Playing and Watching Sports

Have you been watching the Olympics? What has surprised you the most? Why? Who has inspired you? How?

The Olympics reminds us of heroism, sacrifice, excellence, and beauty. It can also spark many conversations.

Although I have not had the pleasure of teaching a conversation class recently, talking about sports always sparked many enjoyable exchanges – even among non-sports fans. This lesson, an except from Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics for Advanced ESL students, remains a favorite.

Feel free to use it in your English classes. Let the conversations begin!



“The game is my wife. It demands loyalty and responsibility.”

Michael Jordan (1963-  ) NBA superstar

Chatting: Talking about sports can be a great ice-breaker. Just do it!

1. Did you play any sports as a child? Which ones? Which was your favorite?

2. Do you play any sports now? Which ones? Which is your favorite? Why?

3. Do girls and women play sports in your native country? If so, which ones?

4. What is the most popular sport in your native country?

5. What equipment or uniform is needed for this sport?

6. How is the game scored? How is a tie decided? What is considered a high score?

7. How long is a game? Are there referees? How do fans usually behave?

8. Which athlete is best known in your homeland? Which sport does he or she play? What do people admire about this athlete?

9. Does your native country participate in the Olympics? In which sports are your countrymen most competitive?

10. What are some team sports? Which do you play?

11. What are some individual sports that you know? Which do you play?

12. Do you prefer to play team sports or individual sports? Why?

13. Which is your favorite sport to watch? Do watch any annual televised sporting event?   Have you ever gone to a sporting event? How did the fans behave?

14. Are you a fan of any special team? What do you like about them?

15. What is their nickname e.g. Chicago Bulls, New England Patriots?

16. What does their nickname hope to convey about the team?

17. Does your favorite team have a main rival? Why? Is there a team mascot?

18. Which American athletes are well known in your native land? Which ones?

19. What are some of the ways that athletes train for competition?

20. What do you think is the difference between a game and a sport? Is chess a sport? Is weight lifting a sport? Is golf a sport? Is politics a sport?

21. Who is your favorite athlete? Why do you especially admire this athlete?

22. Do you buy a certain brand of shoes or clothes because of an athlete’s endorsement? If so, which brand? Which athlete?

23. Can you name some sports that involve animals?

24. Is there any sport that you don’t play now, but that you’d like to learn?

25. Do you think any sport rules should be changed? Why?

26. If you could, would you outlaw any sports? Why?

27. Are there any sports which are legal in your homeland, but illegal in the United States? Why? Do you think these sports should be legal?

28. What are the differences between the way athletes are treated in your native country and the way athletes are treated in the U.S.? Which ways do you think are preferable?

29. Are there any disadvantages to playing sports? Examples?

30. What are some advantages to playing sports? How do you feel while playing?

31. If you could play against any athlete in any sport, what sport would you choose?

32. If you could go back in time and attend any sporting event, which would you pick? Why?

33. What makes a great athlete? Who do you think is the greatest athlete of our time? Why?

Vocabulary: Do you know all these words? Can you add 4 more words to this list?

athlete score mascot equipment     competition          referee          nickname rival

endorse endorsement fan brand

Idioms: Try to guess the meanings of these idioms with your partner.
She’s a team player. She knows the game plan.

The biology test was a slamdunk.
The price you’re asking is in the ballpark.
When I caught Bob’s finger in the car door, he was a good sport about it.
You dropped the ball.

Quotations: Which quotations do you like? Can you add one more?

  1. “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

Heywood Hale Broun (1888-1939), American sports journalist

  1. “If you don’t try to win, you might as well hold the Olympics in somebody’s backyard.” Jesse Owns (1913-1980), American with 4 Gold Olympic medals

  1. “Sports is the toy department of human life.”

Howard Cosell (1918-1995), sportscaster

  1. “Sports is like a war without the killing.” Ted Turner (1938-  ), founder of CNN

  1. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Yogi Berra (1925-  ), American baseball coach

  1. “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”    Jacques Barzun (1907-  ), American historian

  1. “The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.”

Bruce Lee (1940-1973), film star

  1. “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Mark Twain (1835-1910), humorist

  1. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport in the world.”
    Theodore Roosevelt (1859-1919), U.S. President, sportsman

  1. “…no boy from a rich family ever made the big leagues.”

Joe Dimaggio (1914-  ), American baseball player

  1. “Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.”

Jesse Owns (1913-1980), 4 time Gold medalist in 1936 Olympic Games

  1. “Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we.’” Phil Jackson (1945- ), L.A. Lakers’ coach

  1. “How can you think and hit at the same time?”

Yogi Berra (1925-), baseball player and coach

14. “There is no “I” in team, but there is in win.”

Michael Jordan (1963-  ) NBA superstar

EXTENSION: Find a picture of an athlete, professional or amateur, playing your favorite sport. Cut it out, bring it to class, and describe the picture and its context.

WWW. Compelling

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