Choosing Your Own Experience

When most people say that they were a student-athlete in college, minds immediately drift to images of glory, full-ride scholarships, and championship. My college sports experience was nothing of the sort. I played division 2 intercollegiate women’s soccer for Notre Dame de Namur University, ever heard of it…not many people have. I wasn’t the star of my high school, I didn’t have colleges falling over themselves to have me play for their team; I sought out NDNU and made several attempts to get noticed. I managed to secure a spot on their roster in the fall of my senior year of high school, and to me this was the highlight of my soccer career, I was over-the-moon excited. My initial idea of a college athlete was far from my actual experience. I expected to be a part of the stars of the school with a small but mighty support system from my professors; I thought it would be simple, turns out playing sports in college was perhaps one of the more challenging experiences I’ve had to navigate.

argonaut-logoFrom the start it was easy to tell that this small, private, liberal arts college administration put very little emphasis on its athletic department. Athletics felt like a completely different world from the education sector of the school, but that didn’t stop the athletes from copping an attitude that they were better than everyone else on campus. For the most part dealing with game schedules, travel time and school work was challenging but I was able to manage. In my personal experience, I had no trouble in my classes and most of my professors didn’t hold my athletics against me because I made an effort both inside and outside the classroom to seek help and clarification. Some of my teammates were unable to cultivate such a strong relationship with their professors; many were on academic probation due to the lack of respect they had towards their academics. This was a common practice for majority of the athletes at my University, they didn’t care about the academics; so who can blame the professors not supporting the athletics? This trend is common for many colleges, as pointed out in Myles Brand’s article The Role and Value of Intercollegiate Athletics in Universities. The Standard View says that college sports are not a part of the educational experience and that if they were eliminated the educational mission of the institution would not weaken. Furthermore in Psychology Today’s article Collegiate Sports vs. College Education: Why they must be at odds, mentions an important and universal point; “Athletic programs compete for excellence… Academics are interested in education, making their students brighter, more learned.”

The Standard view in Brand’s article is rough to digest for some student athletes; other student athletes look beyond the scope of education and reap the benefits that athletics offer. In Huffington Post’s sport section, they offer 11 accounts of student-athletes and what they learned from playing college sports. One athlete points out the important fact of a support system, “I had a group of 40 best friends. They became my sisters. We ate meals together, practiced together, partied together, took classes together. My coach was a mentor and friend, and I treasure all of those relationships.” In addition, the Academe Blog of the Academe Magazine points out, “the best sports programs offer important lessons that are critical to a residential learning experience. The ability to work collaboratively, learn time management skills, exercise leadership, play competitively but with a sense of ethics are invaluable lessons taken from the fields, courts and pools as part of the overall student learning experience. College is about what takes place in the classroom. Yet the thousand teachable moments outside class often shape the student’s learning environment in profound ways.” It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to balance and maybe that’s why college athletics isn’t for everyone. There’s a special balance between what you learn inside the classroom and what you learn outside of it in your sport. But it’s ultimately up to the athlete to choose what he or she wants out of their college experience and no coach or professor can force a decision upon them.

soccer 004
Teammates that have become family

In my experience the professors only have a negative view on athletics at a university if you give them a reason to. One of the best decisions I made in college was choosing to develop a relationship with my professors despite the fact that I was an athlete; I took my education into my own hands and made it what I wanted. While this might be a long way off, if each college athlete cared as much about their education as they did their sport then that might just bridge the gap between attitudes of the athletic vs. academic debate.

Just Not Worth it

blog 4As a young athlete, you look ahead at your future and see endless opportunities to be great and to achieve your dreams. The older you become, the more you begin to realize and recognize your potential and the effort it will take to achieve those once seemingly infinite opportunities. College athletics isn’t for everyone; it takes a dedicated and passionate person willing to give up a portion of their college experience to be able to play at this level. I knew that I would be playing colligate soccer towards the end of my high school career; the only question that remained was where I would choose to go. Ultimately I decided to attend a NCAA Division 2 University, Notre Dame de Namur. When I signed my national letter of intent to play I made a promise to myself that I would work hard and earn my spot on the starting line-up and live out my dream for the next 4 years; unfortunately my fairy tale ending never came.

signing day 011
Signing my National Letter of Intent

Just about halfway through the first season of my freshman year, I managed to secure my spot as the starting goalkeeper and played each game with my whole heart; until I couldn’t any longer. 72 minutes into the match against Dominican University I collided with an opposing player, and I still haven’t fully remembered the events that followed.

Fearless Goalkeeper
The hit that changed my career

After collecting stories from teammates, coaches and my athletic trainer it turns out that the hit briefly knocked me out and all that I can seem to remember is the trainers leaning over me telling me not to move and a massive headache that has never really gone away. I was taken to the emergency room and told by the physician that I had a grade 1 sprain in my neck and a pretty serious concussion; he sent home to rest and recover. Under the care of my athletic trainer I was prevented from playing for a few weeks and once I saw the team doctor he advised that we wait until symptoms stopped before I was able to get back on the pitch. 6 weeks after the event, I still wasn’t feeling better, and was referred to a neurologist to shed some light as to when I would be able to play again. At this point, the season was pretty much over and since I was only in my first year, my sports medicine team advised me to just sit tight and get back out there next season after plenty of rest. I was fortunate to cultivate a deep relationship with my athletic trainers and they watched me like a hawk through my recovery. Even though I didn’t report my headaches and my lack of concentration in class, they were able to observe differences in my personality and the way I acted, and kept me off the field probably saving me from more brain damage.

Sadly not every athlete has a sports medicine team that is able to keep them safe. As we have seen in the article Pressure on Sports Medicine Clinicians to Prematurely Return Collegiate Athletes to Play After Concussion, athletes will not report symptoms in the hopes of being cleared to play or coaches will pressure clinicians to clear their “star players” so they can win the season. This problem needs to be resolved by the sports community and the health of players needs to be put in the forefront; unfortunately it isn’t such a simple fix. Recently, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the American Neurological Association, and the Child Neurology Society have joined together to produce a document on the legal and ethical implications on the evaluation and management of sports-related concussion. Medscape’s Sue Hughes wrote a discussion on the publication and notes about the issue in which athletes visit numerous physicians until they get the result they want. To deal with this situation, the new document suggests that physicians ask athletes and their families to sign a waiver before the consultation stating that the information can be shared with the athletic coach or school. An idea like this could make huge strides to help protect the future well-being of athletes.

concussiondiagram

Fast forward two years and two more concussions later and I’m getting my Master’s degree in Kinesiology learning about the damaging effects of concussions and trying to understand my own disabilities. I’m thankful that I am still able to learn and achieve great things at this point in my life, but I’m also terrified of what is to come of my cumulative brain injuries. Boston University’s CTE Center discusses the dangers that are caused by mild traumatic brain injuries and I can’t help but feel panicked at the idea that one day I might be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I have no way of knowing what will come from my injuries, but for now I am determined to understand and make some sort of impact on the sporting community and raise awareness of the dangers of concussions, especially in youth sports. Information sheets from the Center for Disease Control and the NCAA both are a great way to teach players and parents of the signs and symptoms of concussions. From my experience the player needs to be aware of the severity of the long term effects concussions can have. If I could go back and tell my younger self that my soccer career wasn’t worth the constant struggles that I face today I would in a heartbeat, and I know many other concussed athletes who would too.

Play like a Girl

Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Julie Foudy. To some people these names might not mean anything and to other they might sound familiar as part of the team that helped the U.S. Women’s Soccer team win the world cup in 1999; but to me, these are my heroes, the ones that should me what it means like to “play like a girl”. I’ve played soccer my whole life, and I have faced my own set of challenges as I strived to be the best player I could be. I chose to play goalkeeper which is considered one of the least “ladylike” positions and I was a fearless player who didn’t have a problem getting messy. I didn’t care that I didn’t look pretty; I wanted to be the best.

Fearless Goalkeeper
Fearless Goalkeeper

The challenges that I encountered in my time in sports were similar to many other women and girls in the sports arena. Perhaps one of the best parts about facing challenges is overcoming them, and making an impact on the world.

                An important moment in all of sports history was when Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s world cup final and ripped off her shirt in celebration. This iconic moment was captured and spread around the world on front covers and headlines; it changed the way people looked at women’s soccer in the United States.

This is what winning feels like
This is what winning feels like

Unfortunately, with an event as big as this was, there was disapproval. Critics made accusations that Chastain did this to focus the attention away from the tournament and the game and towards herself, but in an interview with BBC, Chastain explains “There’s something primal about sport that doesn’t exist anywhere else – when you have a moment like scoring a winning goal in the World Cup championship, you are allowed to release this feeling, this emotion, this response that is not elicited anywhere else.” Even with the critics, Chastain and the Women’s team were able to draw record crowds to the event and it opened the public’s eyes to the sport, and as reported in the same BBC interview, Chastain points out the significant increase in girls playing the sport [myself included!] “More girls are playing football in America than any other sport,” she says. “When I played college soccer there were 75 teams – now there are over 320 teams at the Division One level… women and men play it alike.”

More recently, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team won the 2015 world cup in Canada. After 16 years of defeat, the national team was able to lift the world cup trophy high and earn their third star, and the first country to do so. This time around it was different for the team; women’s soccer was already on the map and the pressure was on, and the women delivered.

USWNT World Cup Champions
USWNT World Cup Champions

The way this team won the cup overcame many obstacles that are present in women’s sports. As national soccer player turned sports writer Julie Foudy explains in her ESPNW article, “World Cup was not just that the U.S. women won it, but the way they won it. It was emphatic. It was emotional. It was uncorked. It was decisive. It was ‘Merica… Yes, we will always remember the ’91ers and the ’99ers. Both were important moments in history never to be forgotten, but this next generation — both girls and boys — will get inspiration from an amazing group of women who showed the world that even when others doubt, you cannot.” Along with their win, the 2015 USWNT was invited to the White House by President Obama. In his speech, Obama praised the team for their astounding win and recognized the impact these women are making on the next generation by saying, “This team taught all of America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass.”

As wonderful as this triumph is for women’s sports, there are still major challenges that plague women in the sports world. One such example is the while their effort on the field has led to great accomplishments, upon retiring former USWNT players are finding difficulty in making an impact in the coaching realm. As seen in an USA Today article by Laken Litman women, especially former players, in coaching could dramatically influence players to stay in the game but it seems like no one wants them there. Being able to give back to youth development is something that all current and former players alike want to be influential; current USWNT player Tobin Heath explains how being inspirational to youth after her playing career is something that she strives for. This example that challenges women athletes is just another version of gender discrimination in sports; if women aren’t able to make an impact though coaching, how are girls able to really learn what it means to play like a girl?

Go! Fight! Win? Is Cheerleading actually a Sport?

Amy Rich Oct. 18, 2015

There are a lot of people out in the world who think that cheerleading is not a sport, but on the other hand there are a lot who think it is. But people tend to have an opinion on just about anything and typically don’t have any evidence to back their opinions up. Growing up, my sister and I played almost every sport there is and when it came time to decide which sports to play competitively in high school I choose soccer and track and she choose cheerleading. My initial reaction was to laugh at her and tell her she should pick something else because cheerleading is definitely not a sport; they wear makeup and dance around with pom-poms for goodness sake!

It's more than just hair and makeup
It’s more than just hair and makeup

But let’s just say my opinion changed quickly when my incredibly strong and tough cheerleader of a sister physically taught me otherwise. So my goal in this post is to delve in and see if I can find philosophical evidence to support my opinion that cheerleading is in fact a sport.

I think a great place to start is by looking at Heather Reid’s definition of sport. In her chapter on Sports and Games, she includes Bernard Suits’ commentary that “performance sports” like gymnastics and diving are judged rather than refereed and therefore more similar to competitions like “beauty contests than to rule-governed games.” Yet Suits qualifies them to be sports because of the emphasis on physical skill and in his article “Tricky Triad” (1988) he redefines sports as “competitive events involving a variety of physical human skills, where the superior participant is judges to have exhibited those skills in a superior way.” Cheerleading can be constituted as a performance sport since it is judged but going alongside Suits’ definition it would be a sport because of its’ variety of physical skill and the outcome of a competition is dependent on a superior demonstration of that physical skill.

This takes some serious skill!
This takes some serious skill!

Alongside Suits’ definition of sport is popular opinion that a sport must be “a human activity involving physical skill and exertion, governed by a set of rules or customs, and undertaken competitively and capable of achieving a result.” According to these definitions, it should be clear that cheerleading is in fact a sport; so why do so many people still try to refute this.

Shifting the viewpoint to the rules of sports it is clear that cheerleading has a long list of rules and regulations that are developed by certain institutions such as the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators. The focus now should not be on the governing body that establishes the rules but the rules themselves. Are the rules of cheerleading “constitutive rules”?  According to Suits, this is a crucial part of being a sport and many performance sports lack the necessary constitutive rules.  Reid defines constitutive rules as “rules thought to define a game and distinguish it from other games.” This is where things get a little tricky for cheerleading; yes there are rules that help to regulate the competition and ensure that each competitor is adhering to a universal set of rules so that each can be fairly judged. If we were to ask Suits about the rules of cheerleading, it can be inferred that he would designate these rules as “pre-event” rules that are a part of performance sports but are different from the constitutive rules that distinguish game sports. So the question now arises; is cheerleading only a performance sport or can it be deemed a game sport? To answer this, we need to jump back a step to see if cheerleading satisfies the definition of a game.

In her essay on sports and games, Reid includes commentary from Klaus Meier about the difference between performance sports and games. According to Meier in his article “Triad Trickery” (1988) he says that performance sports do have constitutive rules and they also satisfy the criteria Suits gives for games. Cheerleading does have the elements of Suits’ definition of a game: a goal to be superior in competition and execute a perfect routine, means such as tumbling and stunting that help achieve the goal, rules that regulate the means, and a lusory attitude which is adopted by the cheerleaders each time they enter into competition. Therefore I believe that it is safe to claim that cheerleading can be described as a game, and that is one step closer to being a sport, and the rules of cheerleading are in fact constitutive rules that the very existence of the game is reasonably reliant on.

With the evidence presented I feel confident to define cheerleading as a sport. I’m not alone in this opinion, in fact the California Interscholastic Federation just declared cheerleading a sport in the state of California. I feel sorry for those that will still try to denounce cheerleading as a sport because you really don’t want to upset a cheerleader, most of them are stronger and tougher than any football player or wrestler around; trust me I know from personal experience.

My sister's college cheer team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
My sister’s college cheer team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
My sister and I in our Varsity Letterman jackets from our respective SPORTS
My sister and I in our Varsity Letterman jackets from our respective SPORTS

Sources

Suits, B. (1988). Tricky Triad: Games, Play, and Sport. Journal Of The Philosophy Of Sport, 15(1), 1-9

Meier, K. V. (1988). Triad Trickery: Playing With Sport and Games. Journal Of The Philosophy Of Sport, 15(1), 11-30

Reid, Heather L. “Sport and Games.” Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport. Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 47-49. Print.

Child’s Play

Capture the flag, hunting for Easter eggs, Marco-Polo in the pool, running up and down the soccer field; all fond memories from my childhood. As a child, I played. This statement is quite easy to accept for most: kids play. Now as an adult I run, do yoga, lift weights, swim; am I still at play? Due to recently reading Bernard Suits’ Words on Play, Clifford Geertz’s Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight and Heather Reid’s Sport and Play I intend to look further at my life as a child and now as an adult and question when did the child’s play turn into work?

They're at play!
They’re at play!

Reid’s work in Sport and Play presents a set of 5 characteristics of play: voluntary, extraordinary, autotelic, fun, and absorbing. Thinking back to the activities that I engaged in as a child I can see that they all had these characteristics in common. I was voluntarily choosing to run around on the soccer pitch, there was a sense of freedom in being able to choose what sport I got to play. Competing in capture the flag contests were an extraordinary part of my childhood because it was the end-all activities for the group of neighborhood kids, it was what we looked forward to after school, it was a serious matter that held an increased level of value. Perhaps the most autotelic activity that I can think of from my childhood would be dressing up dolls; there was no other reason that I chose to do this activity, I simply wanted to dress up my dolls. All these activities that I’ve referenced fit the bill of being fun and absorbing as well. But now compare those activities I did as a child with activities done as an adult, it can typically be said that when I go to the gym or go for a swim I am voluntarily choosing to do these things, I am always free to quit the activity. Furthermore, I have fun sweating it out in the gym and physiologically my body is experiencing an enjoyable reaction. The autotelicity of working out can get a bit dicey, but can’t I say that today I voluntarily choose to go for a run for the sake of going for a run? Sure I can, it’s about how I approach the activity and my internal attitude and desire to engage rather than a physical necessity or a moral duty. It’s hard to accept that running can be done just for the sake of running and not because of the extrinsic rewards associated with it. Even still, autotelicity can’t be fully disregarded. In addition, I hold a high level of value for physical activity, I approach my workouts with seriousness;they are absorbing and something that I re-allocate my time to, from an instrumental activity such as studying or being at work. And according to Bernard Suits this is a crucial part of defining play. 

This is fun right?
This is fun right?

One thing that I’ve found in reading about the philosophy of sport on play is that a large part of determining whether someone is at play is the internal attitude and intrinsic approach a person takes when engaging in such activity. In researching this topic I came across Schimd’s article that examines the characteristics of play and discusses a lot about the intrinsic value of play. What determines if something is intrinsically valuable? Thinking about my own workouts I compare them to the play I did as a child and something doesn’t quite add up, there’s a difference in my internal approach to working out. While working out has the 5 characteristics of play as defined by Reid and even by Suits I hesitate to call it play. So I decided to look a little harder and try to find out what other research and informational sources say.

In A Pluralist Conception of Play by Randolph Feezell quotes Stuart Brown saying, “Sometimes running is play, and sometimes it is not. What is the difference between the two? It really depends on the emotions experienced by the runner. Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity”

A reallocation of time from an instrumental activity
A reallocation of time from an instrumental activity

So then it depends on how I approach my workout, if I am voluntarily choosing to reallocate my time from an instrumental activity to something that is absorbing, fun, extraordinary and autotelic in which I have a positive internal attitude towards then I am at play. The positive internal attitude that I develop is largely based off of the phenomenology of my past experience. And as Geertz would argue, “deep play is something in which the stakes are so high that it is, from a utilitarian standpoint, irrational for men to engage in it at all”. To some the extrinsic act of running a marathon is absurd but to me, it is extraordinary, it is something that I use to learn more about the story of myself; just as the cockfight is “a story [the Balinese] tell themselves about themselves.”

In conclusion, in reading play presented by philosophers of sport I have been challenged to look deeper into my own life and question what I am doing and as a student of kinesiology I crave to know more about physical activity in a different sense, one that I have never thought of. Mechanically and physiologically I have studied what makes the body move, but now I have been able to take it a step further and ask, is that movement play? Peter Gray’s article The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights in Psychology Today makes a statement that I feel accurately sums up what I have found on this topic, “play is not necessarily all-or-none. Play can blend with other motives and attitudes, in proportions ranging anywhere from 0% up to 100% percent play.”

Sources:

Reid, Heather Lynne. “Sport and Play.” Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. N. pag. Print.