War Minus the Shooting
Writer George Orwell once called sports a war minus the shooting. (In fact, it’s said that a soccer match once started a war between Honduras and El Salvador). If so, is it any surprise that athletes sometimes go into fight or flight, especially in games of aggressiveness and violence?
My favorite period of history is the ancient Romans, said tennis legend Martina Navratilova. I’m fascinated by the gladiators in the arena. I think of them sometimes when I’m waiting to go into the great bowl of the U.S. Open or the old green stadium at Wimbledon. It’s the same idea: two warriors, the fight to the death, the crowd rooting for its favorite. I always accepted the notion of winning and losing, of surviving on your wits and your courage and skill.
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The emotional roots of athletics are deep. A great deal of the jargon and many of the attitudes about sports have been carried over from the days when games were rites of passage in primitive societies, said sport psychologist Thomas Tutko.
The British, for example, were said to have won their wars on the playing fields of Eton, where the officer class learned as children the importance of sacrificing to win. Games are a sublimation of combat between individuals or between cities, regions or countries . In modern games, warfare metaphors still abound: competing sides alternately play offense or defense, the team destroyed that one, so-and-so has killer instinct, a long pass is a bomb, overtime play is sudden death (note the equating of death-as-losing, and the emphasis on sudden losing as opposed to sudden winning). As great warriors have always been great heroes, the warriors of our time, the professional athletes, now often receive the social benefits of generals.
Track-and-field athletes need a warrior mentality to succeed, said veteran track coach Brooks Johnson.