Glossary Entry : Sport
Abstract:   Billions of hours of human effort have been put into jumping, running
and punishing inflated balls in various ways. As you can tell I'm
not particularly motivated by sport, but the human story behind the
training, dedication and competition can make some powerful anime. A
popular genre in Japan, but less common amongst English speaking fans.
There's lots of English language examples. B-grade baseball and football movies far too numerous to mention. Even huge successes like the Rocky series or the Karate Kid. Likewise almost all martial arts movies, quite popular in the English language market, share some elements with sports movies.
However what is under-represented is that this is a rich genre in anime. I suspect, though it can be hard to find, that virtually every Japanese sport (which includes a lot of imported games such as baseball) has at least one anime extolling the virtues of those who excel in it. Those sports that make good character studies, such as boxing, doubtless have many. And even much more exotic things, such as strategy games, crafts and cultural specialities are open to examination. In the modern realm such things as driving cars, playing video games seem plausible.
One of the main limitations in me being specific is because I've heard a lot of interesting titles that sound like they belong to this genre. However finding the actual material to view is much harder. Even one of the genre leaders, with immense popularity in Japan, Mitsuri Adachi, can be very hard to locate if it has been released at all. And older titles like "Attack No.1" (volleyball?) and "Ace o' Nerae" (tennis) remain just dreams. Hopefully the growth in the anime community, and the convenience of digital distribution, might increase the availability of this material.
Another thing worth mentioning is that many shoujo series include sizable amounts of this material. Since violent conflict, the shounen standby, is rarely acceptable non violent forms predominate. Thus tennis matches or acting competitions or music competitions may be every bit as intense and bitter as any shounen street fight. Meanwhile many of the sports anime have a lot of character work, often with a shoujo sensibility, to bring depth and character to the rendition of the sport.
A final element, one I do not wish to dwell on too much, is the mystical side of sport. I think it's bunkum but many sports people believe that, through total dedication, the pursuit of excellence becomes an almost mystical and spiritual experience. In such a view, given total effort and much preparation, a person may exceed both his own limits and even what seems physically possible. This exists in Western material to an extent, but seems much more pronounced in the Japanese versions. Possibly because their culture, allowing for such elements as Ki and Spirit, is more able to integrate such beliefs (#1).
Finally, and getting into even more trouble with people who actually know Japanese culture, there is the pride and shame element. Whether true or not many anime are made far more intense by allowing real damage to be done in the name of sport. Children are molded to win and excel in a given sport, they are ashamed when they lose, it is considered a weakness in their effort and preparation. Likewise every interaction is colored by the possibility of some character action being taken as a slight or insult. And the one insulted, or shamed, will be consumed with the need to win. And should you let the team down it may be a shame you are never allowed to forget. There's elements of this in any sport culture (one of the reasons I detest it) but this depiction of Japanese culture takes it much more seriously.
#1 -- Stop hitting me...do I look like a ethnologist? I'm just a gaijin who watches way too much anime. If you take my comments as having some researched or absolute truth then you're not thinking straight. If you want to know the truth move to Japan (which I haven't) or read a lot of serious books (which I haven't).