Does play become work?

Every family has “family rules” but my family has a very peculiar one: every child must play a team sport until he or she graduates high school. I thought this was strange at first but growing up with two older brothers who played every sport known to man, I was down with it.

this is my bff as an adorably athletic child

The first sport I played and stuck with was soccer. The sport is every rambunctious child’s dream: you get to run around with your friends and kick a ball into a net. There were barely any rules, everyone was doing their own thing, and coaches and parents just wanted us to have fun.

Growing up with the sport I realized that it had taught me good teamwork, accountability, responsibility, respect, leadership, and all of what I believe are the vital characteristics for one to have. Not only this but I learned how to deal with defeat, bad coaches, teammates, injury, etc.

As the years flew by and I grew older, I realized that the sport was no longer what it really used to be. More rules came into play, my parents became a lot more financially invested and therefore pushed me to become better and coaches were pressuring more training and outsidework. What was once play seemed more like work.


Now on a team in college, the values of the sport are very different. Yes you started to play a sport because you would play to have fun but now you play to win. At the first scrimmage of the season I was very nervous because we are expected to perform at your best no matter what. I was scared that I would not be at that standard but found I actually enjoy the responsibility it takes to be on a team.

However, in October, I attended a fellow varsity team’s competition. After the women’s varsity swimming and diving meet, my friend came over to me with tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong, expecting a response that she was unhappy with her performance but it was because she was just unhappy, period. We sat down and she explained to me what she was feeling. She had been passionate about swimming for as long as she could remember, but, as a result of the team’s culture, she was hardly able to enjoy herself like she used to. Instead of worrying about the new practice suit pattern she wanted, she was worrying about who she could talk to at practice so the coaches didn’t look at her differently. She was so distraught about up keeping the golden child image while it conflicted with maintaining her friendships on the team, spending adequate time on school work and setting aside time for herself.


After hearing about the stressful team dynamic, she explained to me it was best for her as an athlete to leave the program. She wanted to return back to the state of swimming that was the same as my state of soccer as a child.

My parent’s imposing the “family rule” on me has given me the skill set I need to strive in life. Although it seems as though the autonomy of sport as one gets older and more experienced, no matter what the sport may be, has been lost, it does not mean the sport has lost its aspect of play.

One thought on “Does play become work?

  1. The answer to the question, “when does play become work,” will vary from one person to another. As a student-athlete for The University of Michigan, I think a person could make the argument that playing basketball is work for me because I am rewarded for being on the team by way of a scholarship. I certainly don’t feel that way, but I understand how someone could make that argument.

    Until now, I played basketball solely for the love of the game and nothing else. Today, however, I play, not only because because I love the game, but am receiving a sizable scholarship for doing so. I would not play if a scholarship was not given.


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