Does playing sports come inherently?

My dad played college hockey, and until I got to college, the stature of being a college athlete is something that I never fully understood. I did not realize how difficult it must be to balance being a full time student on top of being a student athlete. Without being a student athlete, I personally find it difficult to balance everything in my life. Since coming to college, my respect for student athletes, including my dad has gone up exponentially. But, I always wonder why these boys take part in such a rigorous life style. Does it come inherently to them, do they feel pressured to do so, or are they doing it for pure enjoyment?

When we were given the opportunity to gain the spectator power up, I knew I wanted to compare college hockey to my little cousin’s hockey league, especially after being assigned Huizinga’s reading about the definition of play. Do these student athletes find their game of hockey to be an inherent activity, even at such a high level? Or, does that sense of playing the game, being inherent only apply when everything is at lower stakes?

Because my dad played college hockey, he loves the sport to this day and is one of the longest season ticket holders for U of M hockey. I have been attending Michigan hockey games since I was little, as it has become a normal activity to take part in with my Dad. Watch the team during their October 18th game, here.

Since he is such a loyal fan, he was invited to a pregame meal with the team and he thoughtfully invited me to be his guest. We had the opportunity to have dinner with the team, their coaches, and all of the other individuals who take part in the team. Upon talking to these boys, I realized that some of them are hoping to go pro, some have realized that their hockey career is going to end after college, and some are very unsure as to what they see for themselves in the future. But I did get the sense, that after being brought up around the ideal that hockey is everything, playing the game is something they all find to be inherent at this point. But, some have come to the terms that this inherent sense is going to have to end at some point.

In Homo Ludens, Huizinga says that play is something you do inherently. Is governed by rules, separate from real life, and is something that is uncertain. After talking to the team, I realized this definition of play defines their definition of play. These boys play because it is something that comes inherently to them and they have molded themselves to the rules laid out for them.  On the contrary, Huizinga says ” First and foremost, then, all play is a voluntary activity.” (5) I think originally, this was the case for these boys many years ago. But I cannot help but to question if these boys feel as though they have a choice in weather or not they should continue playing at this point as scouts are looking at them and many are on scholarship.

The University of Michigan Hockey Team Warming up Before a Game.

The University of Michigan Hockey Team Warming up Before a Game.

On the other hand, I made opposite observations upon attending my little cousins hockey game. I went to his game (on top of being a good cousin) to compare his team to the U of M hockey team. My cousin is only 5 years old and is convinced he is going to be playing for The Red Wings by time he is 19 years old. The only issue standing in his way is the fact that he doesn’t understand why he has to play against other people. The entire car ride there, my aunt was trying to explain to him that in play, those are the rules. I came to realize after watching him and all of his friends attempt to play against one another, that their version of play does not exactly fit that of Huizinga. It is not something that comes inherently to them and they definitely do not follow the rules. They do how ever do it voluntarily, because I cannot imagine the temper tantrums that would ensue trying to force a five year old to do something they do not want to.

After comparing and contrasting these two teams, one thing was made strikingly clear to me. Despite the differences, these boys have found their social groups within their differnt versions of play. As Huizinga says it very clearly,  “It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means.” (8) Despite everything else,  I’d like to think that both groups of boys are doing what they’re doing because they love it and because they get to take part in playing with their friends.