Psychology of playing the game

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Surveys, studies and reports update by Reva Klein

Call it the major source of hegemonic masculinity or just plain football. Either way, as Emma Renold of the University of Wales illustrates in her study All They've Got on Their Brains is Football, it's the vehicle that boys use for assuming their place not only in the school playground but in the pecking order of male social hierarchy. The research, carried out among 10 and 11-year-old boys and girls in two primary schools in the East of England, reveals that boys who choose not to play football are as frustrated and alienated as girls, who are actively excluded from the game.

Girls play on climbing frames, swings and slides or, if they feel threatened, stay close to playground supervisors, but boys risk ridicule and worse if they opt for these relatively safe options. Wherever they put themselves, it seems, they are sitting targets of those football-playing boys whose own positions are insecure within the hierarchy.

Renold found that football - and how well they played it- not only defined boys' gender identity and attractiveness to girls, but was unrivalled in its dominant cultural position. Girls' exclusion from the game kept them firmly in their place and also caused them to devalue their own sports activities. And she sees danger in schools putting their weight behind traditional team sports, as promoted by the former Tory government. They need to look at the negative macho attitudes and actions often associated with such games.

Published in Sport Education and Society, available from Carfax Publishing Ltd, PO Box 25, Abingdon, Oxfordshire 0x14 3UE.

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