According to Merriam-Webster, a sport is a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities following a specific set of rules and compete against each other while “character” means the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves.
Sport has been a universal culture from the ancient historic period until date, many debates have been started on this topic as to whether it develops character or not. At first glance, it would be easier to assume they are two contradictory words in meaning, because one would suppose that in a contest, you do whatever it takes to win and character has no validity here, but it is much more than that. This essay will continue this conversation reviewing various views on this timeless question, the scope will cover Meta analyses of a few notable researches conducted, as well as arguments in support of and against this notion.
The first ever record of man playing sport started with the first Olympic games as early as 776BC in Greece. It involved lots of wrestling, javelin throwing etc. They believed in a man of health and strength. More importantly, this was the test of eligibility for the armed forces at the time and a man fit enough to participate in sports fulfilled the criteria needed to join the army.
However, this was not the only purpose as it also involved teamwork just like in modern day sports. It was especially important for training military units to work together back then; This was character development. So does this automatically mean we develop good character due to participation in sports? Is it specific to a certain type of sporting activity for example team sports like football and basketball or individual sports? On the other hand, does it cause negative character to be developed?
In the end, all views have those partial to them, I myself do support the idea that it builds character, this essay however does not disprove the opposite view, rather it aims to support my position on the topic, with facts and opinions of other authors, which will hopefully help you reach a decision best suited for you.
What Does Character Look Like in Sports?
Based on the Journal of College & Character VOLUME VII, NO. 3, April 2006, an article by Joseph Doty highlights the main reasons for sports as health and fitness but also goes on to discuss the fact that it may be practiced for socialization and character development purposes. He joins the debate in saying that although the term “sport builds character” is often referenced, it is not always true because of the so called bracketed morality illustrated by Brenda Bredemeier (personal conversation, February 2005) as a distinction in the way athletes act on the pitch compared to real life.
Doty went on to agree that good characteristics could be developed through sport nevertheless; this would not happen by chance, it depends on the team leaders such as coaches making it a priority for the team.
Then rose the issue of the definition of what character actually is; while everyone agrees that character is important, there are no clear boundaries when it comes to what the word actually means.
Moreover, even scholars had no more success than the rest of us in defining the word. Some saw it as an internal state that is manifested in behaviour (Bredemeier & Shields, 1995). Others define character in terms of the sum of a person’s moral qualities (Brody and Siegel 1992).
In order to portray this, the author used a diagram breaking down character into latent traits:
- Character (construct)
- Respect (latent trait) Integrity (latent trait)
Having had some idea to where the consensus stood with “character” with regards to its meaning, it was high time to understand what this meant concerning sport.
Doty continues by saying sport itself is not what builds character but that character could be learned in a sport setting which depends on all individuals involved, ranging from athletes, coaches, parents all the way to the supporters.
The writer also summarises a research on character in sport (longitudinal study by Krause and Priest (2993) which compared team and individual sports illustrating how both had different climates, as team sport scored lower than the other did. A few other researches were analysed as well they all concluded t that sport was more about win at all costs. Howbeit, Morgan, Meier, and Schneider (2001), in Ethics in Sports, supported the main idea that it does push people to their limit but this still begs the question is this a good or bad development?
Character Building through Sports Participation
In the International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences March 2012, Vol. 2, No.3 ISSN: 2222-6990, the author makes an argument about the positive and negative effects of sport’s participation on character. In support of the positive view, research into student athletes showed that they had better school attendance, less cases of dropout and not as many misdemeanors (Josephine Institute Center of sport ethics, 2006).
In another research, it was proven that college students shared their opinion that sports being included in the curriculum should be encouraged as it promoted the practice of physical activities in teenagers. (Omar-Fauzee, et al. 2009b) and finally described the negative correlation of sport participation and antisocial activities (McMillan & Reed, 1994; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). In addition, it was found to instill leadership qualities among others like courage, respect and having a competitive spirit not to mention the health benefits to this.
In contrast, the negative effect of sport participation on character mentioned included scoring lower performance in class compared to their peers, low self-esteem and violence (Bredemeier & Shield, 1987; Lemyre, Roberts, & Ommundsen, 2002; Wankel & Mummery, 1990). This however alone does not disprove the importance of sport in character building but begs the question are there strategies for character building through sport participation. The article went on to describe strategies for athletes themselves and coaches to help in the development of moral principles, out of all these a noteworthy point was the advocating and modeling of the “Six Pillars of Character”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship.
It went on to show that sport was more than just wining rather it brought the fans, team, rituals and tradition together, all summing up to build character through sport.
A Testimony to Character in Sport
In the article ’Do Sports Build Character or Damage It?’ by Mark Edmundson, he mentions how Professors and Coaches are in constant disagreement about their views on sports. Coaches and physical educators encourage it while professors view it a mere waste of time and just a distraction from actual education.
The author shares his experiences while playing football, describing how challenging yet exhilarating it was.” I liked how, when I was deep in fatigue, I became a tougher, more daring person, even a reckless one”, he says. He always noticed his growth in strength and physique at the end of each season, sometimes seeing challenges as impossible at first but tackling them in the end.
Edmundson mentions how the entire point of the sport was to try and try again, fail, pick oneself up until success, gradual self-improvement. “Get up and walk it off’ he added, was a popular phrase thrown recklessly by the coaches during the game. After players fell, bruised or injured themselves, bottom line was, they had to pick themselves up and walk it off.
He narrates how later in life he failed to get the job he desired but didn’t let that stop him , he used the same spirit from his football days, put more effort, spent most of his time in the library to improve himself as he had done in the stadium, failing over and over until sweet victory.
The author goes on to mention how a scene in The Iliad had taught him that just as the Navy Seal would never do harm to a prisoner, athletes also should be graceful off the field. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. “Sports can lead people to brutal behaviour,” the author adds. He mentions how the best players are usually those who are ruffians on and off the field. Coaches encourage this as it helps players build dexterity and aptitude for the sport. He concludes by describing sports as a toxicant and antidote, it moulds resilience, confidence, strength and bravery but at the same time makes players ferocious and ruthless.
Despite the plethora of views on the subject matter, one conclusion can be drawn; that sport is important in character building especially in adolescents and children. It could affect negatively or positively depending on the traits being enforced by the leading parties or oneself in sporting activities. Hence, time should be taken to ensure the right behavior is enforced and promoted in all sports because the attitude that individuals show during sports will most likely carry on to the real life, and contrary to the belief that they are separate, it all ties in together in the end.
- Omar-fauzee, Mohd sofian & Mohd, Nizam & Nazarudin, Mohamad & Saputra, Yudha & Sutresna, Nina & Taweesuk, Duangkrai & Chansem, Wipoj & Abd, Rozita & abdul latif, Rozita & Soh, Kim Lam & Kim.Geok, Soh. (2012). The Strategies for Character Building through Sports Participation. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences. 2.
- Character Development in College Sport. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2202/1940-1639.1364.
- Edmundson, M. (2012, January 15). Do Sports Build Character or Damage It? Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Do-Sports-Build-Character-or/130286.
- Sports Build Character?! (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2202/1940-1639.1529.