Collegiate and Young Athletes

This November I went to two live athletic events. The first event was my brother’s 13 and under AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournament at Sacred Heart University. My brother’s team, CT Elite was in white and defeated the opposing team.


AAU Basketball Picture

I also attended the University of Michigan’s basketball game against Detroit University, which resulted in a Michigan victory. The highlights of the game can be viewed here:–mens-basketball-highlights

NCAA Basketball: Detroit at Michigan

(Michigan Basketball Picture)

These two games are polar opposites as the youth game was being played for the development of the children, whereas the collegiate game was being played solely for competition. Many parallels and differences can be drawn from these two games. The most obvious conclusion to me was that the younger kids were having a lot more fun whereas the collegiate athletes seemed to be “working.”

Johan Huizinga, a Dutch historian, who wrote a book about the study of the play-element in culture, defines play as an activity that you do inherently.

Homo Ludens eng

(Homo Ludens Picture)    (Johan Huizinga)

According to Huizinga, there is no direct definition to play. However Huizinga states that all play is a “voluntary activity” and “is free”… and “a stepping out of ‘real life’ into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition of its own” (Huizinga, 8). The first question that arises is whether collegiate athletes, like the UM basketball team, and youth athletes, like my brother, are constituting Huizinga’s play.

In my opinion, many youth athletes are not playing through their own will and are being pressured to play by their parents. Therefore, some of the play in youth sports does not follow Huizinga’s definition because it is not a voluntary activity. However, there is more of a play element in youth sports. In regards to collegiate sports, athlete’s play is not “free.” Collegiate athletes lack the freedom that amateurs endure because they are competing rather than having fun. The athletes know that their school and administers have given them a scholarship so they can help their school succeed athletically, rather than academically. Also, play should be distinct from ordinary life and more often than not sports are not distinct from normal life because all the athlete’s do is practice their sport so it becomes a habitual action/activity. I am certain that Derrick Walton and athletes similar to him spend more time practicing basketball than they do studying for school. This is not the case for my brother and other youth athletes.

According to Eric Dunning, modern sports are in between the line of competitiveness and seriousness. For example, my brother begins to play basketball for fun and then it becomes more competitive towards his high school days. If he decides to pursue a scholarship to play in college he will realize how serious the play is and that he is not playing for “fun” rather for the success of his school and his scholarship. Oftentimes the most skilled athletes always play in college or professionally. In my opinion, there needs to be a change in this; society needs to have leagues, such as men’s softball leagues, where extremely skilled players compete for fun.


(Men’s Softball League)

In reality, collegiate and professional athletes are not competing for fun. Some of the benefits they receive from playing may be fun, but their actual “play” is not fun. In conclusion, society has an issue at their hands. During the 1800s, play was for fun and most everyone did it. Nowadays, there is less and less play because of the seriousness and competitiveness around sports. Sports are a huge part of the U.S. economy and culture, but the question remains as if this is a good or bad thing?

3 thoughts on “Collegiate and Young Athletes

  1. Great post. The connections you drew between Huizinga’s ideas and the actual play occurring in each of these games are valid. One thing I slightly disagree on is when you said collegiate athletes aren’t amateurs. In fact, the NCAA defines all collegiate athletes as amateurs, this is the principle which allows the NCAA and universities to not pay their athletes. They are representing their school and raking in tons of revenue, yet get no compensation for it – blasphemous. Either way, I agree with the fact that collegiate athletes are not having fun, instead they are working hard and giving 100% effort to represent their school and maintain their scholarship. Your younger brother, however, is in fact having much more fun, as he isn’t playing to represent a large body of people or to maintain any sort of scholarship. Nice.


  2. Very interesting blog! I still have to state that players playing in college are still playing for fun. Yes, they are under more stress and it’s like a job, but they still love the game which is why they put in countless hours to practicing. Also I think your point on “leagues” was on the right track but a little off. Men’s softball leagues are not for “highly skilled players looking to play for fun”. It is for people who are not highly skill but still love the game. Also I would have liked if you used more of the text in your blog, it seemed you just tossed it out in a paragraph and that was it.


  3. Kids playing sports is what I would usually think of as an example of where it is fun, so it raises an interesting point when you say that many of them are there against there will. I also like the point you made that sports are now such a huge part of players lives between practice and games and other team related commitments that it is hard to step out of the realm of the normal world and into the game now. While I would agree that there is less play in the world, I think a lot of that comes from fans rather than the athletes. For example in the movie Fever Pitch characters see Red Sox player Jason Varitek out to eat after a loss. The characters are devastated by the Sox performance, but for Varitek he went out and did his job for the day and is now done. Also I would say there are platforms for skilled players to play and have fun it is just a matter of them choosing that over professional paths.


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