Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Musings on sporting mania

Discussion around Saturday Morning Musings - Rugby got me musing about the history of various sporting codes. A remarkable number have some originating connection with Great Britain.

It also got me musing on the sheer number of games played at one time or another by members of this household: rugby league, rugby union, two types of touch football, soccer, cricket, field hockey, basketball, netball, water polo, baseball and tennis. Each has different rules that vary within sports depending upon age and also change over time. Is it any wonder I get confused some times?

Access to physical infrastructure is central. This seems to get more expensive with time. The grass hockey field has been replaced by synthetic turf, the clay tennis court by synthetic surfaces.

Tennis, a game whose strength was based in part upon the presence of so many private courts, has arguable been the biggest loser in this process because there are very few private courts left any more. The home tennis parties that were once such a feature have largely vanished as a consequence. Once most Australians could play tennis to some degree. Now many cannot.

The fact that so many Australians still play sport especially at school level is a good thing. Who could argue with it? Yet one noticeable feature has been the rise of organised sport as compared to the more informal social type.

When I say this, I am not just talking about tennis. Rather, there are a whole range of once common informal sporting activities that have gone into decline as backyards became smaller, parks more crowded, streets more traffic intense and parents more worried. We have replaced the free and informal with the formal and organised.

While this may be inevitable, it also imposes costs. Especially in the bigger Australian cities, parents now spend time and money in transporting kids and in compulsory costs such as insurance that once did not exist.

One of the oddest things in the whole process has been a growing conflict between professionalisation, competition and the attitude in schools towards competition.

All sports have become more professional, more organised.

In Australia, sport now offers career paths that simply didn't exist twenty years ago. At the elite level including the school elite level, competition is intense. Parents have become involved in this process: what I think of as the unsporting attitude of some parents at particular games has become something of a national scandal. Fights between parents who have become over-involved in their children's sport are far too common.

Yet all this conflicts with an ethos in some schools that, in sport, playing is the thing. The playing field must be levelled, all must have a chance.

I accept that what I am about to say is contradictory.

I object to the more rapid competitive elements. I see a problem where professionalisation creates huge gaps between the best and worst. Yet, looking at my own daughters' sport, I also object to the fact that (at least as I see it) the attitude of their school to competition prevented them from acquiring the skills and competitive experience that would have allowed them to do the best that they could given their level of sporting competence.

Competition is central to team sports, but so is fun and skills enhancement.

I wonder whether we have got the balance right? We discourage competition on one side, while also creating highly competitive streaming on the other. The ordinary person can end by dropping out.


In a comment, Ramana reminded me of this post, Wandering Mahila-Gen Now And Their Tomorrows, that captures another aspect of the competitive pressures that can be placed upon kids.     


Winton Bates said...

This is only tangentially related to this post but I've been thinking about possible implications of links between between commercialization of sport (sponsorship) and pressure on players to improve their off-field behaviour.
In particular I wonder whether commercial sponsorship would help the churches to come to terms with the problems you discussed in your Sunday musings. Just joking!

Rummuser said...

Why only in sports? In ordinary life too, life has become highly competitive and burn outs, drop outs, suicides etc are quite common among the young, at least here in India. The commercialization of everything has changed the way one lived. Do you know of a GP? The guy who would visit you gladly at short notice and knew your entire history and your family's too? Or the lawyer friend who checked all the title deeds for your home when you bought it and had to be reminded half a dozen times before he sent a bill around? I wrote about it a while ago:

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi both

Winton, I have no idea just what the impact is of the pressure on players to improve off-field behaviour. However, one side effect is that we have all become much more aware of failures; this has had a tarnishing effect.

Ramana, thanks for reminding me of that post. I have inserted a post script in the post.

Interesting that it's India too. Coincidentally, cousin Jamie sent me a piece writtem by a dentist who used to practice in Armidale. I am not sure that a modern dentist would accept a bag of spuds in payment from a client who could not afford to pay cash!