Sociology of Sport: The Ideals of Sport as a Reflection of Society
Sport has become a central part of society, introduced to children at a young age and often continuing to be part of a person's life throughout their lifetime. Sport impacts on people in a number of ways. In childhood, the focus of sport is often on participating, working with other people and aspiring to be the best you can be. Successful sports people also become heroes for children, something that continues into adulthood. As individuals grow older their focus may change from playing sport to watching sport. At the same time, sports people continue to be respected and viewed as heroes, the fact that successful sports people get paid millions in sponsorship money is evidence that they must have a major impact on consumers. There are few other aspects of society that begin so early in childhood and continue through to old age. For example, singers and movie stars are popular, but this popularity is limited to certain age groups.
With sport such a major part of society, it is worthwhile to consider what sport represents and what it communicates to people. This will begin by looking at sports in childhood and what it represents for the child. This will continue with a look at why sports people become heroes and what this means. The values that sport communicates will then be discussed. Overall, this will show that sport is a major part of the human experience and reflects the sociology of our world, with sport representing the same values that are respected in society.
Children and Sports
Sport often becomes a part of a child's life early in their childhood. At this early stage, sport is approached as a good way for the child to participate and learn to cooperate and play with other children. Children begin to play team sports as part of school and outside of school and also individual sports, such as tennis or athletics. For team sports, children are encouraged to work together with other children. This is an activity that teaches children about teamwork. As well as this, both team and individual sports teach children about rules and about working towards a goal. Children who begin to play sport are taught the rules of the game and learn to obey those rules. They also begin to focus on the goal, namely winning.
Sport then begins to teach children about the values of society. Children learn that certain rules apply to different situations and that those rules should be obeyed. They learn to work with others on their own team, while trying to beat others on another team. This is one of the first activities where children learn to compete against each other and to recognize people as either on their side or against them. Even though the focus is not usually put on winning but on participating in children's sport, children still become aware that winning is the ultimate goal. Therefore, children learn that they should strive to be number one. This can be seen as a good things in that it shows children that they can define a goal and work towards it by improving themself. For example, the child who wants to win the athletics practices harder, improves and works toward the goal of winning. This can also be seen as a negative thing, since it shows children that the ultimate goal is to come first and it is this first place that is most highly rewarded. The reality is, that only one person can come first.
It must be noted at this point, that what children learn in sport is a reflection of how life is approached. In life, it is first place that is most desirable. In life, there are certain rules applicable to different activities. In life, people associate themselves with one team seeking the same goals while being in opposition with those seeking other goals. And in life, people develop and work towards increasing their ability to achieve that number one place. These early years in a child's life then, can be seen as a way to introduce them to the rules of life. Sport effectively mimics life and so is a controlled way of gradually introducing children to the way the world works. This introduction to the world then continues as the child develops and into adulthood.
In short, sport can be seen as a part of society that represents society itself. Those good at sport, represent those that are good at life. This explains why society attaches so much meaning to sports stars. Sports stars can be seen as an example of those who have succeeded. Importantly, sports stars are one of the first people that children begin to idolize and copy, with sports stars becoming important to a child before the stages where movie stars or singers become more important. This meaning attached to sports stars also does not fade as the child grows but continues into adulthood. In effect then, childhood develops the ideals that will persist throughout a person's life, those ideals being captured by sport, with sport seen as a reflection of what society values. Before considering the values of sport, it is worthwhile to briefly consider the popularity of sports stars.
Sports People as Heroes
It has been noted that sports stars are idolized, being seen as the ultimate models of success. This idolization is related to the way that people identify with sports stars. Consider the case of two colleges competing in a basketball game. The results of the game matter to the players. As well as this, the results matter to the spectators, with each individual going for the college that they are part of. Even though the spectators are not playing and have little to do with the outcome of the game, they register a win if their team wins. This is because they associate themselves with the team because they are in the same group as the team. The same applies to when states and countries compete, each individual relates to the side whose group they are part of.
This shows two things. Firstly, from a sociological viewpoint, it shows that people see someone from the same group as them as representing them. Therefore, when the American wins the race, the American people feel pride in themselves, believing that this person represents their culture. This also shows that people see the sports person as representing the ideal. It is important to note that the successful athlete is a person idolized, whose success can be seen as least associated with luck. The fastest runner or the fastest swimmer or the best basketball player, has achieved that success because they have worked for it. Other stars that are typically idolized are television and movie stars and singers. However, while these stars have most likely also worked hard for their success, luck also plays a part. For example, Julia Roberts may have worked hard to be a good actress, but if she had not got the role in Pretty Woman and if the film had not been such a success, she may not be where she is today. Sport then represents what people most idolize in society, focusing on a goal and working hard to be the best.
It is also important to note that there are various sports stars offering examples of various skills. A golfer is an example of strength of mind, a figure skater an example of grace, a marathon runner an example of perseverance and a weight lifter an example of strength. Sports then, does not represent just one characteristic that is valued by society. It represents any number of characteristics, with each sport requiring a different combination of skills and qualities. This factor communicates to people, not that they have to have one specific skill, but that they have to find their own natural talent and develop it. The common qualities sports stars do represent are hard work and dedication.
Overall, people identify with sports stars because they associate themselves with the sports star, and also see sports stars as successful. Sports stars also represent the qualities society idolizes. These qualities are perseverance and dedication, while the other qualities that make a sports star successful are unique to the individual and to the sport. This communicates that there is not one way to be successful, instead showing that everyone needs to find their own path and develop their own specific skills to meet their own goals. It must also be remembered that sport represents what society values, so this applies to more than just in sports and to an approach to life. Everyone has specific skills and qualities and must develop those skills to be the best that they can be, while pursuing their own unique goals. To consider this idea of sports representing what society values, the values that sport emphasizes will now be discussed.