How to understand sports​ talk in Finland

As I have told before Finnish people love sports. In terms of overall media exposure, especially popular sports are ice hockey, Formula One and skiing. You know, those sports in which we do well. And of course, when a Finn or a Finnish team is excellent at something by surprise (e.g. curling, basketball or women’s boxing), we shower them with praise and more people get excited about that particular sport.

Anyway, football, in fact, is the most common sports in Finland, even though we aren’t that great compared to other countries. Football has over 400 000 players, twice as much as ice hockey.

So, as a conclusion, in Finland, we do all sorts of sports. I have only now realized that it may be hard to believe that Finnish people actually are that sporty based on their answers in discussions. This wrong impression is due to the fact that the answer is completely biased with Finnish modesty.

So let me walk you through the examples and see what I mean!

Example 1: A good player

If a Finn says: “Well, yes, I have played a little”, it actually means that he is a good player. Other nationalities might use this phrase to tell that they are beginners. If a Finnish person uses this phrase, he definitely has a background in that sport.

So what does a Finn say when he is a beginner? He will say that he is crap. He will also most likely refuse to try that specific sport in your presence because the humiliation would be unbearable.

Example 2: A really good player

If a Finn says: “I’m ok.”, it means that he is really good. Like national level good. You definitely want to be on the same side with him.

Example 3: A professional athlete

Now, when you ever hear a Finnish person say that he is “good”, he is for sure at least national level. A real professional. Most likely you will never hear this kind of self-evaluation because it isn’t part of our culture.

What you might hear is a casual phrase like this: “Yeah, I used to play a little back in the day”. This is a straight quote from the reply my friend got when he asked a new colleague if he played ice hockey. My friend was wondering if he would like to join the company team.

Later he realized that the new colleague was a former NHL player.

I want to hear, what sports do you play and what is your Finnish style self-evaluation?

I am crap in tennis and have danced ballet a little.

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