The Lessons of Sports: Class Socialization in British and American Boarding Schools

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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  • 1 Mount Holyoke College
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There has been no attempt to compare the sociological functions of organized sports in British and American boarding schools, yet for over a century they have been an essential component of the class ideals taught in the best known schools. This paper examines five critical functions of team games: the extension of institutional control, their role as molder of “manly Christian character,’’ the importance of closer involvement of faculties in games as surrogate parents, the emergence of school leaders from the successful athletes, and their preparation of athletes for elite colleges and universities. Team sports in boarding schools in both England and New England were introduced to teach boys to be gentle men, which is what most of their parents hoped they would become. Team sports socialized boys into class and gender roles that corresponded to moral expectations of legitimate behavior. Success in sports became a crucial prerequisite for acceptance at school; the sports also fostered powerful bonds between classmates and inculcated a strong attachment to the school. The competition of team games in school encouraged the love of winning, which in turn encouraged a concern with success and doing well in one’s later endeavors, derivative of the enjoyment of schoolboy success in sports.

Direct all correspondence to Christopher F. Armstrong, Dept. of Sociology, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA 01075.
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