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Sports Crazed: What's the real reason we love sports?

Posted: August 16, 2014 9:58 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2014 9:58 p.m.

We play them, we watch them, we care deeply about them.

We use words like passion, commitment and sacrifice to describe them.

Sports bring out the extraordinary in all people involved from the athletes, the coaches, the fans and those who provide support behind the scenes.

For our four-part series, called Sports Crazed, we will examine all those angles and try to figure out why people become so enamored with their given sport.

We’ll also tell the stories of the various sacrifices people make for the same basic goals. They want to be the best, and they want to win.

Dr. Ashley Samson, an assistant professor in kinesiology and sports psychology consultant at Cal State Northridge, says some athletes are so relentlessly dedicated because they use their sport as an extension of their identity.

“The biggest thing that I’ve seen and what most of the research shows is that there comes a point for anyone who would take sports seriously where it becomes a part of your identity and for some people it becomes such a huge part of their identity, that’s how they feel good about themselves,” Samson said.

She pointed out that these are only in extreme cases though, and it explains why some athletes struggle mightily to transition out of sports when their careers come to an end.

“There’s a big difference between someone who likes to play sports for fun versus someone who says, ‘I’m an athlete. That’s who I am’” Samson said.

And she added that the same basic idea applies to coaches and fans of the sport. People who are part of a team or represent a school consider that entity part of themselves.

The easiest way to understand why sports can bring out such intense passion and motivation is to explain what’s called “The Sport Ethic.”

The original research, published by Robert Hughes and Jay Coakley in 1991, outlines four principles that athletes tend to follow.

In basic terms, those principles are:

1. Athletes are dedicated to the game and demonstrate unwavering commitment.

2. Athletes strive for distinction and seek perfection.

3. Athletes accept all risks and play through pain to prove themselves to teammates and coaches.

4. Athletes accept no obstacles.

These norms don’t necessarily produce positive outcomes, but researchers says these are ideas created by the culture of athletics.

Athletes are expected to follow these rules, but there are times when they can go too far.

There’s nothing wrong with being passionate, Samson says, but any athlete needs to find a way to establish a persona outside of the athletic realm.

“It’s a balancing act,” Samson said. “If you’re going to try to make a go at a strong college or a pro career, you’re going to have to make that commitment at some point.”

The key, she said, is to not let that commitment go too far.


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