Is Dunning Correct?

We believe that we build ourselves up to the professional level. It begins with kiddy kickers, then middle school soccer, then varsity soccer, and finally you’re in the bigs leagues. 1280px-Youth-soccer-indianaFrom this logic, it is reasonable to assume that professionalism stems from amateurism, therefore disproving Dunning‘s Theory. However, aren’t we truly inspired by the professionals, and that is what causes amateurism? Did the chicken lay the egg, or the egg hatch the chicken? These two conflicting ideas pose the question, is Dunning correct?


Photo taken after winning the State Tournament in Lansing

For all four years of high school I participated in my schools mock trial team, working as a lawyer or witness. Although mock trial might not seem like a sport, it fits the criteria Dunning has chosen. Mock trial is considered a sport or a game because it “…is a ‘structure’ or pattern’ that a group of interdependent human beings form with one another”(Dunning), mock trial has competitions between “…more or less friendly rivalry”(Dunning), mock trial also has “….controlling agents…”(Dunning) such as a judge, and lastly, mock trial has a great “…number of spectators”(Dunning) to watch the trial.  In this program, we were all amateurs when we started. None of my team members had been on a team like this before and none of us had public speaking education. During the season, we practiced over and over agian, perfecting our skill and presented our efforts at the annual mock trial competition. Each year at the competition we learned new tactics from teams we competed against, and used the advice given to us by the judges. We were inspired by the professional lawyers judging us, and the teams that had won the previous years, and we worked to be like them. Finally, after three years of perfecting our skills, we won the Regional Tournament and headed off to State’s.  At the end of the 2013 school year, my team won the final competition, becoming the first Clarkston High School to win the State Tournament, and move on to nationals. After this win, we had left amateurism and joined the professionals of the mock trial world.

When I look at my experience from this angle, I can’t help but think that Dunning had it all wrong. How could professionals create amateurs, when my team had become professional after being amateurs? Then I realized, my team wasn’t inspiring other teams (amateurs), but my team was inspired by actual lawyers, the real professionals.

Before my mock trial team existed, lawyers and courthouses were present throughout history. the lawyers were lawyers, when they were younger they most likely enjoyed reading, debating, and performing. These activities were at first noncompetitive and fun, however as they grew older they realized they wanted to use these hobbies to create a career for themselves. So, the activities became competitive as they began using them in law school and to pass the Bar Exam. Then finally, through all the competition to graduate from law school, pass the Bar Exam, and find a job, the individual was finally a lawyer, a professional.

The lawyers careers as professionals inspired law enthusiasts to create mock trial teams around the state, and eventually build a mock trial competition in which students can compete. This scenario agrees with Dunning and his belief that professionalism inspires amateurism.

As I look back on my high school mock trial team career, I see how I tried to be like the professional lawyers, and that I started taking the fun out of the activity and replaced it with competition. As Dunning has put it ” ...the social pressure on sportsmen and women in countries all over the world to strive for success in international competition is a fourth source of the destruction of the play element in sport“(Dunning). Although I did not have international competition, I did have in-state competition. The pressure from my coaches, my team members, and my family caused me to no longer see mock trial as fun, but as a competition that I must win, not enjoy. I therefore was beginning the slow process from amateur to professional, just like the lawyers before me.


Eric Dunning

Our society has created an endless circle of professionals inspiring amateurs, and amateurs becoming professionals. Even though I was an amateur at first, I became a professional at mock trial, therefore following the circle path set up for me. Therefore, although Dunning’s theory is correct, it is not completely correct. He believes B (professionalism) equals A (amateurism), but he neglected to realize that A also equals B.

2 thoughts on “Is Dunning Correct?

  1. The connection between your mock trial experience and Dunning’s theory does appear to be strong however I disagree with the notion that Dunning is at all correct in this matter. It appears from your description of the mock trial format that the lawyers are highly intrigued by the young amateurs. It is almost as if the lawyers (professionals) are being re-inspired in their career by the amateurs. The lawyers basically need to the amateurs in order to shine a light into why they really do what they do. I believe Dunning’s theory is proved wrong in this sense because why would the lawyers judge mock trials if they were not looking to the amateurs to shine some light into their profession.


  2. Your points about Dunning and amateurism make sense, but the only thing that I am having trouble with is the fact that mock trial doesn’t seem to have the amateur ethos. Typically, amateur sports have an elitist attitude against the professionals who they believe are only in it for the money. Mock trial doesn’t seem to have that aspect. Many of the people who participate in mock trial probably go on to be lawyers, which prompts me to question if it is really amateur, or just pre-professional.


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