Silly Ball Games or Character-Building Activities?

Switzerland winning the Davis Cup and its obvious significance for the great Roger Federer got me thinking, yet again, about different perspectives on sport.

Victorious Swiss Davis Cup Team. Photo: AFP
Victorious Swiss Davis Cup Team.
Photo: AFP

For some, like a late aunt of mine, sports like tennis, golf, soccer, hurling, rugby, snooker … are perceived as ‘silly ball games’ and we all know Mark Twain’s quote:

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

Sport, for me, is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I also believe that participation in it can be one of the greatest teachers about life.

Among the lessons I’m talking about here are:

1. Hard work is essential for success, even for those with lots of natural talent.

2. Life is about winning and losing and today’s loser can be tomorrow’s winner.

3. Experience is fundamental and we have to be prepared to take what may feel are very hard knocks to gain this.

4. It’s crucially important to be prepared to change a losing game.

5. Life is about teamwork.

6. The ponds of life vary in size and so do the fish.

7. Loss or success in a particular sphere do not define the ‘whole person.’

8. Major societal divides can be healed through universal passions.

9. Physical fitness enhances mental agility

10. Resting is every bit as important as hard work in mazimizing potential.

What are YOUR views on sport? What, if any lessons, has it taught you? 

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

31 thoughts on “Silly Ball Games or Character-Building Activities?”

    1. Sue, dance strikes me as fitting into the broad family of ‘sport,’ in terms of requiring enormous fitness, balance and the like. Only problem for me is that there is no ball involved!

        1. Well, I must confess that me and dance never got on either. I managed to get kicked out of a dance class on the first night because the teacher said I would put all the others off too much. It was meant to be for beginners ~ ballroom dancing!

  1. 100% agree with you, Jean! You can’t always win; team sports teach you to work together towards a common goal, that you need each other to move forward.

    It kills me that neither of my boys is interested in participating in any sports. (Whose genes do they have anyway? Sure as hell not mine!!!)

    1. Dale, I can quite understand your issue with your sons not having an interest in sport. Thankfully our fella is sports mad but he said the other day that he didn’t know what he’s do if he ever had a kid who had no interest in sport of any description.

      1. I have to say it is really hard!!! I think if a parent plays a lot of sports with the kids, it helps them find the love more… We didn’t do it enough!

        1. Well I must say that I probably went over the top with our son ~ he was learning ball-sense activities from the minute we got home from hospital and is still known as the kid in town who never had a ball out of his hand all the years he was growing up!

  2. I’m afraid that, personally, I fall into your late Aunt’s camp as far as a perspective on sports in general. I will readily admit that there is value there for others – my daughter being a prime example. When she began to play soccer, she blossomed. And you had better believe I support her wholeheartedly!

    The Journey video was a treat this morning… Speaking of different perspectives, I was struck by the very restrained appreciation of the Japanese fans. They were certainly enjoying themselves, but a Western crowd would have been beside themselves and demonstrating it graphically. There are many ways of “being.”

    1. Rich, I’m glad that your daughter is enjoying her soccer and obviously benefitting from it. Maybe she’ll convert you yet!

      The Journey is the anthem of our county hurling team here in Waterford and there’s been some great occasions hearing it played for thousands at homecomings and the like.
      I’ll have to watch it again to compare and contrast the Japanese reaction to the Irish one!

  3. Sports isn’t really my thing either–but over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the values it teaches. I’ve had colleagues at work who were athletes–and I was always impressed by how hard they worked and by what good team members they were.

  4. OOH, OOH – I vote for number 10 – pick me, pick me! **waves arms enthusiastically in the air** Are we voting? Did I win?

    Ha! I’m afraid Jean that I’m generally not a big sports fan especially as a spectator. I used to play pick-up games of various sports when I was a youth – baseball, ball hockey, badminton. The only organized sport I ever played was badminton. My biggest grouse was the win/lose compettive attitude. I’m more of a collaborative kind of guy. There are certain types of competition that I enjoy – like if there is a team and we work to continually beat our own past record – that I like. Personally, i think humanity would be a kinder place if we collaborated more and competed less.

    That being said, i know it takes all kinds to make the world go around and to each his/her own.

    1. Hi Paul, I take your point about the competitive side of sport but I’d definitely prefer to see countries battling it out on a sports field than on fields of war. Sport has had a very unifying effect here in Ireland where our rugby team, for example, is drawn from both the Republic of Ireland and the North. That prevailed even at times when there was terrible strife in Northern Ireland.

      I think team sports have a fair degree of the collaboration that you talk about ~ and as a former tennis player, I particularly liked representative competition where we were playing as part of a team and not just for ourselves.

      1. That’s a very interesting example that you give about the national team being from both sides of a dispute. I would have to agree that is an exceptional and valid point. In general though,as a much as it is a common belief that sports provide an outlet that reduces the possibility of war, I have never seen any evidence as to the validity of that assumption. I will grant that in the case of Ireland it did give a common starting point for understanding.

        As my professional training is in business, I have given a great deal of thought to the juxtaposition of collaboration and competition. Believe it or not the Online Etymology Dictionary describes the root of “competition” as “Late Latin competere ‘strive in common,’ in classical Latin ‘to come together, agree, to be qualified,’ later, ‘strive together,’ “. which fundamentally means that competition is a form of collaboration – to come together. The only real difference between them is how the “coming together” is used or focussed

        Anyway, all that to say i am glad there are those who enjoy competition – there’s lots of place for all of us in this world.

  5. I am in the “it depends” camp, and I think a lot of it depends on the coach–like in most things in life. From whom are you learning the lessons, and what are those lessons? But sports definitely are an important part of life experience–or can be–and they do teach us important lessons, as you have identified. I got asked to be a “guest coach” at the women’s basketball game not long after I went to UM because one of the top players was a student in my class. Being in the locker room with them pre-game was amazing, and I realized what a gift those young women had in their coach–also a woman–and how her coaching was about more than just basketball, but about the importance of working together. That is a concept lost on many today.

  6. I like sports, especially football (socker). I’m not practicing it myself nowadays though, but I love watching it.
    I’m a runner (when my body allow it of course, since I have some health problems). Running is a passion of mine.

  7. I can’t imagine a world without sport. And yet that was how it was not so very long ago. Team sports in particular channeled natural male aggression into controlled environments.

    In Ireland there were weekly organised faction fights, vicious ones which cost lives. High days and holidays were renowned for them. In England cities were overrun by ‘slogging’ gangs based on individual streets or areas. Stones and belt buckles were the weapons of choice, innocent passers-by often the victims. In Ireland the fledgling GAA provided an outlet, and in England it was soccer and rugby.

    This is a good reason to let the lads get it off their chests either on the field of play themselves or roaring and cursing the opposition from the terraces. A safety valve. Maybe the war mongering nations will evolve that way in time.

    I’ve played, coached, administered right from age 10 when I was first picked as goalie for the school team, St Thomas More v Mapledene (3-0) and I don’t see myself ever stopping.

  8. I know sports are popular, and in the office where I worked, people used sports outings for team building exercises. Still, I inwardly (or perhaps not so inwardly) resent the fortunes spent on sports in schools when arts activities get cancelled for lack of funding. And in the US, college athletes seem to get a pass whether or not they have passing grades.

    1. Hi Sandy, I take your point about sport and ‘the arts’ not being treated equally and it’s something I resent too.
      Something that I simply can’t understand is how people think that one has to be either a sports person or an arts person. I count myself as having always been in both camps and know loads of people who are the same. But the view is still widely held that arty people couldn’t possibly catch a ball or that sports people couldn’t read a poem or paint a picture.

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