The Olympic Games is every athlete’s biggest dream. Every kid that’s getting in the car for practice, spending all day trying to perfect one part of their sport, giving up sleepovers with friends for time spent on the field have that little dream in the back of their minds. They see the television ads, the athletes they look up to, and they realize that the Olympics are the ultimate goal. That holds true for me, an elite synchronized ice skater. “Synchronized ice skating? What’s that?” You ask? That’s because it’s not in the Olympic games. But it might be soon. There are a slew of reasons why synchro should be in the Olympics, and when I thought of writing about it for a blog post, I originally wanted to talk about the politics behind the sport and getting it into the Olympic Games. Then, I thought about Huizinga’s Homo Ludens and wanted to talk about why synchro is play, and, therefore, included in the magic circle of play. The problem with that idea? It isn’t. Neither are any Olympic sports.
As “amateur” athletes, we might not get paid, but we do so much that violates Huizinga’s definition of play. He argues that, to be considered “play,” an activity needs to be disinterested and the antithesis of seriousness. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m spending 20+ hours a week working to get two programs as
perfect as possible, dreaming of hearing an announcer call my team “Team USA 1” at the World Championships in Croatia, what I’m doing seems pretty serious. When my coach screams and shouts at us for messing up what seem like a simple, tiny step, that doesn’t seem disinterested. All high-level athletes must feel this; we all know that our sport means so much more to us. However, I don’t think sports start out like this; originally, they meet Huizinga’s definition of play.
When a kid steps onto the ice for their first group lesson, it’s fun and games. You practice the right way to fall (On your butt, going slow, which never actually happens) and get up, and, if you’re lucky, you might get to skate with some cones to help yourself stay on your feet. No athlete would stick with a sport long enough to get to an elite level if they didn’t experience “play” when first starting. However, I wouldn’t even be continuing skating if I still didn’t have moments of play with my team,
like our princess etiquette dinner or impromptu karaoke competitions. The existence of the Magic Circle within serious sports is what makes it possible for athletes to keep playing, and this is where the problems of Huizinga’s definition lie.
The Olympic Games’ exclusion from the Magic Circle questions and begins to tear apart Huizinga’s definition of play. I would argue that play can be interested and serious. When I’m on the ice, I feel a disconnect from the world around me. Everything else stops. It doesn’t matter how poorly I did on the first Boss Battle (the tests in this poli sci class), what argument I managed to get into with my mom over the phone, or how late I’m going to be up working on blog posts and papers and studying. All that matters is what I’m doing in that moment, the feeling of my blade on the ice. All elite athletes feel this way about their sport, something I can’t describe as anything less than magical.
When you practice so long and work so hard to get something right, you’re obviously interested in it and think it’s serious. However, the moments when you realize that your work has paid off, and that you have met your goals are indescribable. In these moments, nothing matters. Not how much your feet hurt, how tired you are, or how much you’ve missed out on trying to get there. You are in paradise, a magic circle, whatever you prefer to call it. Moments like this are what make the Olympic Games so inspiring and why I argue that Huizinga’s definition of play is way off. I love these moments and cannot for a second believe that they do not fall into my own magic circle. And this makes me say that everyone has their own definition of play; everyone has their own moments that belong in the magic circle whether Huizinga agrees or not.