Mill’s Concept of Individualism in Tennis and Hockey

Attending a live sporting event is a completely different experience than watching on television or the internet. When you watch something live you are much more aware of the atmosphere of the event, the spectators there, and the actions of the players. This year, I have had the opportunity to go to a professional tennis tournament in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition, I attended a Michigan hockey game against Penn State. Both of these events share some similarities, but there are a far greater number of interesting differences between them. The characteristics of each event say something about the audiences they draw and how the players act in each sport. This semester, we have read excerpts from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”. One of the main concepts in this work is individualism and its importance in creating a rich society and allowing individuals to reach their potential. In each of these sports, athletes express there individuality through a variety of different means, contributing to the overall variety and competitiveness of the game.


Roger Federer playing at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, OH

Tennis, unlike most of the major spectator sports in the United States, is only contested between two players in most circumstances, lending an entirely different vibe to the process of spectating. The audience in a tennis arena is completely silent as the athletes contest points, bringing all the focus to what is happening on the court. You can hear each and every grunt that players emit, the screeching as their shoes move across the court, and the loud pop that resounds throughout the arena with each strike of the ball. In this atmosphere, all the attention is on only two athletes for the entirety of the contest. Every movement of the athletes is analyzed by the audience. As a result, individuality and distinctions between players are easily observed in a tennis match. Each player has their own specific style of play, stroke (way the player swings their racquet), and emotional energy that they bring to the court. Tennis players are also varyingly vocal during matches. Tennis players lack of speech or abundance of it says something about the personality of the player, lending a sense of authenticity and individuality to their actions. All of these things combine to allow tennis player to exercise a great amount of individuality on the court.

In my opinion, hockey players exercise their individuality in a completely different way as a result of the major differences between the two sports. Hockey is obviously a team sport, creating a completely different atmosphere. Instead of playing for their singular success, teammates depend upon one another and have an ultimate goal of the team winning. In this way, individuality is minimized in hockey in favor of the team succeeding, but there are still ways in which I found players differing from each other. Hockey is an undoubtedly more aggressive and violent sport than tennis, lending more emotion to the game. I could hear players furiously yelling back and forth while in the game while moving across the ice, shouting out commands to their teammates and coordinating plays. In this way, each player expressed their individual thoughts throughout the game. Hockey’s aggressiveness and emotionally charged atmosphere sometimes results in altercations between players. Through these altercations, you could tell which players were more aggressive and emotionally invested in the game. Though opportunities to exercise individuality in hockey are sparse, you can still decipher between individual players based on their actions and voices in the game.


Yost Ice Arena

Using Mill’s conception of individualism as a guide, each athletes predispositions and actions contribute to make athletic contests interesting and varied. Individualism is needed in athletic contests, as if every player played games in the same way, much of the appeal of sports would be lost. Individuality creates a more competitive and interesting game, aiding the wellbeing of the sport.



  1. mcarozza · December 5, 2014

    I think the differences between the rules of tennis and hockey do contribute a lot to the individuality the players have in these two sports. I think you brought up some interesting comparisons. I feel that in tennis, the players have more chances and opportunities to express their individuality, because they are not part of a team (or if they are they are only playing with one other person). I think that in hockey, since there are so many more people that you play with, that some teammates individualities might be quieted due to players who have “louder” individualities (some players individualities might trump others.)


  2. epdale10 · December 5, 2014

    I really like how you contrasted the athletes in tennis and hockey, and how the medium they perform in controls a lot about who they are within their sport. However, I don’t believe the individuality of hockey players is limited by being on a team, or merely quantified by how emotional they are during a game. Because hockey is a game of continuous motion, your movements are controlled by you. Sure you have positions to play, roles to fill, and even sometimes set plays to follow, but most sports are no different. So much of hockey is up to your own choices; whether you pass or try to dangle a defender, or if you try to shoot or throw it in front of the net for a teammate. Your own creativity is so important in hockey, and through those facets do you see the individuality of each player.


  3. gretandr · December 9, 2014

    Both tennis and hockey are definitely sports of individual expression, even though tennis has more of a leeway of freedom. In tennis, you have the power to play many roles, since you are your own team. You’re bound to improve when you, of course, practice, and when you’re consistently faced with different situations that challenge you to defend your spot. Opponents force you to change the way that you play tennis. For example, if you notice that your opponent tends to run to the net often, you have to be a good lobber in order to counter your opponent’s strategy. Things causes the player (you) to be independent, and as Mill believed, the player improves when handed these different situations. You have to keep changing because you are your own team- you don’t have a set of teammates with strengths and weaknesses. Because it’s an individual sport, you have all the power to change how the game is being played. On the other hand, hockey players don’t have as much freedom to play however they want. First, they would have to work with the team to figure out strategic game plans as a unit. If they impulsively attempted a different strategy of playing in a real game, then they might confuse their teammates. This is just a separate perspective on Mill’s theory of freedom, but you made very good points about the visual individualism that we see when we watch these players. I think it would have been cool to see some footage of emotional outbursts in both hockey and tennis players.


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