The History of Sports, From Ancient Times to Modern Day

Where do we begin with the history of sports when the history of sports is as old as humankind? To begin with, what has been recorded or documented in the history of sports takes us back at least 3,000 years. The early history of sports often involved the preparation and training for war or hunting. Hence there were sports games that involved the throwing of spears, stakes, and rocks, and of course lots of play-fighting.

Ancient Greece introduced formal sports, with the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, that included sports such as human and chariot races, wrestling, jumping, disk and javelin throwing, and more.


An Early SF Baseball Team
SF baseball team, circa early-1900s. Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Alexander Cartwright (1820-1892) of New York invented the modern baseball field in 1845. Alexander Cartwright and the members of his New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club​ devised the first rules and regulations that were accepted for the modern game of baseball.


Portrait of Early American Basketball Teammates
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The first formal rules were devised in 1892. Initially, players dribbled a soccer ball up and down a court of unspecified dimensions. Points were earned by landing the ball in a peach basket. Iron hoops and a hammock-style basket were introduced in 1893. Another decade passed, however, before the innovation of open-ended nets put an end to the practice of manually retrieving the ball from the basket each time a goal was scored.


A milestone in the history of Paintball occurred in 1981 when twelve friends played a version of "Capture the Flag" using the tree-marking guns. The twelve friends decided to buy into a tree marking gun manufacturer called Nelson and started promoting and selling the guns to the public for use with the new recreational sport.


Early Cricket Match
A game of cricket being played on the Artillery Ground in London. Rischgitz / Getty Images

The cricket bat was invented around 1853, the blade made of willow, and a cane handle layered with strips of rubber, tied with twine and covered with rubber to make a grip.


Team Portrait of Early Oklahoma University Football Team
Football team in typical team pose of the early 1900's at Oklahoma University. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Derived from the English game of rugby, American football was started in 1879 with rules instituted by Walter Camp, player and coach at Yale University.


Golfers at St. Andrew's Golf Club in Yonkers
St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers founded by Reid in 1888. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Golf originated from a game played on the coast of Scotland during the 15th century. Golfers would hit a pebble instead of a ball around the sand dunes using a stick or club. After 1750, golf evolved into the sport as we recognize it today. In 1774, Edinburgh golfers wrote the first standardized rules for the game of golf.

Hacky Sack

Hacky sack or footbag, as we know it today, is a modern American sport invented in 1972, by John Stalberger and Mike Marshall of Oregon City, Oregon.


Thompson Defends The Net
B Bennett / Getty Images

Ice hockey is played with two opposing teams wearing ice skates. Unless there is a penalty, each team only has six players on the ice rink at a time. The aim of the game is to knock the hockey puck into the opposing team's net. The net is guarded by a special player called the goalie.

Ice Skating

Pond Skaters
A frozen pond in Central Park, New York City, 1890s. Museum of the City of New York/Byron Collection / Getty Images

Around the 14th Century, the Dutch started using wooden platform skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater's shoes with leather straps. Poles were used to propel the skater. Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow metal double edged blade, making the poles a thing of the past, as the skater could now push and glide with his feet (called the "Dutch Roll").

Water Skiing

Water skiing came about on June 28, 1922, when eighteen-year-old Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota, proposed the idea that if you could ski on snow, then you could ski on water.


Skier Off A Jump
Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Although the sport of skiing in America is little more than a century old, researchers have dated a rock carving of a skier, found on the Norwegian island of Rodoy as being over 4,000 years old. Skiing was so revered in Scandinavia that the Vikings worshiped Ull and Skade, the god and goddess of skiing. In the US, skiing was introduced by Norwegian gold miners.


Babe Ruth Instructing Girls Softball Team
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

In 1887, George Hancock, a reporter for Chicago Board of Trade, invented softball. He invented the game as a form of indoor baseball on a cold winter day inside the warm Farragut Boat Club.


1890s 1900s TURN OF 20TH...
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Getty Images

Swimming pools did not become popular until the middle of the 19th century. By 1837, six indoor pools with diving boards were built in London, England. After the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 and swimming races were among the original events, the popularity of swimming pools began to spread

Wiffle Ball

David N. Mullany of Shelton, Connecticut invented the Wiffle ball fifty years ago. A Wiffle ball is a variation of a baseball that makes it easy to hit a curveball.


Family rests after a tennis match, ca. 1900.
Resting after a tennis match, ca. 1900. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Tennis originated from a 12th-century French game called paume (meaning palm); it was a court game where the ball was struck with the hand. Paume evolved into jeu de paume and rackets were used. The game spread and evolved in Europe. In 1873, Major Walter Wingfield invented a game called Sphairistikè (Greek for "playing ball) from which modern outdoor tennis evolved.


Woman holding volleyball on beach, ca. 1920s. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Getty Images

William Morgan invented volleyball in 1895 at the Holyoke, Massachusetts, YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) where he served as Director of Physical Education. Morgan originally called his new game of Volleyball, Mintonette. The name Volleyball came about after a demonstration game of the sport when a spectator commented that the game involved much "volleying" and game was renamed Volleyball.


Windsurfing or boardsailing is a sport that combines sailing and surfing and uses a one-person craft called a sailboard. The basic sailboard is composed of a board and a rig. In 1948, twenty-year-old Newman Darby first conceived of using a handheld sail and rig mounted on a universal joint, to control a small catamaran. Darby did not file for a patent for his design, however, he is recognized as the inventor of the first sailboard.