Virtue in team sports?

The comment below is a bit on the frivolous side.  Quite overlooked is that the claim on behalf of success in team sports may be that it is predictive of success in jobs where teamwork is needed.  There are many such jobs -- from McDonalds to the armed forces.  The army has a very long record of personnel selection research -- around 100 years -- and have over that time developed methods that work well.  And, as a former army psychologist, I don't think I am revealing too much when I note that a history of participation in team sports is very favourably viewed when it comes to officer selection

The idea that sports – and team sports in particular – are good for the soul, as well as the body, is deeply ingrained in the British psyche. It is often cited as one of the reasons why our public schools (the only ones left with proper playing fields) churn out such a disproportionate number of high-achievers. Running around in the mud chasing funny-shaped balls is supposed to cultivate “character” – that vaguest and most expensive of virtues.

But an unlikely new Fotherington-Thomas is challenging this orthodoxy. Neil Rollings, chairman of the Professional Association of Directors of Sport in Independent schools, has written a report arguing that the “days of compulsory team games are numbered”.

Forcing children to participate in competitive sports such as rugby or hockey is, he says, an outdated practice based on “an unsubstantiated view that pain and discomfort somehow 'makes a man of you’ through a process unknown to science”.

Instead of inflicting this misery on all pupils, regardless of athletic ability, schools should offer them a range of competitive and non-competitive sports, including zumba classes, cycling and jogging.

While there is something undeniably dispiriting about the words “zumba class”, the man does have facts on his side. The few studies that have been done on the subject (most of them in America) suggest that playing a team sport has no beneficial effect on a child’s moral development. In fact, the opposite may be true: one study found that qualities such as honesty, fairness and civility were more evident among young people who played no team sports at all.

Nor does victory on the playing field necessarily translate into adult life. Nerds and bookworms tend to come into their own once they leave school, storming the higher eschelons of law, medicine, politics, technology, media and the arts. It’s as though they store up all their competitive drive, only unleashing it once there is no danger of mockery or bruised shins.

You could argue, in fact, that compulsory team sports are character-building after all – just not for the people who enjoy them. It’s the rest of us, the wimps and dreamers, who benefit. Always being picked last for the netball team teaches you to handle rejection. Missing every goal builds your immunity to failure, while the fury of your team-mates is a lesson in the ugliness of group-think.

When you’re never really part of the team, you have no choice but to be an individual. You have to work out your own opinions, and find the strength of character to defend them.


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