The Grey Area

According to Dunning’s concept about sport, as competitiveness in sports increases, the reflecting seriousness also increases, in turn decreasing the aspect of fun. This contradicts the concept held by Huizinga, which states that sport and games should be means of pleasure and enjoyment.  Huizinga also mentions that around the nineteenth century his concept lost some of its validity due to industrialization. Dunning’s concept does hold truth at certain levels, but there is a grey area where Huizinga’s concept is more accurate, even in the present day. The validity of each concept depends on a quantitative measurement of competitiveness. Once a certain skill level is reached (generally around college), in any sport, the competitiveness on the field hits a maximum. This maximum can be defined as: The level where both teams are highly skilled to the point where every player must give (as a coach would say) 110% to win each game. When this maximum is reached, every game or match is going to be highly competitive on the field. This maximum can be considered as the baseline competitiveness, the competitiveness that is now present in every game played at the higher levels. Included in the baseline competitiveness would be coaches’ approval, fan approval, and pride, as these are reasons to compete that are found on all higher levels. Other aspects of competitiveness, reasons why we compete, that are not included in the baseline can be referred to as auxiliary forms of competitiveness. When these auxiliary forms of competitiveness are added to the baseline measurement we are able to determine which of Dunning’s or Huizinga’s theories is truer. If the baseline measurement is present in a skill level with no auxiliary forms of competitiveness then Huizinga’s concept stands true.

Self-progression: A reason to compete

Self-progression: A reason to compete

At a strong high school level or a college level, players maintain a more serious attitude when involved in play. This seriousness is due to the competitiveness from not only the level of play, but also the personal aspiration to progress higher into the next level of play. Players in the high school or college level often have no occupation besides being a student. When this is the case the players are competing with one another, possibly their teammates, to try and reach the next level, whether it be professional or semi-professional. Competing against each other for self-progressing is one form of auxiliary competitiveness. This form of competitiveness is unique to this skill level, such that professionals cannot progress any higher than they are at. Since an auxiliary form of competitiveness has been added, Dunning’s concept holds true. The desire to progress makes the play too serious, eliminating the aspect of fun.

Media attention fueling Cristiano Ronaldo

Media attention fueling Cristiano Ronaldo

Professional athletes have progressed to the top skill level. At this skill level there is no room for progression and therefore professionals do not gain that auxiliary form of competitiveness. Professionals do compete though for other reasons. Based on how a player performs in a season he may believe that he deserves an increase in his salary. If the team he plays for is unable to provide him with the money he thinks he deserves, he is able to talk to other teams and initiate the agreement for a trade. By doing so the new team can pay him more than he gets from his current team. Money is an auxiliary form. Players’ skills and accomplishments are often reflected in their salaries. A motivation to play harder exists in money. Along with money, professionals are also influenced by the national media. Players who get the most attention from the media are often considered to be the more popular players.  Media portrayal affects a player’s appearance on a national and, in some cases, global scale. The media’s influence is an auxiliary form that can influence the way a player plays, and can also be a reason why a player plays. Money and media attention are both auxiliary forms of competitiveness that are unique to the professional level. With both auxiliary forms added to the baseline, the aspect of fun is lost and seriousness of the game takes over, supporting Dunning’s theory.

DCFC players enjoying the beautiful game with their fans

DCFC players enjoying the beautiful game with their fans

The grey area of Dunning’s concept lies at the skill level between college and professional, semi-professional. At the semi-professional level such as the NPSL, players in the league often have other occupations where they earn their yearly income. The players do not get paid for their contribution to the teams. With that being the case, players more often than not are not trying to be moved up to the professional level. Self-progression is not a reason why they play. Since the players aren’t getting paid to be on the team, their play is not reflective of their personal income. To some extent the media is evolved, but on a much smaller scale than that of the professionals. Local media and independent writers and bloggers are the main source of media for this league. With the media having such a significantly smaller influence, it is unlikely that the players use it as a reason to play. We can look into this more closely by examining any specific team in this league. Detroit City Football Club is a newly founded team in the NPSL. The team’s home pitch is at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, with their office located across the street at The Block at Cass Park. DCFC is a well-respected club with home ticket sell out rate of 100% last season. The most prevalent form of media for DCFC is in the form of Facebook and Twitter posts. We can examine further by looking into one of the players on this team. David Dwaihy is a co-founder and player for the club. Even though Dwaihy is a semi-professional athlete, his actual career is as a math teacher for a high school. His salary comes from being a teacher, while DCFC is just a means of enjoyment. In an interview via text I asked about his salary from DCFC. He confirmed the fact that neither he nor any other players get paid to play, he said, “We do it for the love of the game!” Huizinga would be proud.

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