Monday, May 28, 2012

Do Sports Build Character?

I spent most of Memorial Day weekend watching my youngest daughter play in a soccer tournament and I got to thinking about how much of my life has been spent at sporting events of one kind or another, from the Star of the North track meet to the Olympics, from swimming to judo to soccer.

Regardless of the sport (or martial art), people who are heavily involved with it swear that it "builds character". You learn discipline, they say, teamwork, to overcome obstacles, face down your fears. I used to believe all of that, but now I am no longer so sure.

Interestingly, I hear people make the exact same claims about all sorts of other endeavors in life. Military service is said to build character, teach discipline, foster teamwork, teach recruits to face down their fears and develop the self-esteem that comes from achieving a difficult task.

If you ask people why they have their child spending twelve hours a week practicing violin, they will tell you it builds character, teaches discipline .... well, I'm sure you see the pattern by now.

I certainly gained a great deal from competing in judo, and in track, too. Yes, I really DID learn discipline, gain self-esteem, not so much teamwork, with judo being an individual sport, but I did develop some camaraderie. I learned to face down my fears.

When I look around me, though, whether it is sports or military personnel or people with Ph.D.'s, I see the same thing ...

Some really, really good people
Some unmitigated bastards
And a whole lot of people in between

Someone on twitter said this quote came from John Wooden,

"Sports don't build character so much as reveal it."

I do not know if that is true or not. I do know that there are certain constants in sports. For example, achieving success at an international level means that many, many people have to sacrifice for that athlete - their parents, siblings, teammates, supporters. As a result, some people become grateful for the great advantages and support they have been given and try to give back to their sport or give back to the world in other ways. Other people become self-centered and see nothing wrong with using the people around them. They often get away with it, too, at least as long as they keep winning.

I really don't know why one person turns out one way and another person turns out the opposite, any more than I know why one person jumps on a grenade to save his buddies in a foxhole while another turns and runs the other way.

I do believe this quote, though,

"Your talent comes from God. What you decide to do with it, that comes from you."

I know who said that one, my grandmother, Emilia Maria. Was she an athlete? Here's another quote from her,

"You're running but you're not running TO anywhere? You're just running around in a circle? That has got to be the stupidest thing I ever heard!"


XLMIC said...

Great quote from John Wooden and great quotes from your grandma :) I agree with them all. And I love your spot on observation about the people you see around you. As far as many, many people sacrificing for one person to achieve success…probably the norm but not a "Truth". In my experience, it is more the choices and trade-offs made by the individual…which, yes, do affect others, but I personally wouldn't consider them sacrifices by those others.

Great post.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I think it is both the individual and those around them. Yes, you, as an athlete need to decide to train versus party every day, give up possible promotions, graduate school etc. that will take time away from training.

On the other hand, anyone who begins a sport as a child has probably been driven to practices and games for a total of thousands of hours, had thousands of hours of coaching and thousands of dollars spent on his or her training.

Anonymous said...

Wins and losses come a dime a dozen. But effort? Nobody can judge effort. Effort is between you and you. Effort ain’t got nothing to do with nobody else.

-Ray Lewis

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I just starting reading The most Expensive game in town by Mark Hyman. The expenses that parents endure are extreme. I agree with you when you said there are Some really, really good people Some unmitigated bastards And a whole lot of people in between. I do not have children, and hated most of my AYSO soccer experience as a child. Based on a lot of what you said. Is it the inherit nature of competition? Does it bring out the worst in people?

Anonymous said...

I think that competition is healthy, however there is a certain level that becomes harmful. I once heard someone say, and I'm paraphrasing here "the truly competitive have no friends" It's okay to want to win, but to want to win at all costs can be damaging, especially after the competition is over.

jcp said...

I liked this post. I wonder if Sports/martial arts and any number of other things don't build character, nor reveal it, but simply provide people with potential character building experiences. You have no opportunity to succeed, nor fail while sitting in front of a tv set. In tournament you are going to be forced to deal with one of the two. How you deal with it, and how the people around you react/re-enforce how you dealt with it is where the character building begins. Perhaps they can be considered character building experiences.. in that in the end you will either have built good characteristics or bad ones...

Enosis said...

Great topic!

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