Sports and Culture: Do Sports Help Kids Become Better People?
Many parents’ major concern today is that their children “stay ahead of the pack”, and keep “an edge” over the competition. For this reason, schools are filled with children in enriched and accelerated programs. Children are being started in competitive sports like swimming, basketball, golf and tennis at a very early age. Being exposed to such competitiveness and pressure, how does this effect a child socially? Does it build character? Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting children to live up to their potential. However, it is the child’s ability to find and utilize that potential and sports can play a large role in this part. This paper will explore the sociology of sports and whether or not they effect the way children communicate, socialize, learn, and in all become better adults.
First off, what is a sport? Though the answer to this question seems obvious, sociologists study sports in a more systematic way and they need a more scientific definition (Coakley 78). It is hard to come up with a concrete and precise definition of sports without making the word confusing to the non-sociologist. There are many kinds of activities that can be considered sports and at the same time not. For example would you include skiing, or biking as sports regardless of the conditions which people engage in them? What is the difference between play and sports? When a person’s only goal is for personal satisfactions are they participating in a sport or playing? To better understand what participating in “sport” means sociologists consider three major issues:
1. Do we want our definition of sports to refer to specific types of activities?
2. Do we want our definition of sports to depend on the conditions under which the activities take place?
3. Do we want our definition of sports to depend on the subjective orientations of the participants involved in the activities (Loy, and Sage 315-316)?
These three issues are greatly involved when sociologists are studying the social influences of sports on children.
Only since 1970 have physical educators and sociologists given serious attention to sports as a social phenomena.This is primarily due to the recent increase in the social significance of sports (Smith, Smoll, ; Curtis 108). Since the invention of television organized sports have become an extremely popular part of contemporary life. This has caused physical educators and sociologists to become more interested and pay more attention to them. The sociology of sports deserves this attention because sports affect many people’s lives. “Sports are connected with major social institutions, cultural ideology, and social relations” (Smith, Smoll, & Curtis 108). Therefore, many sociologists are studying sports and looking to determine whether human behavior, social relations, culture, and ideology influence or are being influenced by sports (Coakley 15-16). “Sociologists are concerned with how behavior, relationships, and group dynamics are related to the social meanings associated with age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and social class and with the power relations that occur in connection with these and other characteristics that people may define as socially relevant” (Coakley 20). We will focus on the aspect of high school sports influencing a teenager whether male or female, and influencing social elements such as character, education, politics and the community.
Some people you talk to will say that sport competition destroys a child’s confidence and leads to a more violent attitude. Others will say it builds character and prepares participants for life in today’s society. We hear the positive side so much it has become clich. In fact “it is so widely accepted that it has been used as a basis for encouraging children to play sports” (Armour, Jones, & Kerry 11). According to Lyle J. Micheli, M.D., author of Sportswise: An Essential Guide for Young Athletes, Parents and Coaches, one of the most important things sports can do is build self esteem. “Children have to grow physically as well as emotionally and sports can help them develop a positive self-image and become much more confident” (26), says Micheli. “Any child who feels as if she is contributing to the team effort will learn self-esteem” (28).
Within the sports arena, research has shown that the role of the coach is a critical source of information that influences a child’s self-esteem (“Athletes in America”). “High school baseball players whose coaches had been trained to use a “positive approach” to coaching (more frequent encouragement, positive reinforcement for effort and corrective, instructional feedback) had significantly higher self-esteem rating over the course of a season than children whose coaches used these techniques less frequently” (Smith, Smoll, ; Curtis 36-37). In fact, Micheli believes that participation in sports stimulates a child’s desire to succeed in other areas. Micheli argues that a positive sports experience provides children with an achievement- oriented attitude that extends to academics and social situations. According to Micheli’s book, in a comparison of child athletes with non- athletes the athletes scored higher in positive personality traits and social acceptance than their non-athletic counterparts. In another survey, teachers rated athletes higher in positive personality traits, saying that they had, “more wholesome and more integrated personalities” (Micheli 29-33).
In addition to developing a positive sense of self, involvement in sport activities can assist children in learning what is right from wrong (i.e., moral development). “Indeed, moral concepts of fairness support the very existence of the notion of sport” (Yiannakis and NASSS 2). For youth to learn about fair play, sport activities must be designed to facilitate cooperation rather than just competition. One of the best ways that participation in sport can teach our children about fair play is through teaching the rules of the game and, more importantly, abiding by the rules during competition (Yiannakis and NASSS 2-3). Participation in sport extends the learning of social competence by teaching children to cooperate with their teammates and opponents as well as abide by the rules. Otherwise the sport will not continue which indirectly shows them the importance of morality (Yiannakis and NASSS 2-3).
Since sports programs do teach morality what else can they teach? Do varsity sport programs affect the education and development experiences of high school students? Though varsity sports are very important in some schools and for some students, they are only one of the many sources of potentially influential experiences. “Research on this issue has primarily focused on the characteristics of student-athletes, although some social scientists have tried to study how sports are connected with the overall school culture that exists among high school students” (Loy, and Sage 32). Studies have consistently shown that when compared with students who do not play varsity sports, high school athletes generally have better grade point averages, more positive attitudes towards school, more interest in continuing their education after graduation, and a slightly better educational achievement rate (“Athletes in America”). Sports can achieve this because they build the responsibility, achievement orientation, and teamwork skills required for adult participation in society. Also, sports generate the spirit and unity necessary to maintain the school as a visible organization (“Athletes in America”). On the contrary, others believe that sports distract the attention of students away from academic activities and apply excessive pressure on student-athletes and lead some adults to educate young people for their athletic skills rather than other human qualities. However, I believe if children are taught to enjoy and learn from sports and always put school ahead of sports than the effects will be positive. Sports have no place in high schools unless they are legitimate parts of educational programs and unless they receive their direction from educational purposes. Schools should not sponsor them unless students are educationally benefiting from them. As long as students are taught to balance school and sports then I feel they are beneficial for the students.
Another very controversial issue involved in sports is gender. Sports among men, women and various ethnic backgrounds are not always treated equally. Although sports have come a long way, and have grown in many positive directions. Traditional sports have been defined as men’s activities, and have excluded over half the world’s population (Loy, and Sage 42). There are five major factors for the recent increase in sport participation among girls and women in North America and other countries:
1. New Opportunities
2. Government legislation demanding equal treatment for women in public programs(i.e. Title IX)
3. The women’s movement
4. The health and fitness movement
5. Increased media coverage of women in sports (Loy, and Sage 42-43).
Before the mid-1970’s many girls and women did not participate in sports mainly because teams and programs didn’t exist. However, today this has changed greatly and girls and women have the opportunity to play virtually every sport boys and men play. Although, I know from being an avid sport participant in high school that it still is not fairly treated because many female sport programs don’t receive the same amount of resources and funding as male sport programs. Females also began to have more opportunities once Congress passed Title IX of the Educational Amendments in 1972. “Title IX declared, No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (Coakley 208). This law along with the worldwide women’s movement that was brewing strong for 25 years helped females advanced tremendously in the area of sports. From that point on women have been constantly proving and re-shaping the speculations that society has placed on them about playing sports (Coakley 209). They have repeatedly shown society that they are strong and talented enough to compete like men and even with men, and that they will continue to do so.
As we move into the twenty-first century it is clear that organized competitive sports are closely connected to politics and political organization (Armour, Jones, & Kerry 16). Sports are an integral part of the social world. As a part of that world, social, political, and economic forces influence them. The government provides sponsorship, organization, and facilities for sports. Their involvement in sports are primarily for purposes to protect people and maintain order, to develop physical abilities and fitness, to promote the prestige of a group, to establish a sense of social solidarity among group members, to reaffirm political ideology within a group, and to increase the legitimacy of the political system and the people in power (Coakley 163). The most prominent example of sports and politics is The Olympic Games. In The Olympic Games much of the major concern is placed on winning for your country and representing how “powerful” they are through the achievements earned in the Olympics. Looking at it from a high school standpoint, politics also play a large role. Most people involved in sports don’t like to admit it but in high school sport programs, who you know influences many things. The reason you make the team, the position you play, and the amount of minutes you are in the game can greatly differ if you know the coach well or someone involved with the sport. Although it is not fair there is nothing you can do about it. It is life and in our society politics rule. They control to whom, when, and what happens in our society, even sports.
There is no hard evidence whether or not sports truly effect the way children grow up. We are all different in the way we think and act and sports can either benefit us for the positive or negative depending on what we take from them. Sports can only help to build and guide our character in the direction we want it to. In the end it all comes down to you and not the sport. We all now that life is a relentless competitive struggle and participating in sports is good preparation for handling these everyday events. Sports are very similar to life and is influential in all areas of our society. They help our nation and communities economically, socially, and physically. I believe that sport, in their own without the influences of coaches and parents, do indeed make “better” people out of our children. Sports involve both victory and defeat, providing people with opportunities to experience success and failure. These lessons of success and failure are unique, valuable, and everlasting to our children and our society.