Although I participated in sports competitively until college, I think they really became a serious matter for me at around age 10. Playing soccer, basketball, and softball competitively, I realized that at this age, competition started to matter. How well I did relative to my teammates and competitors, mattered. It also mattered to my parents and coaches. Although winning had always been fun, losing started to hurt. I challenge Dunning’s opinion, in “The Dynamics of Modern Sport,” that the growing seriousness of sport only truly applies to professional sport.
Child’s play of sports is generally thought of as one of the purest forms of play meant for the purpose of enjoyment and to have fun. Huizinga’s magic circle conjures images of children playing a game of Hide n’ Seek, or maybe even a game of tee ball in the backyard. However, sport, in terms of play, quickly diminished for me as I started getting more competitive with sports. Before I knew it, I was involved in teams at school, as well as travel, and tournament teams for all three of the sports I mentioned previously. As a fifth grader, I was often up until one in the morning (WAY past bed time for a ten year-old) doing homework at my academically rigorous middle school. Was this fun, or just what I felt obligated to be doing?
I agree with Dunning that sports are becoming more serious but think that this also applies to youth and teen sports. Dunning writes that professionalism is the aspiration for sports, but my form of amateur sport was serious, to me, my parents, coaches, and teammates. Once I got to high school, I was playing to show my skills to college recruiters and coaches. Softball became my primary sport, since I could only devote a sufficient amount of energy to one sport. Year round, I played for my “college showcase” team, and I played on my Varsity team for all four years of high school. Getting a college scholarship was the equivalent of “making it” for me, and it was all that mattered. I think that if Dunning was writing about the growing seriousness of sports today, he might include college sports in his argument. They serve as an important intermediary step for those looking to go professional, and, for me, would be a way to attend college for free. Therefore, the stakes were high, and I was expected to perform.
Also, I believe that parents put a lot of pressure on their kids who play sports, in this day and age. Dreaming of not having to pay a pricy college tuition, as well as being able to live vicariously through their kids, many parents endorse this seriousness and competitiveness in youth sports. I’ll admit that I am a very competitive person, but knowing that my parents, who pushed me to be the best I could be, and then some, were watching on the sidelines often made me feel that I had to perform a certain way. If I didn’t make that catch or game-winning hit, I was often chastised on the car ride home and told that I needed to “try harder,” as if I wasn’t already trying hard enough. Therefore, I often pushed myself to physical limits while playing. Again, this growing seriousness in youth sports is, if anything, demonstrating the evolution of Dunning’s definition of growing seriousness in play. Play has evolved into kids and teenagers feeling pressure to be athletically superior to those around them.
Ultimately, my competitiveness, which was largely based in the external pressures of my parents and coaches, led to a “career-ending” (in the amateur sense) injury. During a practice scrimmage, I made a dangerous dive on the softball diamond that resulted in a dislocated shoulder and subsequent surgery.
Maybe I had taken sports too seriously. Maybe my desire to compete among the best of the best led me to push myself past what my ability actually allowed. With the growing seriousness of sport, in the amateur sense of the term, I don’t think that I was alone. Although he was discussing professionalism in sports, Dunning sums it up nicely: “Social pressure on sportsmen…to strive for success in… competition is a further source of the destruction of the play-element in sport.” I believe this applies to amateurs as well as professionals.