Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Seeking our truest, strongest, deepest self: William James and commitment in youth sports

During the past year I’ve thought an awful lot about commitment, especially what it means for youth sport athletes. In this time our oldest son (now 15) has moved from an assortment of activities – running, basketball, football, and volleyball – in order to focus on his sport of choice, which is soccer. He has gradually immersed himself in the practice tradition with hopes to see just how good he can become.

His decision brings to mind a passage from philosopher William James. In Psychology: The Briefer Course, James writes: “So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation. All other selves thereupon become unreal, but the fortunes of this self are real.” James was an unabashed advocate of the “strenuous life” which included a modicum of potential risk and precipitousness. To this point, a youth sport athlete commitment to a single sport exemplifies the kind of strenuous life James had in mind which could potentially lead to a life of significance.

James’ quote raises a number of pertinent questions not only for youth sport athletes, but for their parents and guardians, coaches and youth sport administrators as well. For example, what does it mean for youth sport athletes to seek out this truest, strongest, and deepest self? At what point in terms of physiological and psychological development are they capable of making a fully informed decision? If these athletes decide to specialize on one sport, are their potential risks related their own health? Similarly, to what extent does specialization potentially bring about risks related to academic success, the development of social relationships, or the potential of becoming self-absorbed and/or tunnel-minded? Finally, by virtue of choosing only one sport, what is the potential loss (and gain) in terms of other experiences?

Given the limited scope of this post, I’ll take up just one question related to James’ quote. When youth sport athletes choose to commit themselves to soccer (or basketball, tennis, or any other sport) we hope this commitment involves the athlete’s truest, strongest, deepest self, as opposed to a self which is projected by the parents. When children are forced into a sports commitment, they may end up hating the sport or the parent(s) or both. Conversely, when children become gradually immersed in the sport practice community, developing their own agency in addition to skill acquisition and friendships, they potentially develop a lifelong love affair with their sport of choice.

Making a commitment, or deciding to specialize on one particular sport, requires a deliberate focus on one pursuit, but at the same time pushes aside alternative experiences and, potentially, relationships. Athletes of all ages and levels need to be wary that the pursuit of excellence, in the form of commitment is not without inherent risk, ones that would cause concern, even for William James. As Rick Reilly, columnist for ESPN the Magazine wrote recently, “The price of greatness is more than you want to pay. The world's most legendary athletes are usually the ones most wildly out of balance. . . Andre Agassi grieves, to this day, the childhood he gave up while hitting over a million practice balls. Enjoy your heroes, but don't envy them.” Our own commitments, and those of our children and other youngsters, bring about both opportunities and consequences. We are prudent to think carefully, and help the youth in our purview do the same, as we consider our commitments to sport.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Sports Ethicist Show: Diving and Cheating in Soccer

Fellow blogger Mike Austin and I did a podcast in which we discuss diving in soccer and whether it counts as cheating or not. The podcast picks up from blog posts by Mike and I on the topic. More about the podcast at SportsEthicist.com

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Call for Papers: Defining Sport

Call for Papers: Book Chapters
  • Working Title: “Defining Sport: Contemporary Explorations”
  • Publisher: Proposal will be submitted to Lexington Books
  • Editor: Shawn E. Klein, PhD; sklein@rockford.edu
The focus of the book is to bring new scholarly attention to the issues and questions involved in defining and explaining the nature of sport. There are several classic works that treat these issues, but with the growth of the philosophy of sport a renewed focus on how to define and conceptualize sport is needed. Chapter ideas:
  • Analyses of common approaches to defining sport (or related concepts such as competition or athlete) in the philosophy of sport literature. (E.g. Bernard Suits, essentialism, formalism, interpretivism, and externalism.)
  • New approaches to defining sport (and related concepts).
  • Examination of borderline cases  (e.g. Motor Sports; Animal Sports, cyber-sports, fantasy sports)
  • Analysis of problematic cases ( e.g violent/blood sports)
  • Discussions of methodological differences between philosophy and other disciplines in terms of defining sport and related concepts.
    • E.g. Are there differences between philosophical approaches and sociological approaches? How might these differences affect how sport is studied or discussed in these disciplines and across disciplines?
If you are interested in contributing a book chapter to this volume, please send a tentative title, a brief abstract for review (500 words) and C.V or short bio, to the book editor: Shawn E. Klein: sklein@rockford.edu
  • Abstract deadline: July 11, 2014
  • Notification of abstract acceptance by July 25, 2014
  • Chapter Manuscript Deadline: December 12, 2014
    • Length: 6000-10,000 words (inclusive of references and notes).
    • Manuscripts should conform to Chicago style.
PDF: Call for Papers Defining Sport
Cross-posted: http://sportsethicist.com/2014/05/15/call-for-papers-defining-sport/

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New 3rd edition of The Grasshopper

Broadview Press has released a 3rd edition of the Bernard Suits classic: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. The new edition restores the illustrations from the original publication. Also, there is a new appendix on the meaning of play. It looks like the appendix is Suits' "Words On Play" article.

At The Sports Ethicist blog, I've reposted a brief review of The Grasshopper. Also, I discuss Suit's "Words on Play" article.