9 // Calvinball: The Missing Olympic Sport

In a slight departure from our regularly schedule programming, and with the summer Olympics only a few months away, I want to take a few minutes to make the case for why Calvinball should be an Olympic sport.

A brief history

The first known game of Calvinball was played on May 5, 1990. There were only two players, Calvin, a six-year-old boy, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. The game was played regularly until 1995, when Calvin (still six) and Hobbes rode off into a magical world.

The rules

Unlike most other sports, there are only three rules in Calvinball.

  1. Rules cannot be used twice.
  2. Any sports-related equipment may be used during play.
  3. Players must wear masks.

History of the Olympic Games

The modern Olympic games were established in the summer of 1896, with nine broad categories of sports: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. In its early days, three specific goals defined the event: 1) only amateur athletes could compete, 2) the games brought the world together, and 3) the games increased appreciation for the sport.

Eventually, however, the games expanded to over 35 sports across 30 categories and hundreds of specific events. And while the games still serve as a way to increase appreciation for the talent and sports showcased, today, professionals dominate.

The Case for Calvinball

Calvinball is the perfect sport to return the Olympics to their original purpose. Given the ever-changing nature of the game and the fact that it is never played the same way twice, it is inherently impossible to become a professional. All Calvinball players are amateurs, whether they’ve been playing for ten years or ten minutes.

A sport such as Calvinball, with fewer (read: no) barriers to entry means that countries would no longer need expensive training programs for elite athletes. Even the smallest country with the fewest resources could compete on an equal level to larger countries with vast resources. Further, watching players of all ages, genders, and walks of life play together would be sure to bring the world together and present a more accurate picture of the beautiful diversity that exists.

Lastly, Calvinball can only be played for the joy of the game. Other sports are ultimately played to win, particularly at the Olympics, however, the fluid nature and ever-changing rules of Calvinball eliminate this distraction.

Life

But perhaps the best reason for why Calvinball should be an Olympic sport is because both model, each in their own way, some small part of what it is to be alive.

The Olympics celebrate humans at their best.

Calvinball celebrates humans at their most unpredictable.

If that’s not a winning combination, I don’t know what is.

Note: I gave a version of this talk at one of the nerdiest nights of my life, when a group of friends gathered for our own private TED-like evening. Each of us had five minutes to talk about whatever was on our mind. Most of us designed slideshows to go along with our talks. Just for kicks, here’s mine.