Tag Archives: Sports

American Proverb

“Worse Things Have Happened to Better People”

The informant first heard this saying from a guest speaker at UVA when she was in college in the 80’s. The speaker was Ilana kloss, a pro tennis player and author. It greatly resonated with the informant and she still uses it to this day. It means that whatever you’re going through, it could probably could be worse. You say it to someone whenever they are feeling bad about themselves (usually not something very serious like a death).

“Worse things have happened to Better people” is meant to keep life in perspective and to help keep one’s own head up. The source for this proverb is a famous tennis player, who has no doubt had tough and frustrating losses in her career. However, at the end of the day she is still a pro tennis player and her life is pretty good despite what she may feel after a difficult loss. This saying helps bring perspective for the good things in peoples lives and to stop one from feeling overly sorry for themselves. It’s telling that it was used by a very successful individual (pro tennis player and repeated by another well off person ( someone econimcally well off and at a prestigious school). This proverb likely reflect the values of successful individuals as a way to remain happy using gratefulness. All in all this quote reflects the gratefulness and the pursuit of happiness by those that repeat it.

No Excuses

Nationality: Indian, American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s): N/A

Age: 19 yrs

Occupation: Student

Residence: Frisco, Texas

Performance Date: 2/1/2024


“Yeah so when I was a young kid, like I don’t know, 10 or 11, I was told by my grandfather that I needed to be serious about tennis and couldn’t slack off. My parents would repeat the same things he did, making me kind of fear being a slacker in a competitive sense. My grandfather said to me then: ‘He who cannot dance puts the blame on the floor,’ and it stuck with me. He told me it basically meant that even if I lost, the only one to blame for being bad at the game was me. It made me perform better but at a cost, a fear of failure type thing.”


My informant, PL, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Frisco Texas. I recall one day in second semester freshman year we were talking about tennis, a sport he used to play at a near professional level and won state championships for. We were waiting for an open spot to play pickle-ball down by the tennis courts and I asked him about his past in tennis as he mentioned he played it before, but I had no idea how personal it was to him or to what extent. That was until I questioned him about it later in time and asked him why he stuck with tennis, because he currently keeps describing tennis in the worst possible light. He then told me about a Hindu proverb that was told to him by his grandfather when he was growing up and learning tennis. He said that this proverb and the concept behind it was drilled into his head forever afterwards, pushing him to keep going, to keep trying to be the best, no excuses held or told, no slacking off in a competition. This made him feel a sort of resentment for the sport and the rigorous training he did and endured to effectively ascend the ranks with tennis pros.


PL said this was a proverb his grandfather told him and which his parents sometimes regurgitate, so clearly it is generational. I did some research about this proverb and ended up finding out that it was originally an African proverb but was adapted by Hindu culture centuries ago. It basically means that people who are serious about something they are passionate about, make it happen, and those who are not, make excuses, and tend to put blame on something else rather than themselves when failing. PL is of Hindu cultural descent, so this proverb is not so well known in the modern world, but rather a generational and cultural saying which was a huge way of pushing children to do their best in certain aspects of life like sports. I personally don’t agree with the way it was used in PL’s life, how it was made to make him fear failure, but in a general sense, the proverb is logical. If you are genuinely serious about something you are working on, you shouldn’t and probably won’t make excuses about it if under-performing when faced with challenges and obstacles preventing you from continuing to pursue or achieve a passion and/or goal. I think it’s super interesting how deeply rooted this proverb is in Hindu culture, as PL’s grandfather was telling him this saying like he’s heard it forever. The influence it had over PL’s tennis career was great as well, so clearly the proverb is influential in a behavioral sense, and historical sense, as this proverb has seemingly been around for centuries. 

USC Good-luck Sweater

Background: R is a proud grandmother of a USC student and she routinely watches USC sporting events in support of the school. R is a Mexican immigrant and loves to support her grandchildren in all their endeavors.


R: “I always, always wear my USC ….cómo se dice…sweater….always no matter how hot it is! I am convinced I gave USC football and uh… Caleb… Williams good luck last year when they won all the games. The only game I didn’t wear it was the USC and… Utah game…that was when they lost!”

Interviewer: “Do you wash the sweater?”

R: “Si, I’m not crazy. The sweater‘s powers activate when I put it on… it can’t come off in the washer.”

Interviewer: “Why are you so invested in USC sports?”

R: “Because I want to be supportive of my grandchild and their success of getting into such a good school. I’m so so proud!


Sports superstitions are among the most common superstitions in American contemporary life. Sports fans like to feel like they have some control over the game, even when they’re watching from the stands or their living rooms. They pretend that they take part in the action through insignificant routines/gestures/sayings/or performative rituals, such as wearing the same lucky sweater. In R’s scenario, her sports superstition transcends just wanting to take part of the athletic event, she wants to take part in the success of her grandchildren.

Phrase: “A Senior is Half a Teacher”

Text: “一个学长,半个老师”
Pinyin (Simplified): yi ge xue zhang, ban ge lao shi
Translation: One senior is half a teacher.

N is a junior at USC, majoring in Communications. N is an international student from China, Anhui Province. When N was a high school student, he was in a soccer team on campus which is the community he refers to in this phrase.
N: “There’s this sort of tradition, more like a phrase. The phrase is ‘一个学长,半个老师’ (yi ge xue zhang, ban ge lao shi). It’s like, ‘a senior is equal half a teacher, or half a coach. It’s part of a tradition in my soccer team when a junior would just, like, make the freshmen do whatever they want them to do. That’s just a tradition, I guess.”
Is that like a criticism of experience?
N: “I think it’s because in China, the people who go to sports, they don’t need to have really good grades. They just go to high school or college with their sports, they just go to practice. They’re more like a street gang, like a clique. So, because they’re bad, they want to control the people who are new.”

This phrase is circulated throughout the students. It isn’t a proverb which relays some form of wisdom or life lesson to the listener and it is also not a joke, as there is no humor behind the reality of the statement. It observes a complex power dynamic and metaphorically summarizes it in a concise way, likely as a call to how unfair such a hierarchy is and an acknowledge about the inevitability of its insistence in the school system. It’s a stereotype of athletes at this school widely known and accepted by the students, a blason populaire of this community of soccer players. Such speech is usually created by an external audience, the students who are not in the soccer team themselves but are familiar with it. When asked why the juniors bully the lower classmen, the answer could be this phrase. It is a lighthearted observation of the corruption and power play at school and its unfair treatment of the students, so much so that N associates this phrase with his specific team. Simultaneously, it encourages no revolt against such a system, already knowing full well the impossibility of change that could come from speaking up. This acceptance adds to the stereotype, almost perpetuating its truth.

UCLA Gesture “Fours Up”


“At all of our sports games we would do “fours up.” You would hold up four fingers.”


MM is a 24-year-old American Missionary from a town in the middle of California. She attended UCLA for college, and I asked her if there were any specific UCLA sports traditions that she remembered. She wasn’t sure what this tradition meant – she said she just walked into it and that originally, she thought it was for fourth down in football but then they did it at basketball games too. She ended up looking it up and telling me it was for the four letters in UCLA. 


This example of a tradition that you take part in but don’t know what it means is probably pretty common in places like a college. When you get to college, you are thrown in to a bunch of traditions that everyone else seems to know, and you are often on your own to figure them out. When everyone else seems to understand a tradition, it seems silly to ask about it, so it’s better to just pretend. This can show us how important it is in our society to fit in and avoid doing things that could put you in the outgroup. It also shows us how traditions and their meanings could evolve – if my informant told someone else their theory of the meaning behind “fours up” being for fourth downs in football, that meaning could spread as well if other people didn’t know what it meant. And certain traditions can take on different meanings for different people, even if born out of the same context. Even if looking up what “fours up” means would be an easy solution, our tendency is to try to figure it out ourselves because we want to take part in the tradition naturally so we can really feel like a part of the group.