Some sports, such as hunting, fishing, running, and swimming, derive from the rhythms and work requirements of primitive everyday life. Some, such as riding, shooting, throwing the javelin, or archery derive from early military practices. Still others, like boxing, wrestling, and jumping, arose from the spontaneous challenges and occasional hostilities that accompany human interaction.
The precise origins of many sports remain obscure, although all cultures have known physical contests. The ancient Egyptians swam, raced, wrestled, and played games with balls. The ancient Greeks held large athletic festivals, including the Olympic games, that drew athletes from all over the ancient world. The Greeks, and then the Romans, also competed in events (chariot races, throwing the javelin) that relied on the participation of animals or the use of mechanical contrivances, a tradition continued into modern times in sports such as dog racing, horse racing, and shooting.
During the Middle Ages, the cultural isolation imposed by the feudal system and religious doctrine that opposed the use of the body for play hampered the development of organized sport in the Western world. For many centuries, contests between knights in tournaments that emphasized military skill were among the only forms of approved, public sports. In the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, games and exercise attained renewed popularity. As had been the case in ancient times, however, politics and social class circumscribed activity. Sports that required wealth or leisure, such as polo or falconry, were the province of the upper classes, while inexpensive, massed sports, such as soccer, took root among commoners.
The late 19th cent. witnessed an expanding belief in sport as useful recreation, and in industrialized societies equipment was standardized, local and national organizations were set up to govern play, and a doctrine of character-building declared sports to be a necessary endeavor for men. The revival of the Olympics in 1896 and the blossoming U.S. intercollegiate athletic system boosted many forms of amateur, or unpaid, sports at the same time that professional sports (such as baseball, boxing, and bicycle racing) drew large numbers of spectators. Sports that were traditionally played in various countries became, by legislative act or general acceptance, national sports—baseball in the United States, bullfighting in Spain and Mexico, cricket in England, and ice hockey (see hockey, ice) in Canada.
During the Great Depression, Americans sought inexpensive outlets for their energies; mass participation in sports such as softball and bowling resulted. At the same time, spectator sports burgeoned, and the commercialism that accompanied them gradually engulfed both amateur and professional sports. By the late 20th cent., the televising of athletic events had made sports big business. On the other hand, expanding public concern with personal physical health led to mass participation, not necessarily competitive, in sports like running, hiking, cycling, martial arts, and gymnastics. Athletic activity by women expanded, especially after political action in the 1960s and 1970s opened doors to many forms of competition and an increased share of public funding for sports.
During the 20th cent., sports took on an increasingly international flavor; aside from the world championships for individual sports, like soccer's World Cup, large-scale international meets, such as the Pan-American games and the Commonwealth games, were inaugurated. Sports have correspondingly become increasingly politicized, as shown in the boycott of the 1980 Moscow games by Western nations and the retaliatory boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games by Soviet-bloc nations, an exchange brought on by Soviet actions in Afghanistan.
See A. Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (1978); J. A. Cuddon, The International Dictionary of Sports and Games (1979); W. J. Baker, Sports in the Western World (rev. ed. 1989); B. G. Rader, American Sports (2d ed. 1990); R. A. Smith, Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics (1990).
The game evolved in Great Britain by 1820 from bandy, which was played with a ball on ice by field hockey players who wanted to continue to train during the European winters. Early forms of ice hockey, once known as "Canadian rules bandy", used a ball rather than a puck when it first came to North America from Europe. Early players of the game found that the rubber ball used in field hockey was far too active on the hard ice surface, so they cut off the top and bottom of the ball to form the hockey puck. It is often said that the puck was first used in organized play to protect spectators from the highly active ball used previously. Today, pucks are frozen a few hours before the game to further reduce bouncing during play.
The origin of the word "puck" is obscure. Though commonly believed to be it is evidently not connected to Shakespeare's Puck or the mythical Puck. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests the name is related to the verb "to puck" (a cognate of "poke") used in the game of hurling for striking or pushing the ball, from the Scottish Gaelic puc or the Irish poc, meaning to poke, punch or deliver a blow:
PUCK, a blow. He gave him a puck of a stick on the head. More commonly applied to a punch or blow of the horns of a cow or goat! (Ask Little Britainers!) The cow gave him a puck (or pucked him) with her horns and knocked him down.
The blow given by a hurler to the ball with his caman or hurley (stick) is always called a puck.
Also, a free shot in hurling is a free puck.
It is possible that Halifax natives, many of whom were Irish and played hurley, may have introduced the word to Canada. The first known printed reference was in Montreal, in 1876, just a year after the first indoor game was played there.
Hockey pucks are also referred to colloquially as a "biscuit" in published and broadcast media.
The FoxTrax "smart puck" was developed by the FOX television network when it held NHL broadcasting rights for the U.S. The puck had integrated electronics to track its position on screen; a blue streak traced the path of the puck across the ice. The streak would turn red if the puck was shot especially hard. This was an experiment in broadcasting intended to help viewers unfamiliar with hockey to better follow the game by making the puck more visible. It was ill-received by many traditional hockey fans, but appreciated by many of the more casual viewers. The system debuted with much publicity in the All Star game at the Boston Fleet Center on January 20th, 1996. While this production had the highest ratings of any hockey game to date, the system was shelved when Fox Sports lost the NHL broadcast rights three years later.
The most serious incident involving a spectator took place on March 18, 2002, when a thirteen year old girl, Brittanie Cecil, died two days after being struck on the head by a hockey puck deflected into the crowd at a National Hockey League game between the Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus. This is the only known incident of this type to have occurred in the history of the league. Partly as a result of this tragedy, plexiglass panels sitting atop the boards of hockey rinks to protect spectators have been supplemented with mesh nets that extend above the upper edge of the plexiglass.
"Icing the puck" is shooting the puck from the defending player's half of the playing surface (their side of the center red line) across the opposing teams goal line on either side of the goal, as a delaying tactic or a (sometimes desperate) defensive play intended to shift the momentum of play away from the offensive team. Except when the defending team is short-handed because of a penalty, it is a rule infraction that generally results in a stoppage of play to return the puck to the offending team's end of the ice for a faceoff. Since the resumption of play in the National Hockey League after the 2004–05 lockout, a team that has a player ice the puck also must keep the same players on the ice, for the ensuing face-off, as were on the ice when the icing infraction happened.
During the 2005–06 season, a rule was implemented which penalizes any player intentionally or accidentally shooting the puck out of the rink from their team's defensive zone. The rule was intended to eliminate the contradictory nature of the previous version of the rule, which only applied to goaltenders.
The black rubber of the puck is made up of a mix of natural rubber, antioxidants, bonding materials and other chemicals to achieve a balance of hardness and resilience. This mixture is then turned in a machine composed of metal rollers, where workers add extra natural rubber, and ensure that the mixing is even. Samples are then put into a machine that analyzes if the rubber will harden at the right temperature. An automated apparatus, called a pultrusion machine, extrudes the rubber into long circular logs that are three inches in diameter and then cut into one inch thick pieces while it is still soft. These pre-forms are then manually put into molds that are the exact size of a finished puck. There are up to 200 mold cavities per molding palette, capable of producing up to 5,000 pucks per week. The molds are then compressed. This compression may be done cold and or with the molds heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 minutes,, depending upon the proprietary methods of the manufacturer. They come out hard and then are allowed to sit for 24 hours. Each puck is manually cleaned with a trimmer machine to get rid of excess rubber. The molding process adds a diamond cross-hatch texture around the edge of the puck for more friction between the stick and puck for better control and puck handling.
Souvenir and practice pucks are made by a similar but faster process, that uses larger pre-forms, 4–5 in (10–13 cm) thick, puts them into molds automatically, and applies more pressure and heat over a shorter period of time to compress the puck into the standard size. This allows approximately twice as many pucks to be manufactured in the same time period as the more exacting production of NHL regulation pucks.
Roller hockey pucks are typically produced in light, visible colors such as red, orange, yellow, pink, or green. Red is the most popular color, although it is possible to find a roller hockey puck in almost any color.
Roller hockey pucks were created so inline hockey and street hockey players could play with a puck instead of a ball on a number of different surfaces including Sport Court, hardwood, concrete, or asphalt.
An underwater hockey puck (occasionally referred to as a "squid" in the United Kingdom, but more commonly and internationally simply as a "puck"), while essentially the same in appearance as an ice hockey puck, differs in that it has a lead core weighing approximately three pounds (1.5kg) within a teflon, plastic or rubberized coating. This makes the puck dense enough to sink to the bottom of the swimming pool while affording some protection to the tiles. There are variations on this theme, but all conform to regulations stipulating overall dimensions and weight.