A Reflection on Modern Athletics

Blog #5

Section 8

I recently attended a soccer game at the University of Michigan against Ohio State, and it was first athletic event that I attended other than football or basketball games. I’ve played soccer since I was six, and I really enjoyed going to a game. I also went to one of my 12 year old brother’s football games over fall break, and comparing the two events led me to some interesting observations which this blog post will focus on. 


Most football games at the youth level are not exactly competitive affairs, and my brother won his game 56-7,but it was the aftermath of the game that really stood out to me. This is because there essentially was no aftermath. My brother came over to the sideline with the game all but out of his mind, his first words upon exiting the field being “hey mom, can I go over to Jack’s house?” This is a great example of the magic circle that Johann Huizinga discussed in Homo Ludens. For him at least, the game did indeed exist as a “standstill to ordinary life.” Immediately after the game, we went home and he had to work on a book report that was due on Monday, proving to be more of a student-athlete than perhaps what exists at the collegiate level of football.

This is in stark contrast to what happened at the conclusion of the Michigan soccer game, a 2-1 loss to rivals Ohio State. The result meant that they would have to play on the road in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, and that was on the minds of all the players as they headed toward the locker room. In this case there was no magic circle, the game permeated throughout ordinary life. As Eric Dunning asserted in The Dynamics of Modern Sport, there has been an “erosion of amateur attitudes, values, and structures.” The outcome of the game was an example of Dunning’s arguments that the competitiveness of modern sports has begun to “destroy the element of play” that used to be present.

At a certain point, sports no longer exist in this sort of vacuum that Huizinga argued was the ideal state. For my brother they still do, but certainly not at the collegiate level. In my experience with high school athletics, with many people competing in order to earn a scholarship at the next level, the sport rarely takes place in this magic circle except for a select few participants, who truly do not let the outcomes of their events affect the rest of their lives.

3 thoughts on “A Reflection on Modern Athletics

  1. I agree, at a very young age sports are all for the fun of things. However, I do believe that there are even levels within younger age sports. I myself know 6 year olds competitively competing in sports like dance and gymnastics and the last thing on their mind is “Can I go somewhere? or Whats for dinner?”. In my opinion the magic circle only exists if you are not trained in a competitive nature. I danced competitively myself and there were some classes that were fun and play but others that were all about seriousness and competitiveness. It all just depends on the level. But overall, this was a good post. I hope you enjoyed your first soccer game!


  2. What do you think is the cause of this “erosion of amateur attitudes”? I have thought that it may be a product of American culture; everyone always wants to be the best, and once that idea hits a person’s mind, it is very difficult to play just for the joy of the sport, like your brother did. For the UM soccer players, winning is probably everything to them, and it is very difficult to return to the previous mindset of playing “for fun.” It seems like once children reach high school, where you play for your school and winning begins to matter, that idea of playing merely “for fun” is gone and is just a distant memory.


  3. Rory,

    Very good blog post. I think the best aspect of your blog was your contrast between your brother’s football game and Michigan’s soccer game. One can conclude that youth sports is in the magic circle and college sports are not. This is a problem in society because the “fun” and “play” of sports are becoming less and less prominent. I agree with Dunning when he states competitiveness destroys “the elements of play” because the only reason one is playing is to win a game. This post helped me to understand the magic circle more.



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