Some people might wonder why we participate in sport. Some might say it is a great way to stay in shape and be healthy, but I believe sports are more important than that. Health may be a good reason to start playing a sport, but it’s the sport itself that keeps us coming back. A person may start riding a bike to get in shape for a wedding, but they will continue to ride bikes even after the wedding because it is something they enjoy. If a pill was created that cured all sedentary diseases, people would still gravitate to sport because health is not the reason we participate in sport. Sports are an outlet that lets us be at one with ourselves and that enjoyment is something that can never be taken away from us.
The fun of sports greatly outweighs the health benefits from being physically active. In fact, we often see cases of players ignoring health standards to play the game that they love. A great example of this is offensive linemen in football, where the name of the game for them is “the bigger, the better”. We often see high school players putting health to the side and trying to gain more weight so that college scouts will look their way. According to an article by Tim Stevens, players bulk up at the risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and extra weight that can cause life time concerns. These linemen will do anything to reach the magic number of 300 pounds, even if it means eating their way to that weight (For more information on the health habits of high school linemen, visit: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/10/12/3272451/how-300-pounds-became-high-school.html). For these players, health is not a concern, and being healthy can actually limit how well they can play. The smaller they are, the harder it is to move people out of the way. To continue playing the game they love and getting the value out of sport, they need to ignore health and get bigger by any means necessary.
So what is the value of sport and why do people participate, even when it means putting their health at risk? Many athletes don’t care about the consequences of participating in sport because the joy they experience is enough to outweigh any possible concern. When athletes are playing sports, they are at play. According to Kretchmar, play is not the consequence of duty, fear, necessity, or even courageous self-sacrifice, but rather it is what those who have an adventuresome heart want to do (p. 147). Athletes who truly love their sport participate in it, not because they are forced to, but because it is what they love and want to do. They don’t see sport as a way to stay in shape or an avenue to get injured, but rather a place where they can escape from the world and do what they love to do. Health benefits are just a bonus to the true value we get out of sport. In the same respect, injuries are just a minor step back in our process of finding ourselves through play. Look at Kobe Bryant for example, he is doing everything in his power to get back on the court after major Achilles surgery that would be career threatening for most players his age. Some people wouldn’t understand why someone with all the money in the world would be rushing back to play and possibly putting themselves at risk for further injury. For Kobe, the answer to that is simple, it’s all about the challenge. In an interview with Mike Trudell, Bryant said that it is not about proving the doubters wrong, but rather facing the challenge form within (for the full interview, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uODSzxe8Ybo). Just like in Kretchmar’s definition of play, Kobe does not play basketball to please anyone else, but he plays the sport to please himself. He loves the challenge of trying to make himself better every day and he could not get that same challenge in any other outlet. You could take away all the external benefits of playing sports (money, health, etc.) and Kobe would still be playing basketball because he feels autonomous on the basketball court and that is a feeling that is often hard to replicate.
So we know the elite competitor like Kobe Bryant would continue to play sports with no external benefits, but what about the average person? I still say an average person would continue to play sports because many people participate in sports for the same reason Kobe does. They play because sports are fun, they can feel in control, and they enjoy competition. More important than that, sports provide a social element that can’t be matched by other activities. In fact, youth sports statistics showed that 65% of young athletes play sports to be around friends (for the complete survey, visit: http://www.statisticbrain.com/youth-sports-statistics/). Sports are a great avenue to have fun with your friends and even make new friends. People join basketball leagues to be around other people who love the same thing they do. Health is not a primary concern for these individuals and their focus is more centered on the social-connectedness that sport brings. You often don’t see ten friends going to the gym to bench press with each other; it just doesn’t work. Sports are a fun way to get multiple people involved in an activity and everyone can feel like they are contributing.
Sports and play will always be around, even if health is no longer a concern, because they are so unique in nature that nothing else could compare. Sports make us feel connected with others and help us feel better about ourselves. Health is not often a reason people play sports because the health benefits we receive do not compare with the internal benefits. It is hard to match the joy feel when playing the sport we love and sports will always be around as long as that emotion still exists.