To me, one of the most intriguing things about sports that never gets talked about are the sounds they make. We all love sports (excluding Meryl Streep), but I think we overlook the automated cognitive association we make with sports, their sounds, and our happiness. Each sport has a unique sound, and as fans, we look to those sounds to tell us whether something good or bad is happening. I’ve always wanted to rank my personal favorite sports sounds, so I got tipsy on a Saturday night and did just that (all while watching a 1993 NBA Western Conference Finals game between the Suns and Supersonics…SAD!).
This may seem like a half-baked idea to most of you, but think about it. What are your favorite sports to watch? What sounds do each of them make? I bet you identify with those sounds more than you think. This list is to remind you how important those sounds are in your life as a sports fan, and as a functioning human being.
10. Boxing Punch
Boxing is certainly low on the list of popular sports in 2017. Even before the UFC came into it’s own, boxing was on the outs because of lack of superstars. There hasn’t been a polarizing heavyweight since Lennox Lewis, and the most well-known fighter is a featherweight with a boring, defensive style of boxing. But that doesn’t change the fact that hearing boxers trade blows is extremely appealing to the ears. There’s something about those thuds of the gloves against flesh that makes your brain go, “Hell yeah. It’s fight night.” It might be because we associate the sound with knockouts, which humans have a wild fascination with. We hear the sound and immediately try to envision what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of the punch. A little bit of a guilty please. But there’s no denying that hearing a boxing punch is very enjoyable.
Plus, adding this to the list gave me a chance to post Ward vs. Gatti I, which is one of the greatest sporting events in history. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing. I promise it will not disappoint.
9. Football Hit
While coming up with these rankings, I first tried to think of the most recognizable sound from all of the four major American sports. The other three had easy answers, but football was the only one that made me think a little. I mean, it’s the best/most popular sport in the country by far, so I had to include it. But what sound gets the fans excited that is completely unique to football? Nobody goes bonkers for a kickoff or a field goal when they hear a foot make contact with the ball. There had to be some sound that really sums up what football is.
Then it struck me. Duh. People love big hits. The violence, the savagery, the danger. It’s what keeps people coming back. It brings us back to our more primitive days of watching gladiators fight to the death in ancient Rome. We’re drawn to the idea that people can get seriously hurt on the field via getting lit up. The sound of helmets colliding, and pads bashing into each other at full speed. It’s beautiful. It’s the sound that signifies the end of summer and the beginning of the greatest sports season there is: football.
8. Badminton Swat
Pretty off the grid choice here, but hearing a badminton swat is dope. The sport is big in Asia, and Americans haven’t really adopted it into adult leagues. But I think most people played some badminton as a kid, so it’s not a sport like cricket that we’re completely unfamiliar with in the US. Hearing that light racquet connect with the birdie is a unique and pleasurable sound. And you can hear both the birdie and the racquet cut through the air. Not much else to say. It’s just a nice sound that I enjoy on the rare occasion I hear it.
7. Tennis Ball
Similar to the badminton swat, the sound that comes from a tennis ball hitting a racquet puts me at ease.
Conversely, the “UGH!” that so many tennis players make after their shot is one of the most insufferable sounds in sports. It’s like a douchebag weight lifter in the gym who needs everyone to know how much weight he’s putting up. As someone who’s never played tennis in his life, I can say with full confidence that it’s completely unnecessary to scream like you’re being stabbed after every swing of the racquet. Monica Seles is the only who who has my permission to do so.
6. Bowling Strike
First off, bowling is an underrated activity in general. I certainly don’t do it enough, because every time I go I always tell myself I’m going to start bowling more. Of course that never happens, but it doesn’t change the fact that bowling is fun as hell. I’ve been saying it for years, and I still stand by it…bowling is a PERFECT first date. If you can’t figure out why that is a true statement, fear not. This reminded me to write a separate blog about it. Coming soon…
But the sound of bowling balls striking the pins is infectious. You walk into a bowling alley, hear that noise, and take a deep breath of satisfaction because you know the next hour or so is going to be fun. In a scientific sense, our brains like the sound because we associate it with success. The goal of bowling is to knock down as many pins as you can every shot. So when we hear the sound of pins being hit, our brains release dopamine (happy chemicals) that reward us for doing a good job. The loudest of all bowling sounds is of course a strike, when you knock down all the pins in one shot. So the louder the sound, the happier we get.
Damn. You come to Bick’s blog looking for laughs, and you leave with revolutionary scientific studies. Many such cases!
5. Pool Balls
Pool is another one of those games that everyone has played but we don’t watch much on TV. Anyone can play it, it doesn’t require athletic ability, and it’s fun to do while you drink. I’m not seeing any downsides to a game of pool.
Hearing pool balls connect with each other brings a smile to my face. It makes me think of hanging out with friends and making side bets for pitchers of beer. You start with the break, which is a more sharp, loud sound. But as you get deeper into the game, you hear the softer, thicker sound that comes from finesse shots. Again, since pool is a game that is widely played among athletes and non-athletes, it finds its way onto this list because of it’s transcendence among all ages, races, and genders. Shoutout to Allison Fisher the GOAT.
4. Basketball Swish
Ah. The swish. Probably the first thing people come up with when they think of satisfying sports sounds. And for good reason, too. Similar to the bowling strike, a swish automatically correlates to success in our brains. It tells us that we’ve done something literally as perfect as you can do it. You hear a swish, you release dopamine.
Also, “swish” isn’t the only way you can describe the sound. There’s plenty of different ways to say it. Nylon, shwap, wet, butters, nothin’ but net, money, etc. The list goes on. The OG “swish” became so popular that we’ve developed a bunch of alternatives for it. It’s penetrated our vernacular. As a basketball player, it hurts for me to put the swish at number 4. I feel like it could be higher, but I’ve accepted that there are three more satisfying sounds that deserve the top spots.
3. Hockey Puck
I’m not sure if the sound of a hockey puck being passed around and connecting with a stick would be enough on its own to grab the number three spot. But hockey is such a fluid and fast moving game that I hear all of the sounds as one. The puck being passed around cleanly is obviously great, but the sound of the blades cutting through the surface of the ice, and bodies hitting the boards really puts hockey sounds over the top.
Hockey is clearly the fourth sport in America. You’re either a die hard or a fairweather fan. There’s no in between. But even as a fairweather fan myself, I can fully acknowledge that the sounds of a hockey game are among the most satisfying in sports. Plus, playoff hockey might be the most intense and entertaining sport to watch after the NFL. I went to my first NHL game two months ago and I had more fun than I ever had at an NBA game, which really hurts me to say. But hockey is great, and the sounds of the game are really top-notch.
2. Baseball Hit
Crack. That’s the sound a baseball makes when it hits a bat. It’s also a drug that is extremely addictive for how great it makes people feel, just like when you hear a baseball bat make solid contact with the ball. It’s another one of those brain/sound correlations that releases dopamine because you know something good has happened.
While baseball has declined in popularity in the last 10 years, it’s still a sport that we all associate with our childhood. Everyone played, and unless you were god awful, you probably made contact in the batters box at some point. The feeling you get when you swing the bat and make solid contact is indescribable. You hear the ping of the bat and you get a shot of energy.
That’s also another point worth noting. You grow up hitting the ball with metal bats and hearing a “ping.” But you watch the pros and you hear a “crack.” Both are absurdly satisfying to the ears, but there’s something about the crack of the wooden bat that really resonates with me. I grew up watching baseball in the steroid era, and I was fascinated by the 1998 home run race. Watching Sportscenter every night to hear the crack of the bat from Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are memories that will never fade from my brain. Seeing McGwire hit his 62nd live, as it happened, was beautiful. You heard the crack of the bat and you knew there was a chance it was going out.
Bonus compilation of LLWS metal bat home run sounds…
Surprisingly, this was the easy choice for number 1. The sound of a golf ball being hit signifies so many things. The weekend, naps, relaxation, Sundays, calm voices, beautiful scenery. There are so many positive things that go along with the sport of golf, it was tough to find a reason for this to not be the top choice.
Besides the auditory pleasurabilities (made that word up, nice) of watching golf on a lazy Sunday, it’s also very easy to achieve when you’re playing. Even if you hit an awful drive that slices into the woods, it can still make a great sound. There’s always that split second when you make good contact and you can’t find the ball in the air, but you think you may have crushed it down the middle of the fairway. The fact that the sound of golf can fuck with us so hard like that makes it the best sound. None of the other sounds on this list are that polarizing. Most of them correlate to good things, but a golf shot that sounds good is completely up in the air (literally), until you identify whether its a thumbs up or thumbs down.
Plus, each club makes a different sound. The driver had a nice whack to it, while the irons have more of a pop. And of course the putter is a little tappy tap.
I literally Google’d “List of Sports” when making this list. So if you can present me with #alternativeoptions that should be on this list, send em my way. But I think I covered everything that an American would love about the sounds of sports. I’m sure the huge international community reading this will say that soccer and cricket deserve spots. But no.
Just no. 🙂