Sport in America
The value of sport in the modern world cannot be overestimated. Nowadays sport is a special social phenomenon as it is associated with an unusually wide range of humanistic, cultural, and spiritual values. It allows targeting and affecting physical, mental, and spiritual qualities of people. For politicians, sport is prestige and often an important factor in their struggle for power. In diplomacy, sport is a way of reaching out across the countries and around the world. In business, sport is a source of profit. For millions of fans, it is a joy at athletes’ victories and bitterness about their defeats, enjoying the beauty of sport events and indescribable feeling of pride for their homeland. Finally, for many professional sportsmen, sport is a whole life.
However, modern sport also raises serious problems, mainly for the athletes themselves. All these problems can be combined into two large groups: biological and social. Biological problems are associated with the steady movement of modern sports to the extreme conditions. Winning the major competitions of modernity requires prohibitive physical and emotional stress. Of course, such overloads take their toll on the athlete’s body and mind (Kew, 2003).
The second group of problems is related to a particular social isolation of athletes, which they often start to experience at an early age. People who spend so much time training and withstand enormous loads, do not have the opportunity to study as their peers, have little opportunities for access to cultural heritage of mankind, and, at times, lack simple communication, so necessary for every person. Years of such a life inevitably leave imprint on the mental health of athletes (Kew, 2003).
Therefore, it is paramount that psychologists and sport performance specialist are able to define the acute social problems of the American sport, and most importantly, know ways of dealing with them without causing the resistance from both the athletes and other people. The following essay is focused on defining and describing the most critical social problems of the American sport that are yet to be addressed as well as finding the ways to solve them.
As it was mentioned before, the modern American sport generates many serious social issues; their list is rather long, and it continues to grow with each passing year. However, only the most critical of them will be analyzed and addressed, including the problems of commercialization, doping, and social adaptation.
Such a phenomenon as the commercialization of the national sport is not always understood by the specialists of physical culture. Some researchers considered the commercialization of sports as a negative phenomenon that adversely affects the education of an individual and prevents the harmonious development of personality. However, the realities of modern society clearly demonstrate the need for the development of market relations in the field of sports, especially high performance sport (Woods, 2011).
The social component of the commercialization of sport is based on the selection and promotion of the employees (athletes, coaches, judges) in accordance with their competencies and expertise, taking into account their qualification, the experience of communication and cooperation, loyalty to the organization, team, company, or firm. All of this is directly related to the activities of an athlete, coach, manager, and the owner of the team or sport club. All the relationships between them are organized on the basis of the contract, which specifies the conditions of work, performance of tasks, wages, and penalties for non-compliance with contractual terms (Woods, 2011).
The modern American sport cannot exist without money. For example, a big football is sometimes called the game of millions. In this game, the poor can win a match or two on the moral standing, but nothing more. Stable results require serious shots and strong incentives, which are determined by the budget of the team. At the same time, money alone cannot solve all the challenges faced by the team. The effect of the same funds can be completely different and is determined not only by their sensible order but also by purity of intentions. Someone acquires standing players and invites qualified coach, seriously fighting for the leading place. On the other hand, many sports club managers are engaged in lining their own pockets at the expense of the difference in the official and the real price of players (Woods, 2011).
Therefore, sport psychology is expected to experience a serious impact made by commercialization in order to effectively address all the mentioned issues, mainly in the sphere of personnel policy. In the recent years, it is possible to observe the elimination of barriers (racial, ethnical, social, and psychological) between different categories of workers as well as the emergence of feelings of feelings of team spirit and common cause in the American high-performance sport, which serves as a significant source of profit. Moreover, one of the most important tasks of sport psychology is to guarantee the responsibility of organization, team, or company (sports federations or sports club) for their actions, and creating the necessary conditions for the planned and secured training process (Woods, 2011).
Another acute social issue that has hindered not only American but also the international sport for many years is the problem of doping. Doping is a biologically active drug substance used to enhance both physical and mental capabilities of the human body artificially. According to the poll, nearly 100% of athletes have received the information about doping (its impact on athletic performance, dosage, and reception) from their colleagues. Most of the sportsmen are convinced that without doping, it is impossible to achieve success in terms of increasing the muscle mass and improving sport results, so they view drugs as means of achieving a leading position (Thieme & Hemmersbach, 2010).
Nowadays there is a necessity not only in the study of a man in extreme conditions but also in preparing to them. In this regard, sports activity is of great interest as an example of human activities in extreme conditions, as a phenomenon of sport is not only in the motor activity; it is also a model that reflects the real relationships between people. New records and stricter requirements increase the intensity of the sport competition and training: gradually, it leads athletes to the limit of their physical capabilities. As a result, ambitious, aspiring professionals often express the need for some additional source of energy, such as doping, to improve their results (Thieme & Hemmersbach, 2010). For that matter, a particularly egregious example is that of Jonathan Vaughters, a former American professional cyclist and currently the CEO of Slipstream Sports. In his interview published in The New York Times, Vaughters said that he had chosen to dope rather than killing his dream. As a result, the guilt led him to retire from racing. According to Vaughters, doping takes place because an athlete can reach only 98% of his dream with the help of natural talent, and the last 2% – with the help of drug usage. Doing such a thing will keep the athlete’s dream alive, but he will have to lie: to his or her relatives, fans, and, finally, to the world (Vaughters, 2012). This example shows that the issue of doping in the sport covers not only physical but also moral spheres. The sense of guilt, described by Vaughters, may have an adverse effect on mental health of the athlete, leading to the emergence of a sense of dissatisfaction, the development of an inferiority complex, and depression. Therefore, the most important tasks of modern sport psychologists and performance specialists include a strict control over physical and mental health of the sportsmen. Nowadays it is important to reintroduce the concept of fair play, which is often neglected due to a variety of reasons (rapidly developing commercialization, the urge to win no matter the cost), to the American sport.
Drugs and Sport
Despite drugs and sport are seemingly incompatible, recently there have been voices for the legalization of doping among athletes. However, the question concerning the evaluation of the competition (physical fitness of athletes or the effect of the drug) arises. It is no secret that a great sport is currently experiencing the problem of gene doping, born on the basis of gene therapy. Gene doping is an artificial virus that can infect a person, resulting in an increase in the amount of oxygen in the blood and thus in an increase of stamina. Moreover, doping stimulates the nervous and physical activity of a person, making it possible for athletic performance to be fantastic (Schneider & Friedmann, 2006). Moreover, a burning desire to win leads to tremendous ingenuity, and there is no guarantee that the perpetrators can be identified. Still, risking own health and even life for the gold medal is not wise. The technology of gene therapy is very raw, and the consequences can be very severe: physical traumas, changes in the structure of muscles and internal organs, and even mental deviations; for example, the athletes that use drugs become more aggressive, short-tempered, and easily succumb to violence (Atkinson & Young, 2012). The saddest thing is that these effects may not be immediately apparent, but arise in the later years. Finally, gene therapy may cause deviations in the human DNA, resulting in transferring the mutated genes on to the following generations. As a result, it is possible to conclude that the problem of doping has a tremendous impact on the sport psychology, requiring the specialists to develop completely new views on the participation and victory in order to prevent the athletes from the very thought of using drugs (Schneider & Friedmann, 2006).
The Problem of Social Adaptation of the Athletes
Finally, the third important social issue that has yet to be addressed in the American sport is the problem of social adaptation of the athletes. In most cases, sportsmen experience a particular social isolation, which they often start to experience at an early age. Young people, who spend most of their life in rigorous training, usually do not have the option to study as their peers, have little opportunities for access to cultural heritage of mankind, and, at times, lack simple communication, so necessary for everybody. It should be noted that youths’ psyche is particularly susceptible, so years of such a life will inevitably leave imprint on their mental health (Smith, 2010).
According to many scientists, the sport has a significant impact on the socialization of an individual. Most athletes finish a career having a higher education. They are no less successful than people who are not involved in sports. However, in-depth sports in adolescence and early adulthood can cause disharmony in the personal development, making it difficult to adapt to a life outside the sport (Smith, 2010).
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It is revealed that adaptation of the athlete to social life outside of the sport depends on the results achieved: the higher are their scores, the harder is social adaptation. The most important factors that significantly affect the formation of lifestyle of the athlete include (Smith, 2010):
- Cessation of sports activity, sports training, and performances in competitions;
- Termination of guardianship by the sports club, coaches, doctors, and attendants;
- Break of friendships and professional relationships with the team and coach;
- Psychological discomfort caused by the lack of a sense of satisfaction from the competition and victories that were the main meaning of life of an athlete;
- Psychological stress associated with the understanding that knowledge of a new profession is immeasurably lower than former sportsmanship;
- A sharp decline in revenues.
All these factors are mitigated if the sportsman leaves the sport, gradually reducing the level of athletic performance. High-end athletes prefer ending their sports career abruptly, leaving the sport undefeated, considering a reduction in athletic performance, and defeats in the competitions to be unacceptable. Typically, in such a situation an athlete fully experiences psychological stress, frustration, disorder as well as requires special care as the part of the sports team and understanding from friends and relatives (Smith, 2010).
Therefore, it is possible to conclude that during their sports career, athletes are faced with the series of crises. Their causes are related to the need to adapt to the new, higher physical stress that is often complicated by the contradiction between the fear of not be able to withstand the pressure and the desire to boost training to achieve the planned results. The latter creates prerequisites for injuries, diseases, and chronic strain. Injuries are the most common reason for leaving the sport, and a decrease of statistical indicators is mainly dependent on leadership qualities of the coach. Moreover, in most cases, athletes do not feel themselves to be outside the overall social structure of the society, but their health status caused by a change of diet and lifestyle can be of a concern (Atkinson & Young, 2012).
The Problem of Social Adaptation of Athletes
Especially those involved in youth sports, requires the development of a complex approach from the sports psychologists. The main problem here is that each athlete is unique in terms of psyche and character. Therefore, it is impossible to develop a unified program of social adaptation that will suit everyone as many sportsmen have a hard time when they end their career and return to the society. For example, Bill Cole, an American peak performance coach notes in his interview to CNN Sports that many athletes identify themselves with their main occupation. After the retirement, when it is taken away, they consider themselves to be abandoned and cannot find a sense in their life. In other words, they have a feeling of losing a major piece of themselves (Crutchley, 2012). All these facts lead to a thought that coaches, performance specialists, and sport psychologists are responsible for organizing the life of an athlete in such a way that allows combining sport and normal social activity, especially in the case of youth sports. As a result, the decreasing number of causes of depressions and suicide attempts among the retired sportsmen, who could not find their place in life, will be observed. In any case, an individual approach, sometimes with the involvement of sportsman’s relatives, close friends, and colleagues is required.
After analyzing the mentioned social problems of the American sport, it is possible to develop ways of answering them as well as define the possible resistance to their implementation from particular individuals or even social groups. Thus, when addressing the problem of commercialization, the requires set of measures include the development of recruitment system, which takes into account the employee’s desire to advance that is stimulated by a rating system for evaluating the classification of the athlete, a willingness to learn the specifics of his or her activities, and to achieve significant results in the work. Therefore, personnel policy involves adherence to certain rules of working with people:
- The athlete should be viewed not only as a staff member but also as a person;
- Wages should match the level of athletic skill, effort, and real contribution to the common cause as well as encourage team members to work even better;
- Clear and definite career opportunity should be built depending on the success of the athlete.
The American mentality should also be taken into account as sport in the United States is a part of the social prestige and a type of business. As a result, victory at the Olympics or another major event means carrying out the American dream. Moreover, each of such victories is converted into money (Woods, 2011).
As for the problem of doping, an important aspect of the fight against it in sport is a pedagogical approach. It has been neglected for a long time, but at the moment, according to the documents of the international sports movement, the development and implementation of anti-doping education programs shall emphasize one of the main sites. An important aspect of the pedagogical aspect is educational work, aimed at developing a sense of self-sufficiency. Moreover, in order to restore the spirit of fair play, it is required to decrease installations designed solely to win. The idea of the fair play has an important formal and functional value; it is needed in the sport, but is often distorted or broken. To restore equal chance of success, offenders should be penalized. In this case, the responsibility does not fall only on a single person – the athlete, coach, or official. One must take into account the overall responsibility of the sporting community that involves the individual in the paradoxical situation of conflict (Thieme & Hemmersbach, 2010).
Finally, the problem of social adaptation can be addressed by applying two different models of psychological and educational assistance. The Replacement model determines that the efforts of the trainer focus on situation analysis and decision-making, allowing the athlete to cope with specific difficulties. In this case, the athlete is offered a solution as a blueprint, instructions, advice, or recommendations – a direct guide to action. All the inner workings are taken over by the psychologist, leaving the athlete a role of performer. On the other hand, the Mobilization model is based on the understanding of the psychological and pedagogical support and its provision for the personal growth and development of the athlete. The psychologist does not seek to eliminate the difficulties of the athlete; he or she does not give ready-made recipes, but tries to mobilize the sportsman to produce own solutions to help in resolving problems. Such an approach results in successful crisis management, combination of sports and other spheres of life, and choosing a new career. It makes all the decisions to be based on a forecast for the future (Burton & Raedeke, 2008).
The proposed measures may help in solving the mentioned problems of the American sport. Considering their nature, it is possible to suggest that the solution of the first and the third issues is close to functionalist social theories whereas the second problem addresses the sphere of critical ones.
Thus, considering all the mentioned problems and issues of the American sport, it is possible to say that they have a significant impact on the views of the future sport performance specialist, making him or her understand a special civil and political significance of their profession, its humanitarian and humanistic orientation. Therefore, one should incorporate a humanitarian view of thinking, manifested in approaches to research and education of human corporeality. It is also necessary to maintain a cultural relationship with the subject of his or her professional activities, and appear before them as a materialized, personified image of physical culture, in order to increase positive influence on the athletes. Another important aspect is the ability to perceive people and dialogue with them in the process of communication during a sports match, sports and public events as well as leisure activities. When encountering issues and problems, sport performance specialist should define the objectives and present the result of his activities in an accessible form, link theoretical knowledge with personal experience. Finally, the current problems present in the American as well as the international sport require reflexively treating unexpected, extraordinary views and approaches in the study of human corporeality, and sports activity (Hasan & Lusted, 2013).
Currently, sport has received so high significance in the society that it can be considered one of the major types of human activity. However, it does not mean that elite sport (particularly professional sport) is far ahead of the development of physical culture and sports. Moreover, according to some authors, social and cultural importance of the physical culture is lower than the one of sport. Indeed, the ongoing process of professionalization of sports is impossible without the development of physical culture. With certain reservations, modern sport can be regarded as a symbol, the concentrated expression of the principles and problems of the modern society as the area, in which the characteristic principles of equality of opportunity, achieving high results and competition appear and apply in a particularly clear and focused way. Therefore, all facts make it clear that nowadays the high level of professionalism of sport psychologists and performance specialists is required in order to identify and address the numerous social problems that arise within the American as well as the world sport society.