Category Archives: play

IAPS: “The Value of Play and the Good Life”

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport(IAPS) is holding its annual conference in Whistler, BC, Canada, September 6-9, 2017. I will be attending and presenting. The title of my presentation is “The Value of Play and the Good Life”.

Here’s the abstract:

The dominant conception of play in sport philosophy is that it is must be autotelic. This conception, though, is the subject of some important criticisms. Stephen Schmid argues that the concept of autotelicity admits of many interpretations all of which fail to provide a clear and accurate picture of what play is. Randolph Feezell argues for a pluralistic conception of play, calling for us to acknowledge the variety of meanings and usages of play when we theorize about it. This pluralism seems to push back on the idea that play must always be autotelic and non-instrumental. Additionally, it is worth noting that the empirical literature on play focuses primarily on the external and instrumental benefits that play provides.

With these and other criticisms in mind, my paper seeks to move the discussion of play beyond the dichotomy of autotelicity and instrumentality. Even though most theorists acknowledge that players have mixed-motivations, purposes, and goals, there still is a tendency to treat autotelicity and instrumentality as exhausting the options for categorizing play. The underlying implicit assumption is that it must be either autotelic or instrumental: done for its own sake or done for the sake of something else. This assumption ignores or downplays a third possible category: an activity that is chosen for its own sake and at the same time chosen for the sake of something else.

Drawing a parallel to the role virtue and friendship have in a broadly construed (neo-) Aristotelian ethics, I argue that play is an important part of the good human life. Like virtue and friendship, play is chosen both for the sake of its importance to the good life and for its own sake. It is partly constitutive of the good life and thus chosen as part of and for the sake of the good life. At the same time, however, play is chosen for its own sake: for what it is distinct from any further ends it might bring about. Thus, play is not autotelic, but nor is it instrumental.

Recognizing play as a constituent value of the good life will allow us to integrate the internal and external, the autotelic and instrumental, and gain a better understanding of the value of play.

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Blog of the APA: Golf as Meaningful Play

I was interviewed about the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport’s session at the APA Central Division Meeting in March 2017 in Kansas City. The session, as readers of the blog are probably aware, was an Author Meets Critics on Golf As Meaningful Play: A Philosophical Guide (forthcoming) by W. Thomas Schmid (University of North Carolina at Wilmington).

You can read the Blog of the APA interview here.

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Reason Papers: Philosophy of Play

The latest issue of Reason Papers, which I co-edit with Carrie-Ann Biondi, has a symposium on the philosophy of play.

Gadamer, Dewey, and the Importance of Play in Philosophical Inquiry
Christopher C. Kirby and Brolin Graham compare how play is crucial in the philosophical inquiry of Hans-Georg Gadamer and John Dewey.

Child-Centered Play Therapy
William Schultz looks at the evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of play therapy for children.

Reflections on the Presence of Play in University Arts and Athletics
Aaron Harper looks at the parallels of play in the arts and athletics and argues for more integration of play into the university.

The Reconstructive and Normative Aspects of Bernard Suits’s Utopia
Francisco Javier Lopez Frias re-examines Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper and his conception of Utopia.

The full issue is available here.

 

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CFP: Philosophy of Play Deadline Extended

Submission deadline extended: March 1, 2016

Reason Papers: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies (of which I am a co-editor) is soliciting contributions for a Spring 2016 symposium on normative issues in play. The journal invites submissions that explore the nature of play; its developmental importance; and its role in human lives, values, and societies. We are also interested in explorations of the relationship between play and other human activities (such as other recreational activities, education, or work), structured vs. unstructured play, and children’s play vs. adult play.  Submissions are due by February 1, 2016. March 1, 2016

The CFP at Reason Papers.

Information on Submitting.

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Reminder: CFP: Philosophy of Play

Submission deadline approaching: February 1, 2016. March 1, 2016

Reason Papers: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies (of which I am a co-editor) is soliciting contributions for a Spring 2016 symposium on normative issues in play. The journal invites submissions that explore the nature of play; its developmental importance; and its role in human lives, values, and societies. We are also interested in explorations of the relationship between play and other human activities (such as other recreational activities, education, or work), structured vs. unstructured play, and children’s play vs. adult play.  Submissions are due by February 1, 2016. March 1, 2016

The CFP at Reason Papers.

Information on Submitting.

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Philosophy of Sport: CFA/P

Conference CFA:

International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS)

The 44th IAPS conference will be held September 20-24, 2016 in Olympia, Greece sponsored by Fonte Aretusa and hosted at the International Olympic Academy. The deadline for the CFA is March 31, 2016.  More info.

British Philosophy of Sport Association (BPSA)

The annual BPSA conference will be held April 4 – 6, 2016 at the University of Brighton, School of Sport and Service Management in Brighton, England. The deadline for the CFA is January 25, 2016. More info.

Journal Call For Papers:

Reason Papers: Philosophy of Play

Reason Papers is soliciting contributions for a Spring 2016 symposium on normative issues in play. We invite submissions that explore the nature of play; its developmental importance; and its role in human lives, values, and societies. We are also interested in explorations of the relationship between play and other human activities (such as other recreational activities, education, or work), structured vs. unstructured play, and children’s play vs. adult play.  Submissions are due by February 1, 2016.

CFP: Communication and Sport

This is a call for manuscripts for the C&S journal: “C&S publishes research and critical analysis from diverse disciplinary and theoretical perspectives to advance understanding of communication phenomena in the varied contexts through which sport touches individuals, society, and culture. “

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CFP (Reason Papers): Philosophy of Play

Reason Papers: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies (of which I am a co-editor) is soliciting contributions for a Spring 2016 symposium on normative issues in play. The journal invites submissions that explore the nature of play; its developmental importance; and its role in human lives, values, and societies. We are also interested in explorations of the relationship between play and other human activities (such as other recreational activities, education, or work), structured vs. unstructured play, and children’s play vs. adult play.  Submissions are due by February 1, 2016.

The CFP at Reason Papers.

Information on Submitting.

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Correlations, Structured Sport, and Play

A recent study about early participation in organized sport is getting some attention (at least on my twitter feed). The study claims to find a link between participation in organized sport in kindergarten and future class room behavior. They first measured the levels of participation in structured physical activities and self-regulation of children in kindergarten (indicated by teacher/parent reported classroom behavior). They then measured these again when these children where fourth graders. What they found was a correlation between those students who participated in sport as kindergarteners and those with better reported classroom behavior in the fourth grade.

These results are quite interesting; and I’m sympathetic to them. It seems like conventional wisdom that a child who at age four participates in organized sport will develop and learn effective ways of controlling his behavior—self-regulating—in ways that will be reflected in positive and healthy behaviors as the child grows into adolescence and beyond. It is one of the common reasons one hears for the value of sport; the character development argument. I think there is a lot of truth in this—as a fan of sport I certainly want it to be true.

I have, however, two worries about accepting the study’s conclusions.

1) Overstates the results

Anyone with a passing familiarity with social science knows to always keep in mind that correlation is not causality. The fact that the Boston Celtics might seem to always lose when the Van Allen radiation belt is in flux is a correlation; there is no causal relation, so I wouldn’t bet on it. {For this admittedly obscure reference check out this Cheers episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxodytcYD9s (scan to 3:30)}.

The authors acknowledge this: “the correlational design of this study prevents us from inferring causality.”

The concern with correlation is that something else other than the indicated variables explains the outcomes. That is, is there something else besides the participation in sport that explains the later good behavior? Now social scientists have many tools at their disposal to deal with this kind of problem and to isolate the relationship between the studied variables.  The authors did “control for child sex, body mass index, locomotion, object control, cognitive ability, family configuration, maternal education, and family functioning.” In other words, these other variables do not appear to impact the association found, providing a high confidence that the association is something real. And, unlike the Celtics and the Van Allen belt, there are good reasons to think that physical activity and behavior are connected.

Nevertheless, I do think the study is missing (or at least didn’t pay enough attention to in the published article) the possibility of some kind of self-selection bias.

It might be that the kids that are involved in team sports in kindergarten are already good self-regulators or already have predispositions to be good self-regulators. The kids that aren’t as good self-regulators or lack a strong disposition for such behaviors probably didn’t participate in sport in the first place (or end up not participating for long). In other words, they select themselves out of the sample.

If this is the case (to be clear, I am not asserting that is), then the later good self-regulation might just be following from that predisposition, not from structured sport participation per se. If we are starting with a sample that is already predisposed to be good self-regulators, then it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that they become good self-regulators. And it hasn’t been shown that structured sport participation is doing anything to create that situation.

Though the authors control for many potential confounding variables, it was not clear how they controlled for this potential self-selection. To be fair, they do say they “included baseline measures of physical activity and self-regulation.” My complaint is that they don’t explain those baselines or discuss how they measured them, making it impossible to evaluate these controls.

One factor, however, that might point the way is that the study didn’t find the same level of association between later good behavior and participation in non-physical structured activities (e.g. music lessons or chess). There isn’t an obvious reason to think that children predisposed to be good self-regulators would be more attracted to physical activities, so this suggests there is something about the structured physical activity that is, at the very least, amplifying the self-regulator dispositions.

2) Policy Implications

The authors argue that their findings support policies that encourage and increase participation in structured sport (physical activities) in kindergarten. While I think it is, all things considered, better to have more participation in sport than less, I worry about policies (especially governmental ones) that would push more children in to sport.

This is where my concern about the potential self-selection bias has a practical side. If self-selection explains a significant amount of the link here, then pushing more children into structured sport won’t result in increases in positive behavior later on. Many children would be ‘encouraged’ to participate even though they would rather do something else (like chess, art, etc.). Further, there are possible negative effects of doing this. If the new participators are not good self-regulators and the sport itself, ex hypothesis, doesn’t lead them to be, then they might end up getting into trouble, getting labeled as problem kids, or seeing themselves as failures. Whereas, it might have been the case that they would have flourished if they had engaged in the activity of their preference.

Moreover, even if the worry about self-selection here is overblown, I am still not sure it is a good idea to encourage more participation merely to produce better behaviors later on. The children ought to be encouraged to pursue activities that they find intrinsic joy in doing. I would think any positive effects would diminish if the children do not enjoy the structured physical activity.

I am also concerned that these policy recommendations run the risk of reducing—even more than our culture already has—the opportunities for unstructured play. Such activities may or may not be correlated with better self-regulation, but they are important for other developmental needs (Cognitive Benefits of Play). For example, the capacities for imagination and creativity and the character trait of independence are developed or amplified in free, unstructured play. Certainly, they need structured, organized activities (both physical and non-physical) as well. But the trend of childhood in the US seems to be towards more and more structure at the expense free play.

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The Sports Ethics Show: Sport Studies Symposium 2015

The 4th annual Sport Studies Symposium was held April 24, 2015. In this episode, the symposium participants discuss the ideas raised by the papers given at the symposium. In the first part of the episode, Mike Perry and Shawn E. Klein talk with Matt Adamson, Stephen Mosher, and Synthia Syndor about the nature of sport studies,its past, and its future. In the second part, Shawn and Mike talk with Aaron Harper, Stephanie Quinn, and Zach Smith about legal realism and sport, sport in the ancient world, and theology of sport.

Show Links:

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The Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Play

This episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is the audio version of my talk “The Value of Play”. Recorded at The Atlas Summit on June 22, 2014, the full video (including a Q&A period) is available at http://www.atlassociety.org/as/value-play and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=texwMP6W9U.

The following is the description from The Atlas Society website:

Work and career are central values in Objectivism. Play doesn’t get a lot of focus in Ayn Rand’s fiction or in Objectivist philosophy. Play, though, offers many positive benefits and is a ubiquitous feature of human civilizations.

In this video, author  Shawn Klein presents an Objectivist conception of the value of play by way of answering the following questions. What role is there for play in an Objectivist life? Can play be a part of one’s central purpose? What is the relationship between the virtues (such as productivity and rationality) and play?

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