The Problem with Fun

I’ve ranted and raved a bit on this blog about the importance of fun in high performance sport (see A Novel Concept).  All this being said, I think it’s fair to say that the word “fun” itself isn’t so hot.  It’s prejudicial…  more specifically I believe it ignites cognitive schemas that drive many a mind towards hedonistic fantasies.

“Fun” in sport and striving does not equal “pleasure.”  Yet, I fear too often this is where minds of the doubting Thomases drift when they hear the word.  Sport may bring levels of pleasure, but the intrinsic interest (a.k.a. fun) that is core to rich experiences is a quite different thing.  This distinction is well articulated by Bruya (2010 – see his chapter in Effortless Attention) when considering approaches to wine: “Drinking wine in an enjoyable way may further develop an interest that enriches the enjoyment. Drinking wine in a pleasurable way leads to inebriation.”  When it is preached that the youth sport experience ought to be “fun,” are we asking kids to get drunk on sports?  I really hope not, a super-sized approach to play certainly does not lead to health or high performance.

The mental images that ought to accompany “fun” are ones of full engagement… or enjoyment.  Yes, a subtle word change, but perhaps a valuable one.  “Enjoyment” speaks to becoming a connoisseur of sport… a true expert.  One that passionately engages in the successes, struggles, and every day striving (see Geeking Out for some further thoughts).

Think about what you mean when you ask athletes, parents, and coaches to have “fun.”  Consider the images it places in their minds.  Are they productive and one’s that a hard nosed competitor can buy in to?  Sport is not hedonistic, it is engaging.

As we roll through the Stanley Cup playoffs, I have periodically swapped texts with a few players.  Through all of the wins, losses, and overtime battles, I have gotten into the habit of signing off texts with “Enjoy it all.”  And regardless of how the puck bounced each night, the reply I get back is something along the lines of, “Absolutely.”

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