Talking to people who play sport

Sport. It’s confusing and boring. But it’s inevitable that sooner or later, the sport-hater will end up sharing a conversation – or, if they’re unlucky, a life – with someone who participates in sport, enjoys it and mentally engages with it.

If you love the sport-lover and want to spend your life with them, you might want to take the time to find out about the sport and perhaps get involved yourself. But if even love can’t motivate you to do that, or if the sport-lover in your life is just a friend, you could do worse than arm yourself with a few conversational techniques for when they come running up to tell you that “we just got 20 behind over a downturned mid-rush” or whatever nonsense it is.

Sometimes you can use non-verbal cues like facial expression and tone of voice to work out if what they’re saying is good or bad. Then you can respond accordingly: “Well done!” or “Bad luck!” But this is a risky strategy when the other person’s features and voice are distorted by their deeply-drawn gasps for breath. Better to have some neutral phrases that can be interpreted either way.

A sure-fire tactic is just to maintain eye contact and give the appearance of listening until your panting sport-lover finishes their tale: “And then the Blues ducked up over the westgate for a double pairing!” What you should do then is say in an emphatic voice, “I think you guys could use a drink!” or “You guys really deserve a drink.” The emphatic tone can pass for manly congratulation if that’s what’s required; but if they were defeated it looks like you’re taking their defeat on the chin and making the best of things.

A riskier, but ultimately more effective strategy is to dissolve the eye-contact you’ve been maintaining into a misty gaze into the distance. Then you say, your voice trembling with non-specific emotion, “I really feel for the team.” This works a treat if you’re using the sports match as an excuse to meet a sports-player that you fancy, especially if you suspect they already fancy you in return.

I hope I don’t need to add that you should never, ever ask, “So is that good or bad?”

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