paul Auster. Pre­vi­ous­ly on Open Cul­ture, we fea­tured Auster’s cor­re­spon­dence with J.M. Coet­zee on the sub­ject of sports, where­in the for­mer probes his own enthu­si­asm for foot­ball, and the lat­ter his own enthu­si­asm for crick­et. “If I look into my own heart and ask why, in the twi­light of my days, I am still — some­times — pre­pared to spend hours watch­ing crick­et on tele­vi­sion,” writes Coet­zee, “I must report that, how­ev­er absurd­ly, how­ev­er wist­ful­ly, I con­tin­ue to look out for moments of hero­ism, moments of nobil­i­ty.”

Any­one can enjoy such moments when and where they come, but only if they know the rules of crick­et in the first place. Ly has, of course, made a crick­et explain­er, which in four min­utes ful­ly elu­ci­dates a sport as obscure to some as it is beloved of oth­ers. He’s also cov­ered much more spe­cial­ized sports, includ­ing fenc­ing, curl­ing, pick­le­ball, jai alai, axe throw­ing, and sumo wrestling. (Unable to “ignore the over­whelm­ing demand,” he’s even explained the rules of quid­ditch, a game adapt­ed from the Har­ry Pot­ter books.) After a cou­ple of hours with his playlist (embed­ded below), you’ll come away ready to ascend to a new plane of appre­ci­a­tion for sports­man­ship in all its var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions. If you’re any­thing like me, you’ll then revis­it your ear­li­est edu­ca­tion in these sub­jects: Sports Car­toons.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jack Ker­ouac Was a Secret, Obses­sive Fan of Fan­ta­sy Base­ball

Albert Camus’ Lessons Learned from Play­ing Goalie: “What I Know Most Sure­ly about Moral­i­ty and Oblig­a­tions, I Owe to Foot­ball”

Mon­ty Python’s Philosopher’s Foot­ball Match: The Epic Show­down Between the Greeks & Ger­mans (1972)

Read and Hear Famous Writ­ers (and Arm­chair Sports­men) J.M. Coet­zee and Paul Auster’s Cor­re­spon­dence

Jorge Luis Borges: “Soc­cer is Pop­u­lar Because Stu­pid­i­ty is Pop­u­lar”

The Weird World of Vin­tage Sports

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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