What if the beautiful game was performance sport?

Following a stimulating first year seminar group this morning, I’ve decided to explore one of the questions that we were discussing further:

What would be the effects if the objectively-evaluative results orientated sports became more subjectively-evaluative performance sports? 

The example we were discussing in class was that of football. The stimulus that got me thinking about this issue was the frequent use in television  soccer programmes of the ‘goal of the month’ or ‘goal of the season’ piece or competition. This seems to provide an indication of an answer to the question, ‘Is a skillfully created move that involves many players and a variety of skill that ends in a goal better than a goal mouth scramble where the ball crosses the line after ricocheting off a defending player?’ – well, ‘yes’ we seem to want to say. Yet, if the outcome is the same for both these situations (i.e. the ball crosses the goal line) then the rules determine that both situations are of equal worth, (i.e. a goal = 1 point).

This leads on to what could be an interesting thought experiment: what if a goal could be worth a variety of points depending on how it was scored? What would it mean for league positions, and moreover, what would it mean for the sport itself?

So this is my project (if I have time). I will now watch Match of the Day (a programme I rarely watch) in order to evaluate the quality of goals scored and produce a league table (of the English Premiership teams) of my own. I feel that I am reasonably qualified to do this as I’m not a particular fan of football and don’t have any affinity to any particular team. I do however, have an appreciation of footballing skill and aesthetic quality, and therefore, my judgements should be as balanced and nonpartisan as they possibly could be.

What the criteria I will use for my judgements remains to be decided. It might be that I decide there will be three or four points available, so teams will receive one point for the aforementioned goalmouth scramble, two for a reasonably produced goal, three for a well worked move or individual skill, and four for an outstanding piece of skillful and beautiful play. The scores will be collated and will be depicted in a table to be compared with the current league table.

As this is merely a thought experiment, the effects that the change of scoring criteria has on the game itself will be more speculative. My initial hypothesis is that football would develop to be an even more beautiful and skillful game as players would want to score the highest number of points for each goal. This would ultimately make the game more entertaining to watch which in the professional market economy in which the sport is currently contained would not necessarily be a bad thing.

[I have briefly thought about whether this could work for other sports but have decided to concentrate on football as it is arguably easier to judge aesthetic criteria; for instance, the different positions and skills required in a game such a rugby makes it more difficult to judge whether a try was more skillfully scored – as many front-row stalwarts would argue that a pushover try from a scrum involves as much skill as a creatively worked backs move. Additionally, players are less constrained in football than they are in other sports as to positional or territorial opportunities available, i.e. netball players have are much more limited in the space they have available to play. It might be that the scoring system does work for sports such as tennis, but it will be something that I need to give greater thought to.]

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2 thoughts on “What if the beautiful game was performance sport?

  1. I’d be interested to see how the infinite variety of goals can be accurately categorised in to a scoring system. Though should it be one for academic debate, or actual consideration for inclusion in to the game? The reason I ask is, creating an accurate, detailed system will do credit to the to armchair philosopher, but be too complex (possibly) for the casual football fan! Maybe the number of players involved could be considered? A great idea though, possibly one to throw at the students?

  2. I just wonder how you would judge those types of goal which come about because of a particular routine or set-piece manouver…if I could relate it to hockey very sneakily: at the top level many of the best goals are scored because a player makes the right lead or dummy run, which enables anoher player to score what on the face of it looks like a pretty ordinary goal. The off-the-ball play is often as intricate and important (and in many cases beautiful) as what is going on around the ball, but is often neglected in the final analysis. Also, in highlight shows, one often misses the vital decision or catalyst for a goal, like for example the ‘keepers decision to throw the ball quickly out of defence, or a tackle before the forward move starts. I don’t think though that this presents too much of a problem for your task, and I am willing to bet that Arsenal will win by a country mile, with United in second and the rest way back. Chelsea would probably be relegated.

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