The Cultures that Influenced Some of our Favorite Sports

Competitive sports have dominated the cultural landscape of the United States since the emergence of professional leagues in the early 20th century. Sports such as lacrosse, golf, baseball, soccer and track and field have been institutionalized as “American” sports in the eyes of many. However, the origins of many of these sports are influenced by cultures from all corners of the earth. 


The origins of lacrosse can be traced back to the Native American tribes that dominated North America before the arrival of the Europeans. Lacrosse first developed among the Algonquin tribes of the St. Lawrence Valley — an area north of the Great Lakes region in southern Canada. Over time, the new sport would spread to the Native American tribes of the east and the Great Lakes, including the Iroquoian tribes. What began as a simple game with only one rule — to not use one’s hands — developed into a major cultural event among tribes. Games of lacrosse, or stickball, involved anywhere from 100 to 100,000 natives. The scale of the events were massive as well, with goal posts often being miles apart. 

Tribes of different regions also developed unique versions of the game. The Northeastern and Iroquois tribes’ version had the most influence on the game today. These tribes introduced the use of three-foot-long sticks with deeper, wider pockets to catch the ball. This style of stick is still used in modern-day lacrosse.

By the time French Jesuit missionaries discovered lacrosse being played by Native Americans in the 1630s, the game had become of significant importance among the native tribes. It was not until the 1900s that lacrosse began to die out among native tribes while it was growing in popularity among American citizens.

The above information is from World Lacrosse News and Information and USLacrosse.


Contrary to popular belief, the game of golf did not originate in Scotland. Although Scotland’s 14th parliament was the first to recognize the game of golf, the sport developed due to influences across the European continent. The early Roman game known as “paganica” served as the earliest sport to influence modern-day golf. The game revolved around the use of a bent stick to hit a wool or leather-stuffed ball. Paganica spread throughout Europe as the Romans nearly conquered the entire continent in the first century B.C.E. 

Following the fall of the Romans, different games similar to modern-day golf began to develop across Europe. One example from France was chicane, which revolved around players attempting to hit a ball to a church door in the shortest amount of strokes. 

However, the version with the most direct influence on the game of golf emerged in the Netherlands during the 13th century. Kolf, or kolven, was a popular street game that closely resembled ice hockey and golf. The object of the game was to strike a ball towards a stake or hole using a club. Although it primarily was played on ice, kolf eventually transitioned to become a game played on open fields. Over time, kolf travelled across the English Channel to Scotland, where it developed into the game known today as golf.

The above information is from Britannica and Health and Fitness History.


In the early 20th century, America’s national pastime faced an identity crisis. In 1903, British journalist Henry Chadwick posted an article that claimed that baseball was actually based on the British game known as rounders. This revelation challenged the notion that baseball was a completely American invention by Abner Doubleday, a New York native. Chadwick’s claim led to the creation of a commission made by the president of the National League of Baseball. This commission met for three years to test the validity of Chadwick’s claim and eventually came to the conclusion that baseball was, in fact, invented by Abner Doubleday in 1869. 

Despite the results of this investigation, the similarities between baseball and the British game known as rounders are blatantly obvious. First recognized in 1744, rounders became a popular game among schoolchildren across Great Britain. In concept, both baseball and rounders are nearly the exact same games. Both sports involve nine players on each team who switched off playing offense and defense. The job of the offensive team was to hit the ball thrown by the “bowler” with a wooden stick. The batsman would then run around the four posts on the field that closely resembled the bases from baseball. Even the diamond-shaped infield of the rounders field closely resembles the playing field of a baseball game. Baseball is in fact America’s pastime, but the influences of the British on the sport cannot be denied.

The above information is from NPR and Britannica.


Soccer has had a meteoric rise in popularity since its formal recognition as a sport by England in 1863. However, unbeknownst by many, soccer developed in the heart of Asia rather than on the European continent. One of the earliest games to resemble modern-day soccer was Tsu’ Chu from China. Tsu’ Chu consisted of a volleyball-sized ball being kicked in a goal propped up by bamboo sticks. The game’s golden rule was that the ball could not be touched by the player’s hand. This rule would carry into modern day soccer generations later. The influence of China’s new sport eventually carried into Japan. In the year 644 A.D., Japan developed a new sport known as kemari, which embraced most of the rules of Tsu’ Chu with one exception: in kemari it was the job of the players to not let the ball touch the ground. Yet, when Marco Polo opened up Europe to the riches of Asia, it was Tsu’ Chu, not kemari, that eventually transformed into the European form of soccer. This form of soccer, or football as it is known outside of the United States, was heavily popularized in the British Isles. This was until soccer was brought to the Americas, where it has developed into one of the globe’s most popular sports.

The above information is from FIFA and Ancient Origins.

Track and Field

For thousands of years, the events of track and field have been romanticized due to the sheer grit and talent of the athletes who participate in the sport. Despite the grand scope of time that track and field events have existed, the sport itself has changed very little since its inception during Ancient Greek’s Olympic games. Track and field emerged during the Olympics of 776 B.C. as Koroibos won the first 600-foot-long race of the games. The ancient games would go on to include multiple foot races, known as stadion, diaulos and dolichos. Each race differed in length based on distance between stades (the length between two stades was often about 200 meters). The ancient Olympic games also introduced multiple field events that are still popular today. These events included long jump, javelin and discus. Following the end of the ancient Olympic games, the popularity of track and field began to wane. This occurred until the scope of the sport began to expand following the reintroduction of track and field in the modern Olympic games of 1928. Track and field was able to make a comeback into the sports world while still retaining many of the qualities that  led to its glory filled days of the ancient Olympic games.

The above information is from the official Olympics website and Athnet.