(v.) By depriving the non-athletic class of every incentive to physical exertion. So long as accomplishing a feat, winning a prize, and breaking a record, are the only objects of systematic physical training, a man who lacks the requisite qualifications of a successful athlete is likely to despair at the outset. Ask the members of any athletic organization why they do not take an active interest in the sports their club is supposed to foster, and you will be told that the standard is too high for them, that they cannot spare the time for practice, or that they are too light or too heavy, and would not be a credit to the club.
In our colleges few men practise running, rowing, ball-playing, etc., systematically without a hope of becoming members of the "crew," "nine," or "eleven." "No chance for the prize ' is considered a laudable excuse for neglecting many admirable exercises, such as sparring, fencing, and jumping.
In consequence of this erroneous idea as to the ultimate object for which all sports are encouraged, a small portion of the community are overdoing the practice of these valuable adjuncts to health and education, while the vast majority are not availing themselves of their advantages. In fact, the importance of winning an athletic victory is becoming so exaggerated in the minds of many young men, that some of them have already resorted to unscrupulous methods as a means to the much-desired end.
Many men fail to realize that the real value of athletics is in the preparatory training, not in the contest or in the prize. Long before the day of trial, unseen forces are at work building up a structure fit to stand the test and to make a noble effort for the victory. Whether the coveted prize be won or lost is of little importance compared to the prize in shape of an improved physique already in possession of those who have undergone a faithful course of training.
(VI.) By arousing the spirit of antagonism and fostering viciousness and brutality. In all competitive sports that bring individuals into personal contact, such as wrestling, sparring, foot-ball, lacrosse, polo, etc., there is a constant tendency to roughness and brutality. The object being to "win at all hazards," the reason for the roughness is apparent. These sports without doubt furnish the best kind of general exercise for the body, and develop courage, manliness, and self-control. How to retain the good features, and to hold the evil ones in check, are the problems that are ever present to those who are interested in the preservation of these invigorating pastimes. They are worth perpetuating, and ought not to fall into disrepute for the want of a few friends to throw a protecting influence around them. Certain it is that as soon as brutality gains the ascendency gentlemen will cease to compete, and the sport will fall into decline. It is a question now in the minds of many whether some of these sports have not already reached a stage of deterioration in which, in the colleges at least, their future existence is threatened.
(VII.) By depriving them of their efficacy as a means to health. An individual having this aim (excellence in the achievement) in view, and having decided upon a specialty in athletics, at once proceeds to strengthen those muscles most used in his chosen sport. The runner or jumper develops his legs, the oarsman his legs and back, and the gymnast his arms, chest, and shoulders. The runner argues that the heavier his body is above the hips, so much more of a burden is there for him to carry; the gymnast reasons in a similar way with regard to the weight of his body below the hips.
There is a constant tendency on the part of specialists to overdevelop a few sets of muscles, and to undervalue the importance of keeping the muscles all in a healthy condition. Consequently, through incompleteness of structure and a want of harmony in function, some local weakness is produced which sooner or later not only incapacitates the individual for any great mental or physical effort, but also renders him liable to disease.
What is true of athletics to-day was equally true of gymnastics some fifteen or twenty years ago. Many of our college and city gymnasia were in the hands of a class of experts and specialists, who selected the apparatus as a means of exhibiting their strength and prowess rather than a means of physical culture and self-improvement. The weaker members, finding few forms of apparatus that were suited to their capacity, would stand idle, content with admiring the exploits of their more vigorous companions. In fact, a man was made to feel that the gymnasium was no place for him unless he at least could turn a backward somersault, do the giant's swing, or hang by his toes.
It would be foreign to my purpose to carry this discussion any further at the present time. My object has been merely to show that all sports, exercises, and pastimes, pursued as ends in themselves, are necessarily limited to a very small class, and constantly tend to degenerate.
What, then, can be done to make physical exercise more attractive to the masses, and to relieve our popular sports of some of the evils that tend to degrade them? I know of no better way of accomplishing this desirable end than by repeatedly reminding the individual of the ultimate aim of every kind of physical exercise. Do not the harmonious development of the physique, and the building up and broadening out of the highest types of manhood and womanhood, offer an inducement to work for?
This has been the theme of the philosophers and sages of all times. Every writer on education, from Plato to Herbert Spencer, has advocated physical activity as a means of attaining that full-orbed and harmonious development of all parts of the human economy so essential to robust, vigorous health.