Traditional Significance of Sports
Sioux Ball Players, by George Catlin
Courtesy of the McCune Collection and photographer Ken Inneswww.mccunecollection.org
Native Americans have a long tradition of sporting activities from
casual games to major events. Indian sports activities emphasized fair
play. It was as important to perform with grace and integrity as it was
to win. Betting on contests of skill was a deeply ingrained tradition
for both participants and spectators.
Ritual significance was placed on traditional sports and their
outcomes. Athletes prepared for major competitions through training,
dietary practices, and spiritual preparation. Victory in a game could
cause good weather or avert bad storms, bring good health or healing to
the community, or perhaps fertility in human reproduction or abundant
harvests. Usually ceremonial performances preceded the major games.
Traditional sports involved strong kinship ties and promoted
total community support, thus many of the sports played were team games
rather than individual games.
Sports were also an important part in the training of Indian
children. The required physical demands, strategies, and moral
strengths, were viewed as important virtues that would transfer to other
life situations. Consequently, the lessons of sports were carefully