Over Thanksgiving break I attended my thirteen-year-old brother’s travel basketball game. It was his opening game and he is always trying to impress me, so consequently he was pretty nervous. I was very excited to see him play because each time I watch one of his games, it is clear that he has improved. Once the game started, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the court. Soon enough, he’ll be able to beat me in a game of 1v1 which is a very scary thought. His team played hard and he lead them to victory.
Just last night I attended the Michigan vs. Syracuse basketball game. This was the second Michigan basketball game I have been to this year, but by far the most exciting of the two. The first half was relatively tight, but we went up by 10 points in the second. However, Syracuse came back and tied the game up 63-63 with approximately 1:30 left on the clock. Spike Albrecht hit a three pointer to send us up by 3, a deficit Syracuse would come close to overcoming but fall a bit short in the end. The atmosphere in the Chrysler Center was tangible. Everybody in the crowd was having fun, yet I can argue the players were not.
“Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means” (Huizinga).
I have multiple issues with Huizinga’s definition of “play.”
Huizinga stresses that in order for something to be considered “play” there must be no monetary reward given. I disagree completely. Who is to say that NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, WNBA, ect PLAYers aren’t PLAYing the game?! It may not be the friendliest of competition, but I would certainly consider it play.
Huizinga also says that a primary value of “play” is fun. Again, I disagree. I can confidently say that players in higher up levels are not having any sort of fun. Athletes at that level are playing with all out intensity and drive. No fun is being had. They may love to play the sport, but come game time there are no smiles on their faces. For instance, I did not see much jovial behavior out of any of the players on the Michigan or Syracuse basketball teams. They were there to win, no other reason. Even my brother’s basketball game was very serious. In a tight matchup, it did not look like they were having fun; it looked like a battle.
Andre Agassi, a men’s tennis superstar, wrote in his autobiography Open, that he hated the game of tennis. Agassi writes, “I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have.” Agassi was having no fun when he was playing tennis professionally, yet he did extremely well, made a lot of money, and gained stardom.
I am certain Andre Agassi is not the only professional sportsperson who disliked their sport and played it solely for the monetary rewards. I do not see how one could make the argument that Agassi did not “play” tennis. In my opinion, he did so and played it at a world-class level. The term “play” is far too broad for me or anyone to define exactly, however I disagree with Huizinga’s definition strongly.