Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport – Review

Cesar Torres’ The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport has just arrived on my desk. Firstly I’ll say that I do have a partisan interest in it as I contributed a chapter towards the end on ‘Resources in the Philosophy of Sport’ which I’ll mention in more detail later.

My first thoughts on seeing it ‘in the flesh’ were ‘wow! what a great resource!’. If you are looking for a encyclopaedia on the philosophy of sport, this is it. It is different from all the other books in the field because it contains very short chapters on the whole range of issues by most of the eminent scholars working in the field today: Scott Kretchmar, William Morgan, Robert Simon, Jan Boxill, Angela Schneider, plus many, many others. These authors are serious experts and have reputations to prove it.

The structure is pretty straightforward and logical. It starts off with a brief history of the field, outline of typical research methods, consideration of key issues, detailed glossary of key concepts, before finishing with further resources and an annotated bibliography.

From a personal perspective I am really pleased to see space given to the different research methods used in the field. This will undoubtedly be helpful to my students who are often quite unsure and confused about philosophical research methods as they are often misled into believing that the only types of research in the study of sport are quantitative or qualitative; of which obviously philosophy fits into neither. The fact that a range of philosophic research methods are considered; Analytic, Continental and Eastern, means that I can give my students (and colleagues!) more direction as to what the philosophy of sport does and how it does it.

The largest part of the book is then given over to a consideration of current and future issues. This covers pretty much everything from fairness, equality, disability, risk, environment, aesthetics, knowledge, spirituality, technology and commercialisation. This strength of such a breadth is however unsurprisingly limited by a lack of depth, and it clear that many of the authors found it a challenge to cover arguments and discussion that are contained in hundreds of thousands of words, into just a short snapshot. I certainly don’t envy their task but generally they have done a really good job in setting out many of the key problems and providing some ways of solving them.

The glossary of key terms and concepts used in the philosophy of sport is really helpful and covers contested and difficult terms such as ‘cheating’, ‘deception’, ‘fair play’, ‘formalism’, ‘gamesmanship’, ‘rules’ and ‘sport’ itself. Again, the authors have had a tight limit as to what they are able to say but again, it provides a good introduction to these central concepts.

The final part is further resources, careers in the field and key literature. My chapter on resources essentially provides a complete reference list of works in the field and divides them into thematic sections, such as: general texts; ethics, values and fair play; sport and play; sport and the body; doping and sports medicine; aesthetics of sport; political philosophy of sport; coaching and education; Olympic philosophy; and epistemology, critical thinking and research ethics. I then provide other resources such as websites, videos, associations, and social media. The challenge with these kinds of electronic resources is obvious but as far as I know, they are still up-to-date upon the book’s publication!

The section on careers is a tricky one and I’m not sure why the publishers thought it necessary to include it. Studying the philosophy of sport will (unfortunately) rarely lead to a job in that field although the author is absolutely right to highlight the use and merits of studying philosophy itself. The inclusion of several courses and the content they cover may encourage other academics and managers to include the philosophy of sport in their curriculum although perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. Equally, the inclusion of various associations, conferences and the grants available may be of use to undergraduates and potential postgraduates who are unfamiliar with the field. However, this is the chapter that I think is the least useful and as much as I respect and value my friendship with Charlene, I think she was given a pretty hard task in making this fit with the rest of the book.

The final chapter is effectively an annotated bibliography of key papers throughout the history of the philosophy of sport. Again, the authors had an almost impossible challenge in picking the most important papers and I’m sure that there will be disagreements about which papers were included and ignored. Nevertheless, I think the authors have done a pretty good job in tracing the development of the field by highlighting particular influential works.

So overall:

  • Positives: absolutely brilliant resource covering pretty much everything and anything in the philosophy of sport and written by the best scholars in the area.
  • Negatives: the broad scope of the book means that it is just a snap-shot of the key issues, concepts and ideas and is unable to go into any real depth.
  • Audience: undergraduates and postgraduate students studying sport, undergraduate and postgraduate students studying philosophy; it might also be of use and interest to the general reader.

Every library that supports students studying sport should have at least one copy. It really is an incredibly useful resource in helping to understand what the philosophy of sport is and the types of issues it covers.


Moore’s Law, the Singularity and why we can’t keep up with technology…

When older people complain that the world is changing too fast we usually dismiss their concerns as the normal product of an ageing brain. They can’t keep up with technological advancements, we surmise, because they’ve lost too many neurons and their brain is unable to work as fast as it did when they were younger. But perhaps we’re wrong. Perhaps the world really is changing faster than it has in the past. And the older you are, the more past you’ve lived through and the longer you’ve had to keep pace with the change.

This is certainly the view that I have been persuaded by recently.

I started reading a great book by Raymond Kurzweil last year called, ‘The Singularity is Near: When humans transcend biology‘ and have found his arguments compelling. Essentially he maintains that technological evolution progresses at an exponential rate (often called Moore’s Law) and that we are currently in the midst of a paradigm shift in human evolution. This might sound like science fiction but it seems to ring true.

This morning I watched a video by glass company Corning which examined some its previous claims about the possibility of ‘intelligent’ [my word] glass as to what is currently possible with this technology, and what is likely to be possible in the near future. This is technology that only ten years ago would have been considered a life-time away [viz. Minority Report].

My sister, too, was only talking to me at the weekend about the impending shift towards ‘augmented reality‘ applications on smartphones and tablets. QR codes (which I’ve just got to grips with) are going to be old-hat by this time next year.

Finally, TED talks pointed me in the direction of a presentation given by Danny Hillis in 1994 which predicted this technology boom. Thus further supporting Kurzweil’s hypothesis.

So, if you are like my dad, who, when I was growing up was a technophile but is now finding himself left behind and over-whelmed by advances in technology, then don’t despair. Yes, technology is changing at an ever faster rate but we live in exciting times with exciting possibilities. It is easy to be overwhelmed but these advances in technology should make it easier to embed them into our lives so that they fit with our natural instincts and ways of being. In the same way that the ipad is more intuitive than a pc, other technologies will adjust to us, so we don’t have to make so much effort or try to keep up with the change.

Talent is over-rated

I’m currently reading Matthew Syed‘s excellent book ‘Bounce‘ in which he makes the argument that sporting champions are not born, but are made through good fortune of opportunity and hours of practice.

In the chapter whereby Syed (a former Olympic table-tennis player) tests his reactions against a tennis serve from Wimbledon champion, Michael Stich, he argues that experience is key to success;

“I was confident I would return the serve… Even as I witnessed the ball connecting with his racket, it whirred past my right ear with a speed that produced what seemed like a clap of wind. I had barely rotated my neck by the time it thudded against the soft green curtains behind me.” (p26)

Syed, with his years of reacting to table-tennis balls being smashed towards him, believed that these reactions would be transferable to another sport.  After all, as Syed noted, table-tennis players have even less time to react to shots due to the lesser distance covered. So why weren’t his skills transferable as he had expected? The answer became clear when Syed went to a sport science laboratory to have his reactions to a ‘virtual serve’ (essentially a computer graphic) analysed; he was told that he wasn’t focusing on the ‘right’ aspect of the serving player. It wasn’t the ability to react to the ball once hit that Syed was lacking, it was the ability to see and interpret cues from the body before the ball was hit. And this is true for all sports that involve reacting to variable situations. A cricketer in bat doesn’t react to the ball after it has left the hand of a fast-bowler, she sets up her shot as she sees the bowler making her run-up and winding up to release the ball.

I was thinking about this in relation to my own sport of rugby and I remember having a conversation along similar lines with my friend and retired international, Georgia Stevens. We were discussing the fact that even though we may not be as fit, as fast or as strong as we used to be, we are still able to hold our own against younger players (who are fitter, faster and stronger), for the simple reason that we can read the game better and anticipate what is going to happen. I find that the older I get (and as long as I keep myself at a reasonable level of fitness) I don’t have to work as hard in games as I used to. In essence, the older I get, the lazier I can get away with being.

So Syed is right in suggesting that talent is over-rated (and probably doesn’t really exist at all). What really matters is experience and this comes with hard work, dedication and practice. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell in another excellent book, Outliers, ‘if you’re prepared to put in 10,000 hours of practice, you can become a master at anything’.

The 3 Rs: Reading, writing and reasoning

The last few weeks have been pretty busy for me. Yesterday I played in a ‘re-enactment’ of the very funny Monty Python ‘Philosopher’s football match’ sketch. The primary purpose of this was to promote the value of teaching philosophy to school children and was organised by the non-profit organisation ‘The Philosophy Shop‘. Read Nigel Warburton’s ‘Referee’s review‘ here.

The other exciting news is the publication of my new book: ‘Critical Thinking for Sports Students’ which, in the same vein, is a resource for teaching and developing reasoning skills. It can be ordered from Amazon here and has already been discounted to £11.85. Bargain!

Finally, on my regular check that nothing suspect comes up on a Google search of my name, I found a blog commenting on my Radio4 appearance with Simon Barnes discussing Theirry Henry’s handball incident in the World Cup qualifiers. Thanks to the author of Moonballs, Prithvi Chandrasekhar, for his kind words about me.

Christmas Break… or not…

This is only going to be a short post just to keep my blog ticking over as I’m well aware that I don’t write posts as much as I ought to.

I would like to say that I’m putting my feet up over Christmas but unfortunately those evil guys at Learning Matters have given me the deadline of December 31st for my book on critical thinking; and they just won’t budge. So that means that I’m frantically trying to get it finished in time, and feel I have been for the past year. It should be okay though. I’m pretty much there, just have a final chapter to write and then have to rewrite the first one and tighten up the other five. Easy!

But come January 2010 I will be partying like a squirrel on steroids. Oh damn it, no I won’t; I’ve got a pile of marking to do and then it’s headlong into the second semester.

Still, can’t really complain since I am fortunate to be able to do this kind of stuff that I love and I’ve still got a job (which I can’t say for all my colleagues at the UoG).

That just leaves me to say Happy Christmas!

Fabric of the Cosmos

I finally finished a book that I’ve been reading for the past two years… and it’s one of the most thought provoking I’ve ever read. Hence the fact that it took me two years… after every page I read, I’d have to put the book down and exercise my brain in thought trying to comprehend the ideas involved.

Anyway, I lent it to a colleague today, saying that if I had a bible this would be it. And I really meant it. It is the most incredible book that gives a real explanation of the concepts of space and time. Something that is pretty hard to do, as I’m sure you’re well aware.

What I loved about it was that it was so well structured in terms of providing almost an historical account of the ideas of space and time. This meant that the further through the book you read, the deeper the comprehension of these topics. Essentially, the fundamental questions behind the book were the philosophical ones of ‘is space a something?’ and what is its relationship to time (hence its title: Fabric of the Cosmos). The last chapter was truly philosophical in a consideration of both time travel (time travel forward is relatively easy, it is time travel into the past which is much more difficult), and my favourite, teleportation (I have thought for many years now that if we could just invent a teleportation device, all our transport worries would be solved… okay well maybe not all our worries since we would probably worry about actually getting to where we want to go, let alone surviving the teleportation in one piece).

So what is this great book?

Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene.


Fabric of the Cosmos Book Cover

Fabric of the Cosmos Book Cover


Absolutely brilliant – go out and buy it!