Sports: The Funnel Theory

In my last post, I explained why some sports are better than others. There is an semi-empirical test (a thought experiment really) to evaluate the relative merits of sports too. That last post had gone on way too long though, I had to separate it out.

(The funnel theory was developed in collaboration with Mr. Kid. In keeping with the psedononymous nature of this site, I will only use his real name if he requests.)

The funnel theory was born in 1997 or so, when I got a new roommate. I was then in my volleyball and basketball years, playing 5 or 6 times a week. He also claimed to be a sportsman. What sport did he play? Underwater Hockey. I’m not kidding, underwater hockey. Here’s the best link I could find. Needless to say, I didn’t think much of this. I grew more contemptuous when he claimed to be one of the top 20 players in the world. Big deal! I could be in the top 500 just by jumping in the pool. If I can avoid drowning, I’d make it to the top 100. Anyone who plays professional basketball, football, baseball, soccer, tennis — if they chose to play underwater hockey instead, they would be the best player in the world. But instead, they chose to play a real sport instead. This insight birthed the funnel theory.

Imagine all the people in the world at the top of the funnel. At the top are sports anyone can play. Hopscotch, Hide and Seek, etc. As you move downwards, the sports get more difficult, and it grows harder to keep moving down. At the bottom of the funnel are sports that you have to be something truly special to excel in. The sports at the bottom of the funnel are “better” in some real, empirical sense.

What distinguishes the levels? Let’s say curling is above hockey (as it is). I claim that means that if you took all the hockey players, and pretended they had spent their life training in curling instead, and did the same with the curlers (brought them up to be hockey players), more of the ex-hockey players would be great at curling than the ex-curlers would be great at hockey. Another example, if you took all the skiiers of the world, and had them start their life over playing underwater hockey, they would dominate the sport. But the underwater hockey players would not dominate skiing, they’d be terrible.

This is all statistical. It’s not to say that Shaquille O’Neal could beat Tiger Woods at golf. But more basketball players would be world class golfers than golfers could be world class basketball players.

Note that very few people could become worldclass boxers, basketball or football players who aren’t already. These are the sports at the bottom of my funnel, and the top of my list of great sports.

Some folks may be muttering “Michael Jordan and baseball!” under their breath. The best basketball player in the world, and he was an average baseball in the minor leagues. True, but remember, he was good enough to be in the minors. And the thought experiment is to imagine if Michael Jordan had spent the time and effort in baseball that he did in basketball. There is no doubt in my mind that more basketball players could succeed at baseball than the reverse. None at all.

(Not sure how Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Jim Thorpe fit into this theory, suggestions are welcome.)

5 thoughts on “Sports: The Funnel Theory”

  1. Thanks for some credit, Muttrox, but even I must give credit to a friend of mine who touts the funnel theory anytime he gets a chance to debate sports.

    Another way to think of the funnel is this — there are about, what, a few hundred underwater hockey players in the world, and a couple hundred million soccer players of various ages. So clearly, becoming the Ronaldo or Pele of soccer is infinitely more of an achievement than the best underwater hockey player in the world.

  2. OK, that underwater hockey link is disturbing. If you go and view the slow-mo video demo of how to make a shot, it looks as if this guy has a D cup right breast. Ughh.

  3. Hello

    I am heavily playing UWH. This is why I want to answer there.

    I would say this is right to say that statistically, because there are
    billions of people playing soccer, the soccer players have more chances to be the best at another sport… And so?

    When you do sports, the target is not to be the best soccer player in the world… this is to be the best as you can whatever you are doing…
    no more.. no less….

    And honestly, I like apnea, I have always liked this… and I do not really understand the interest of playing football without breathing… 😉

    (for info there are more than hundreds players. We are at a Worldwide level more than 50 thousands… Ok ok this is less than soccer).

    But we could extend your comment from soccer to what you call football. So Football player are half gays regarding to soccer players… huuuuu looks a bit too much extremist to me.

    Kidding a little I would say that I hope for your self estim that you are playing soccer. ;o)

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