“I play chess”, ok.
“I play soccer”, that’s fine.
“I play swimming” nope!
Sometimes it’ s hard to know when to use the word “play”. Why is it okay to use it for some sports like soccer, baseball and badminton but not allowed for other sports like skiing, swimming and boxing?
We have to think three categories: games, sports and exercise. Chess is a game; there are rules, teams, points and a clear winner and loser. “We play games.” “I play chess”, “I play video games”, “I play hide and go seek.”
Now, some sports are also games: Soccer, baseball, badminton (even 1 person teams are ok), etc. They have teams, rules and points. So you ‘play’ them. The exception is combat sports like boxing, Taekwondo or MMA. They have teams, rules, points and clear victors – but fighting is too violent to be called a game.
Then there are sports which aren’t games. Skiing is a sport, there are (usually) no teams or points and the rules for victory are usually very clear and simple (such as who goes fastest). These are usually verbs on their own: “I ski”, “I swim”, “I run”.
Many sports are also exercise (good for your body) but a lot of exercise isn’t a sport. Yoga is exercise, you can’t “win” you are just doing the activity to help your body. You ‘do’ these things: “I do yoga”, “I do weightlifting”, “I do Pilates”.