Thoughts on the different schools of thought in sports

Here’s a thought I had:

I have never really been one for sports.  This is not to say that I do not like sports.  I have found that I tend to like sports only under certain conditions.  A lot of sports, frankly, is sort of ridiculous to me.  This is primarily because of the attitudes that surround it. I used to really like to play kick soccer, volleyball, badminton, and such, when I was a kid but, beginning in late grade school, there became a change in the attitude in the kids that surrounded sports:  everyone had to win.  Sports became nothing but a mad scramble to make the most points, no matter what.  This, frankly, turned me off to sports and is still why I don’t like it nor cater to it in any way.  I have always felt that sports was more than about winning or getting the most points.  In fact, winning is of subsidiary importance in my opinion.  I’ve discussed this with many people, over the years, and was often criticized for this.  I’ve been told rather dramatic statements like “winning is what sports is all about”, that “I don’t know what sports is about”, or that I have a “loser mentality”, and such.  If winning is what its all about then its not worth doing as far as I’m concerned.

It became clear that sports changed with how one viewed it.  That is to say, that there are many “schools of thought” in sports that describe how and why it is played.  Naturally, what school of thought one takes greatly influences how one plays, and watches, sports.  In this way, I began to see that sports is not just a single “point of view” but is actually made up of many points of views.  A change in point of view can change the whole context of sports.  This view of multiple ways of viewing sports contradicts what I was always told, which treated all sports as “all the same” and from the same point of view.

I see several schools of thought in sports:

  1. The “its all about winning” school of thought. 
  2. The “me versus you” school of thought. 
  3. The “sports as success” school of thought.
  4. The “sports as personal growth” school of thought.
  5. The “its how you play the game” school of thought.
  6. The “playing the game” school of thought.
  7. The “playing it properly” school of thought.


This, to me, seems the most prevalent point of view that I see.  This tends to turn sports into a free-for-all and a mad scramble.  The general attitude is one of desperation, of the desperate fight to win.  In that way, it reminds me of some starved animals looking for food.  And, being desperate, people will do anything which is what many people do.

Because this is all about winning the people who lose are often devastated as everything revolves around one thing – winning – which they failed to achieve.  This makes this point of view very one-sided and shallow in orientation.  It tends to see little in the actual sport nor that it has any real ramifications and implications for the person.  Its treated as “something you do” and that’s all.

This attitude, though, receives a lot of support from the sports industry.  This is because winning, in the sport industry, means money.  This becomes the primary motive and drive for the people who play sports in the sports industry.  The people who watch the sports industry – the spectators – naturally end up developing the “its all about winning” attitude, as well, intensifying this school of thought even more.  In this way, the “its all about winning” school of thought is prevalent in the sports industry, both for the people who play it and watch it.

But, because this creates a condition of a mad scramble to win I consider this the lowest grade of sports and a very bad sports attitude.  To be frank, if I see this attitude in people I don’t want anything to do with the sport.


This tends to be a more ‘personal’ orientation.  Sports is viewed as a confrontation of two people (or two teams) who generally must “prove their worth” to the other person (or team).  In this way, it often becomes an attitude of “proving a point” or “proving that I’m somebody” or “prove my worth”.

Because this point of view is personal in orientation it often gets into a tendency to belittle the loser as well as a glorification of the winner.  In this way, it often creates something like a little social hierarchy.  In this case, the winner is viewed as “one up” or somehow “better” than the loser.  This is seen a lot with statements such as “champs for 4 years running”, or “we’re number one”, and such, which can become almost like a status symbol. Its this “me versus you” spirit, which tends to create a social hierarchy, that probably led to the idea, such as seen in the Olympics, of having the different winners stand on different levels:  gold is highest, then silver, then bronze and everyone else is not acknowledged.  This demonstrates the social hierarchy.

In America, with its ideal of individualism, the “me versus you” point of view is often highly praised.  As a result, a lot of sports often becomes a personal issue between people, as I’ve seen many times.  In addition, because this point of view is so associated with American ideals it often becomes linked to nationalism and the “glory of America”.  As a result, winning “proves” the greatness of America.  This is seen in the statement I’ve heard many times:  “America loves a winner”.

In some societies that have a very nationalistic or tribal bent, such as Britain, they tend to take the point of view of “our team versus your team”.  It can even turn into a “our country versus your country”.  In this way, this mentality can sometimes turn sports into something like a ‘controlled war’ between two teams or countries.  We see this a lot in the Olympics and also with a lot of soccer.  In my opinion, its stuff like this that has made sports ridiculous.


In this school of thought the purpose of sports is as a means to demonstrate ones success.  Success usually means in relation to society and its ideals.  In this way, it often becomes nothing but a pursuit of societies ideals more than anything else and a demonstration that one can do it.  I generally tend to view this as really a remnant of upper class thinking (hence, the idea of success).  In other words, its the aristocratic idea of success that is sought here.  As a result, it is closely associated with idealism, of reaching some sort of social ideal.  Accordingly, if one gains it then one is “high up”, praised, or looked at highly.


This places sports as a mechanism of growing as a person.  In other words, sports is used as a means or mechanism to develop as a person.  I’ve heard of statements that reflect this, such as “sports is having others push us to excel” or “in sports we are actually in competition with our self, to be better than we are”, and so on. I tend to see this as the more “personal” side of the “sports as success” school of thought, which means that it is associated with upper class thinking.  Accordingly, it also often becomes associated with the pursuit of social ideals.  Even though it professes to be for personal growth it is usually saying “personal growth as a means to social ideals”.  Sometimes, though, it can be a person doing sports “for themselves” but I don’t think that’s very prevalent.


This school of thought tends to emphasize the importance of having the correct attitude in sports, as well as playing it in the correct way.  Often, it seems to be a reaction to the “its all about winning” school of thought, in particular.  Its more or less saying that “there’s more to the game than winning”.  It tends to emphasize the influence of other ideas, such as fairness, respect of opponents, and such.  In this way, sports is viewed as a demonstration of moral or ethical belief, often with the intent to develop them.  Accordingly, I tend to see this point of view with things like Boy Scouts, Little League, and such.


This, of course, is nothing but playing sports as a game, as an activity.  This is seen a lot with kids and people who play sports as a diversion.  Typically, sports is not viewed seriously and winning isn’t necessarily important.  Its this attitude that makes sports fun and enjoyable.  Its not serious, though, and is treated like a diversion or entertainment.  Also, people generally do not practice to develop any skill at it.


I have always considered this the “true sports attitude”.  This school of thought tends to emphasize a number of things:

  • Of the importance of being a “team”.
  • Of playing the sport in a “proper” way. 

The greatest joy I found in sports, to be frank, is being part of a “team”.  This is what made sports great (in a team sport, of course).  But, in order for a team to work, everyone must have a part to play and play their part.  This means that there must be a “proper” way of doing what you’re supposed to do and everyone must do what they are required to do.  This gives everyone a place and purpose.  In this way, sports becomes like an ‘orchestrated event’, as everyone in the team is doing what they need to.  It can be compared to a dance.  In dance, though, it is a rehearsed pre-planned performance.  In sports it is not a pre-planned performance because the situation is very fluid, variable, and dynamic . . .  you don’t know exactly what is going to happen next.  The only thing that can be pre-planned is your reactions to specific situations.  These pre-planned reactions are developed in practice.  What you are practicing is the “proper” response to a situation when it appears.  As a result, sports becomes a continual responding to a fluid and variable situation using the “proper” response, which is developed by practice.  In this way, sports becomes much like a “choreographed performance of an ever-changing, fluid, and dynamic event”.  In this way, its like a dance that is ever changing with changing situations.  To me, this responding to an ever-changing fluid event in the “proper” way is what made sports fun and what made it beneficial.

I’ve also always maintained that, in sports with opposing teams, everyone is part of the “team”, even the opposing team.  In other words, both teams actually make up a “team”.  As with a dance, the opposing teams are not unlike two partners and partners must work together to do a dance.  This is basically what sports is, two teams working together in the “proper” way to play the game.  As a result, the opposing team is not, in actuality, opposing you but, rather, working with you.  This is one reason why winning has no ultimate value.  We all win if we do it “properly”.  It then becomes a “good game” and it is this that is sought in this school of thought.   A “good game” creates things such as:

  • A unison in ability.
  • A unison in team.
  • A unison in performance.

These qualities show that everyone worked together, played their part, played it properly, and worked with the opposing team.  The idea of “winning” or “trying to get a point” is only something that fuels the game and keeps it going.  In short, everyone is trying to get a point but that’s not what its about.

This point of view does not lend itself to “mass sports”, professional sports, the sports industry, and sports associated with individualism or emphasis on the person.  As a result, I find this condition very hard to achieve.  The best place to find it is in the casual sports of everyday people who play, say, badminton at a family reunion.  There, people are all working together to keep the game going.  As a result, there is great effort for teamwork and doing it properly.  All it takes, though, is one person who “has to win” to ruin it all.  I’ve actually quit playing the game because of this before.

This school of thought is also not for spectators.  It is really only felt by the participants who play the game.  This makes this a very participant school of thought.


These schools of thought shows that there are many ways to play sports.  This fact reveals that there are two aspects to sports:

  1. The actual playing.
  2. The attitude of playing.

In many respects, sports is developing both.  You must, of course, learn how to actually play it first.  With some sports this can take great effort.  But you must also develop the correct attitude.  Typically, only the first is emphasized in sports.  But, in my opinion, the first is only the means to the latter which, in actuality, is what sports is about and what one seeks.  As a result, one should develop a good healthy attitude about it and what it is. We must remember that sports is not a war.  Its outcome does not determine the fate of the world.  I’ve often been stunned how people look at sports in this light (which, to me, is utterly ridiculous).  This perspective is found a lot in the “its all about winning” and “me versus you” school of thought where winning can be viewed as some great achievement as well as a form of “power” over another person.  When things have reached this point it has become too serious in my opinion.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

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