Does Sport Shape Character or Reveal it?


The debate as to whether or not sport helps build character – or just unearths what is already there – is as old as time. Sports enthusiasts and athletes of every discipline take the ‘nurture’ side of the argument, emphasising the way that involvement in sport can forge characteristics like strength, stamina and tactical judgment. On the other side of the coin there are those who believe in ‘nature’ i.e. if you’re going to play sport – particularly to a high level – then you were probably made that way in the first place and all the sport is doing is bringing out those characteristics.

Historically, there have been supporters of both sides of this argument. The famous quote from the legendary basketball player and coach John Wooden – “Sports don’t build character; they reveal it” – is much repeated by those who think along the ‘nature’ lines. On the other hand there are the likes of the ‘Muscular Christians,’ whose religious focus comes in the form of commitment to piety and physical health. This approach can be traced all the way back to Paul the Apostle and subscribers believe in the benefits of sport and exercise for moral health, as well as physical. Of course the British public school system was founded on physical exertion (followed by a healthy tea), and has long highlighted that the benefits of schooling don’t just come in the form of exam results. According to the headmaster of Eton “Sport is also very useful at developing these softer, life skills. It teaches team-work, resilience when coping with failure and success.” Finally, some of the most famous sporting events in the world were begun through a desire to build character through sport. The father of the modern Olympics – Pierre de Coubertin – was driven to set up the event by his philosophy that “competing for a place on an athletic team developed qualities of character.”

In 2013, there is plenty of evidence that Coubertin was right, with participating in sport helping to build resistance to failure, the ability to work as part of a team, overcoming obstacles and learning how to lose as well as to win. Playing sport can provide a boost to energy levels, a positive increase in body image, improved mood and levels of self esteem, as well as the confidence that comes from dealing with stressful situations and achieving a win, or even just the completion of a tough game.

Activate sport runs sports camps for kids to help nurture that all-essential strength of character. From the cricket academy, to multi sport activity sessions and the dance camp, there is the chance for everyone to pick up new skills and boost confidence along the way – see our website for more information.

photo credit: Graeme Pow via photopin cc