The picking of favourite players is an interesting phenomenon in sports. I was once told that at around 12 years old, we all pick a favourite athlete and they stick with us for the rest of our lives. For lifelong fans, this tends to be true.
Favourite teams are much less intriguing to me. We don’t usually choose our favourite teams on our own. If you root for a certain team, it’s probably because the person who introduced you to sports also did.
Favourite teams also don’t really speak to our personalities. They’re tied to a specific place, an overwhelmingly large group of people, and they (usually) exist for at least most of our lives.
Favourite players are truly something unique to each person. Even if thousands of people share the same one, there’s a slightly different reason for each person’s choice to love that one player, and all of those reasons speak to why we, as individuals, are drawn to the sports that we are.
This is probably the most hated category of favourite players. Whether it’s Connor McDavid, Lebron James, or Serena Williams. These stars attract pretty large personal fan bases.
While picking the best one out of the “stars” lineup isn’t always the most interesting, it’s just as valid as any other choice.
Stars are always exciting to watch. They know how to play the game, and they know how to play it well. Even if they’re the opponent, it’s hard to resist being impressed by their amazing performances day after day.
Your favourite player being a star means constant excitement. Not only do you get to see those amazing plays in every game or match you watch, you get to feel more connected to them because your favourite player just did that.
A person’s favourite player being a star tells me that they watch the game to be awed at every turn. It tells me they appreciate the skill it takes to play. The top players in every sport warrant their fair share of dedicated fans.
Just as it’s hard to deny the skill of the stars, it’s hard to deny the likability of the underdogs. Whether it’s the benchwarmer, the fourth liner or the guy batting eighth in the lineup, the underdogs are another classic choice.
We tend to lean towards the underdogs because they don’t give up. They’re always fighting for their spot in the lineup, and they always have something to prove, making them the most relatable to us everyday fans. The underdogs don’t just coast by on skill, they fight to be noticed because they work so hard.
When we root for the underdog and they come out on top, there’s an unmatched sense of pride we feel for having always believed in them. Andrew Mangiapane went undrafted twice in his career and yet he made it, so why can’t we?
While the underdogs might be slightly less skilled, they’re still exciting to watch. While they might not be brilliant every single time they play, it’s all the more exciting when they are, and as their number one fan, that excitement is special to you.
This might be my favourite category of athlete. Call it projection, but I always want to cheer for the player who tries their best but places second or third in the ranking every time.
What I call “the overshadowed player” is a mix of the star and the underdog but is never quite either. They’re not worried about their spot on the team, but they don’t sell the most jerseys. They make amazing plays, but not consistently enough to be considered generational talents.
Leaning towards an overshadowed player requires mixing the underdog storyline with the excitement that a star player can bring.
My favourite overshadowed player is William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs, which anyone who knows me already knows. Overlooked for seasons, hated for one, and loved ever since. I’ve been obsessed with him since the first time I saw him play and his jersey wasn’t even a standard item at the Maple Leafs Shop when I went to buy it.
And, when your favourite player emerges from the shadows, you get to say you knew they were really the star all along.
Personality hires aren’t just positions in corporate offices, they’re also seen across sports teams everywhere. They can belong to any of the above categories too, all that’s required is they do something bordering on outrageous every once in a while.
Personality players tend to be the heart and soul of the team. Maybe they’ve got a good locker room attitude, maybe they’re mentors to the younger players, or maybe they’ve expressed such a heart-wrenching story about their life and how they got to where they are that you just can’t help but root for them.
From the Jason Spezzas to the Brad Marchands, if your favourite player is best known for their attitude, you know that skill isn’t everything. Sometimes all you need is a good attitude, leadership or to have learned some hard lessons to get yourself where you want to be.
There are probably many more categories you could sort players into, but these are the ones I think of when I think about why I might root for one over another.
There’s a lot our favourite players say about us, but most importantly, they show how we interact with sports as individuals. We all have different reasons for loving our favourite players, and those reasons are visible in our decisions of who we’re going to tie our emotions to.