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The Agon Motif and the Concept of Movement Culture

Abstract

At a symposium on 12 June 2009 on “Homo Movens: International symposium on movement culture” at the occasion of my ‘rite of passage’ to the emeritus status at the KU Leuven, John W. Loy, co-authored by W. Robert Morford, presented a paper on “The agon motif: A study of the contest element in sport”. I am very glad that this excellent paper will finally be published as it was not included in “The making of sport history: Disciplines, identities and the historiography of sport” (Delheye 2014), which appeared five years later as a so called “…crystallization of the international symposium.” (p. XVII). Moreover, some of these contributions were severely criticized by Allen Guttmann (2014).

In this introduction, I will try to clarify the concepts of ‘ludodiversity’ and ‘movement culture’, which I have often had the chance to discuss with John Loy personally. We did – of course – not always agree but this kind of ‘joking relationship’ with John Loy was and still is for me a “… joy forever”!

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The Agon Motif: Redux. A Study of the Contest Element in Sport

Abstract

The contest element of modern sport has its ancient roots in the “agon” of early Greek life. We begin with an overview of the material and historical continuities in the social development of sport, followed by a discussion of our suppositions regarding the original linkage of sport and war in terms of what we call “the agon motif”, and conclude with speculations about residuals of the agon motif in modern sport. We argue it is important to recognize that notwithstanding of the many transitions and transformations in the social development of sport since the agon of Homeric and Hellenic Greek cultures there are notable, long-standing, material and historical continuities in the structure of sport and the ethos of agonal contests. To better depict the relationships between the concepts of sport and contest, we highlight these vestiges of agon. We employ the phrase “the agon motif” to embrace both the concept of “agon”and the concept of “aethlos”. In a structural sense the agon motif refers to the overall properties, processes, and products of agonal competition, including contestants, spectators, battle grounds, sporting venues, festivals and spectacles, prizes and award ceremonies. Whereas, in an ideational sense, the agon motif refers to the ethos of chivalric competition associated with the pursuit of prestige (status-honor) and the active quest to achieve excellence (bodily and moral) through physical prowess in agonal contests wherein individuals place their reputation, moral character, and at times, their very lives at stake. There is a close link to the cult of masculinity and masculine domination in the Western world, since the primary avenues of pursuing the agon motif through war and sport are two of the most highly and rigidly “gendered” activities in the history of humankind. We suggest that the most fundamental dynamic of the agon motif as well as the most enduring residual of the agon motif in modern sport is the pursuit of prestige, honor and excellence through physical prowess. The ethical framework of archaic (heroic) agon represents the epitome of a morality of honor and an ethics of virtue and offers a largely unfamiliar picture from a contemporary viewpoint of winning and losing in sport.

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Championing Physical Cultural Sciences

Abstract

The term “physical culture” is, first of all, associated (referring to the etymology of the word “culture” from the Latin “colo,-ere”, meaning “to cultivate”, “to inhabit” or “to honor”) with cultivation and taking care of the human “physis” – obviously in the context of social and natural environment. What matters in physical cultural reflection is not movement as such – as a purely physical phenomenon – but only such a form of movement which has been cultivated and attributed with conventionalized social values of symbolic and autotelic character. Biological sciences connected with the human being are traditionally – after MacFadden, among others – counted among physical cultural sciences. Because of the bodily foundations of human physical activity, they perform a significant cognitive function: they describe natural foundations of special forms of movement, but they are not offering knowledge of cultural character. As there are no values in the human being’s nature, the biological sciences within the institutional field of physical culture can with their separate methodological and theoretical assumptions only offer an auxiliary, supportive function. Physical cultural sciences are primarily dealing with the significant relations between humans in physical cultural practices, with knowledge of an axiological (ethical and aesthetical) and social (philosophical, sociological, pedagogical, historical or political) character. The alleged superiority of biological sciences within physical cultural sciences and the connected marginalization of the humanities – which constitute, after all, a necessary and hence an unquestionable foundation for cultural studies – is, therefore, a clear challenge in the institutional field of physical culture.

Open access
Outline of Mimesis, Honor and Dignity in Modern Sport: A Commentary

Abstract

When reading the masterpiece about “The Agon Motif” by John W. Loy and W. Robert Morford (2019), I was struck by their recurrent reference to the pursuit of honor in agonal sport contests, as it has become common sense to replace honor with dignity in modernity. I take the German social-philosopher Axel Honneth (1995) as a prime example of spelling out the replacement of honor with dignity in what he names “the struggle for recognition”. In a historical perspective, however, it looks like, that dignity can be understood as a distribution of honor rather than as an oppositional concept of honor. Recognition should not only be conceptualized at the categorical level, but also understood in terms of ‘comparative recognition’, which sorts members of a group into an intra-group hierarchy based on their relative merits and, thereby, pave the way for self-esteem (Mark, 2014). Furthermore, Honneth (2008) develops his concept of recognition to a two-level one by including a primordial recognition in terms of mimesis based upon his former concept of basic self-confidence. It is a kind of elementary responsiveness, which always and necessarily contains an element of involuntary openness or devotedness in the bodily-affective sphere. Therefore, I suggest taking mimesis as the precondition of honor into account and understanding dignity as a distribution of honor in the institution of modern sport.

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Why a Focus on Sporting Tests Would Reveal an Alternate Story and Raise Ethical Questions about Agon: A Commentary

Abstract

Loy and Morford focus on “agon” as an important window through which to understand human life and development. Competition in war and sport was culturally significant then, and it is culturally significant today, albeit in modified forms. In this commentary, I attempt to do two things – first, identify implications of some conceptual distinctions, and second, point out normative questions raised by the Loy/Morford analysis. I find it worthwhile to differentiate clearly between tests and contests. If the historical and sociocultural spotlight were turned on sporting “tests” rather than “contests”, that is, on trying to solve physically demanding problems well rather than trying to solve them better than at least one other party, then another story than the agonal account could be told. War would probably no longer serve as the best historical and prehistorical analogue for sport. Rather, it might be hunting. I add, that, on one hand, competitive sport is far less violent and, therefore, far more defensible today than it was previously. On the other hand, joy in playing is often sacrificed on the altar of any number of extrinsic rewards. Success, even gained by questionable means, replaces skill-based and virtue-generated achievement. This threatens the connection endorsed by MacIntyre between practices and virtues.

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Anthropometric and Motor Characteristics of South African National Level Female Soccer Players

Abstract

Data regarding anthropometric and motor characteristics of elite national level female soccer players are scarce. Determining these characteristics may likely assist in evaluating the specificity of current training programmes, identify players who might lack specific qualities deemed critical for the successful execution of their tactical roles, and benchmark norms for developing future playing talent. Therefore, the aims of this study were to describe anthropometric and motor characteristics of South African national level female soccer players (n = 37) and determine possible differences with regard to their playing position. The following measurements and tests were performed: anthropometry (body mass index and sum-of-skinfolds), the countermovement jump, sprints (10 m, 20 m and 40 m), upper body muscle endurance (push-ups) and the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test - level 1. One-way analysis of variance revealed few differences in the main outcome variables. Fischer Least Significant Difference (LSD) showed that strikers had a greater body mass index than midfielders and defenders (both p = 0.04) and goalkeepers were heavier than defenders (p = 0.02). Goalkeepers were slower than strikers and defenders over 10 m (p = 0.01; p = 0.03) and 20 m (p = 0.001; p = 0.01). Midfielders were slower than strikers over 20 m (p = 0.02), and with strikers and defenders over 40 m (both p = 0.04). Defenders performed better than goalkeepers in the upper body muscle endurance test (p = 0.02). In conclusion, both strikers and defenders require speed to win ball possession, which may explain their fast sprint times. However, the similarity of certain motor characteristics across playing positions may suggest that conditioning coaches train players similarly, irrespective of their tactical position. The authors suggest that South African fitness professionals, particularly at a club level, develop physical conditioning programs specific to each field position. Furthermore, fitness assessments should occur on a continuous basis and comparisons should be made with existing normative data in order to guide the development of players over the course of their careers.

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Bioelectrical Activity of Vastus Medialis and Rectus Femoris Muscles in Recreational Runners with Anterior Knee Pain

Abstract

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), the most common source of knee pain among physically active individuals, is defined as anterior knee pain involving the patella and retinaculum that excludes other intraarticular and peri-patellar pathology. Differences in the activation and endurance of the quadriceps components, causing an imbalance in the forces controlling patellar tracking during flexion and extension in the knee joint, appear to be the most commonly reported risk factors for PFPS. The aim of this study was to determine the differences in bioelectric activity of vastus medialis and rectus femoris muscles during half knee bend position in runners with PFPS. The sample comprised 20 recreational runners (15 males, 5 females; aged 27 ± 5 years) reporting knee pain and diagnosed with PFPS. The age- and sex-matched control group consisted of recreational runners who did not report knee pain. The myon electromyographic system was used to determine the changes in the electromyographic median frequency during a half squat position. The decrease in the median frequency of vastus medialis and rectus femoris muscles was significantly greater in runners with PFPS in comparison to the control group (p < 0.01 for right and left vastus medialis and right rectus femoris; p < 0.05 for left rectus femoris). There is a relationship between knee pain related to PFPS and the imbalance of bioelectric activity of vastus medialis and rectus femoris muscles. Achieving the muscular balance within the thigh muscles can be an important factor in the rehabilitation process of PFPS.

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Body Height and Swimming Performance in 50 and 100 m Freestyle Olympic and World Championship Swimming Events: 1908 - 2016

Abstract

There are scattered data showing an increase in the height of Olympic and World Championships swimmers. To identify a possible historical trend, a study of the height of 50 and 100 m freestyle medalists at the Olympic Games and the World Championships between 1908 and 2016 was undertaken. 370 swimmers (186 men and 184 women) were studied. A progressive increase in the height of men’s medalists (r = 0.49, p < 0.001) was detected. With regard to women’s medalists, an increase (r = 0.383, p < 0.01) was also found. To provide a sort of confirmation of this trend, a separate analysis of swimmers achieving new official swimming records, not included in the initial design of the study, was undertaken and a similar and also significant trend was seen in this case in both male and female athletes. This study confirms and greatly expands the observation of other authors, and raises the question of whether the increase in the stature of elite swimmers is simply a reflection of the increase in height of the general population or whether other factors, such as a possible role of training, should be considered. The ethical aspects of an early selection of swimmers perhaps based on the genetic profile of youngsters deserves careful consideration.

Open access
Characteristics of Very High Intensity Runs of Soccer Players in Relation to Their Playing Position and Playing Half in the 2013-14 Spanish La Liga Season

Abstract

The objective of this study was to carry out a detailed quantitative analysis of the very high intensity runs during actual play in the 2013-2014 Spanish First Division, at a general level and according to the specific playing position and half. 380 matches of the Spanish First Division in the 2013 - 2014 season were monitored using the Mediacoach video motion analysis tool. Total distance, very high intensity (above 21 km/h) running distance and the number of runs at very high intensity of 230 players from 20 teams in the Spanish First Division were analysed. The main findings of the study were that the performance indicators at very high intensities decreased from the first half to the second half for all outfield players (covered distance: 4694 ± 538 m vs 4485 ± 437 m, sprint distance: 256 ± 72 m vs 239 ± 67 m, number of sprints: 14.3 ± 3.5 vs 13.2 ± 3.1), except the central defenders (sprint distance: 166 ± 37 vs 166 ± 40 m, number of sprints: 10.0 ± 2.1 vs 9.8 ± 3.8). Secondly, although wide defenders (9759 ± 665 m) and central midfielders (9776 ± 942 m) covered the most distance during matches, it were the wide defenders (30 ± 5), centre-forwards (28 ± 7) and wide midfielders (31 ± 8) who performed the most runs at very high intensity. Consequently, the distance they ran at these very high intensity runs followed the same pattern. Such results enable general and specific profiles by demarcation to be established based on the demands of the game at high-level competitive play.

Open access