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.