How people define sports as a spectator

Being a spectator of sports events is so much different from actually playing a sport myself. From the outside, I can observe so much more than if I were playing in the game. I am a tennis player and whenever I am playing a point I would focus in the ball more than anything else. However, I learnt that it is not just the game itself which construct the sport but it also consist of the environment, the spectators as well as the atmosphere. In the past couple months, I have been to 2 sporting events held by the University of Michigan. Although both events are considered to be “sports”, I found different meanings to them in terms of how people define the sport as a spectator particularly.

In the modern world of sports, sports is becoming more dominant in every social class. Sports are also moving away from Huizinga’s definition of play to be “non-serious and disinterestedness”, into Eric Dunning’s definition of sports to be “competitive, seriousness of involvement and achievement-orientation”. The first event I went to was an inter-collegiate tennis event in October. It was one of the biggest tennis tournament University of Michigan has held for the past few years. There were around 32 schools that participated in the tournament. I was there for the mens finals and it was a player from Ohio State playing another player from Illinois. There wasn’t a really big crowd that day and there were also limited seats given the size of the tennis stadium. The reason I think it is not crowded because the “tone” of the tennis game is not as exciting as other sporting events like Ice Hockey or Football. According to Eric Dunning, the tone of the game is mainly defined by the level of polarity between two opposing teams in terms of attack and defense, co-operation and tension as well as the overall competitiveness. I found the tennis game to be boring at sometimes because of its lack of excitement and interaction between the spectators and players. It was like the players are doing their own business and the spectators are enjoying their own day. The players once in a while threw out a fist pump after they won a long point but the atmosphere was so much different to the other sport event I have watched.

The second sport event I went to was the Ice Hockey Game against Penn State. It was my first Ice Hockey game so it gave me a lot of great experience despite of losing to Penn State 3-2 at the end. Michigan Yost Ice Arena being a Top 20 in best college Hockey Arena, I have great expectations of the atmosphere and the facilities and it did not disappoint me. The game was to start at 7:30 pm but the arena was packed with students, fans and families at 7:00 pm. As there are a lot of timeouts during the game, there was huge interaction between the game and the spectators compared to the tennis game. Fans will yell out encouraging words to the players and the players will respond by lifting his stick up in the air or by showing a fist pump. During the game, there were a lot of physical contacts between the players which showed great tensions and the switch overs are really quick so there was a lot of attack and defense going on. Spectators were extremely excited when they see players knock down each other. I personally think that the physical contact and aggressiveness is the reason why people love Ice Hockey. It is basically the meaning of the sport. In the reading about changing football rules in NFL by Marc Tracy, he emphasized on how making football “safer” is taking away the excitement and ultimately the meaning of the sport itself. He mentioned, “the sport will be different, maybe it’s more safe and a little less exciting and interesting.” The fighting and the physical contacts are the elements that gave me the most excitement and forms the climax of the game. Those are the elements that defined Ice Hockey as Ice Hockey and I think it should be kept the same way even though there could be potential danger to the players. 

(Image taken out from Google)

Despite of the differences between the two sports I have spectated, both sports showed growing social significance to the society. Sports bring happiness to a lot of people when the team they support wins and at the same time bring disappointment when they lose. According to Eric Dunning, Sport has become “one of the principal media for generating emotions and excitement.” It has also given people’s live meaning. After the Ice Hockey Game when Michigan lost, I can see the faces of the spectator to be sad and disappointed. Referring to Dunning’s reading, as sport being more dominant and affect people lives other than the players, the value of sport is being increased and “social pressure generated on sportsmen and women” will further pull sports away from what Huizinga has defined it to be.


2 thoughts on “How people define sports as a spectator

  1. I had a very similar experience with my spectator blow and was at the same game that you were at. The connections that you make between the readings and the different games was well done and very interesting. Our blogs were very similar and I have views that you seem to have the same ones. Hockey and tennis are different sports and people enjoy going to the hockey games more than the tennis matches. I believe you connected the readings a lot better than I did and you payed a lot of attention at the certain events. I think you could of done a better job with talking about the certain events and how it relates to certain things. Overall this blog was extremely interesting and it gave me a different view on other peoples opinions.


  2. First of all, I think the connection between readings and the games you went to is solid as well as your understanding of each.

    Overall, I would have to disagree with the claim that sports themselves are becoming disinterested. Instead, I’d like to offer that spectators have embraced the competitive and achievement orientated excitement generated by sport, but the players still participate for reasons suggested by Huizinga.

    In both sporting events you went to, the players engage in a battle royal that creates it’s own environment and removes them from reality of their presence in an arena. It is inevitable that spectators and players feed off each other as they did at the Hockey event, but the spectators focus on sports in Dunning’s view while athletes, although effected by competition and achievement, are driven by enjoyment and the disinterested nature of sports that Huizinga suggests.

    The players compete to play with others who can compete with them at each individual’s highest level, however, they do not compete simply for achievement or recognition. They compete because they want to be the best they can be doing something they are passionate about. The only way for self improvement is practice at the highest level, and so they strive to compete at their respective highest levels.

    Spectators, on the other hand, propel the ideals of achievement and competition that Dunning suggest are true. They are happy when their team wins or their players succeed, and sad in the event of a less than successful outcome. They want their team to reign supreme as the “best” for pride and self-worth.

    In both cases, each separate entity competes to further their own interests, consequently creating a dichotomy behind the meaning of sports for fans and players.


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