By D. A. Sargent, M.D.
AT no time in the history of our country has more attention been given to the subject of physical training than is given to it at the present day. Schools, colleges, and Christian associations are building costly gymnasia, while athletic organizations, ball-clubs, tennis-clubs, boat-clubs, etc., are forming in many of our towns and cities.
Fig. I. - Method of Testing the Strength of the Chest and Triceps.
Fifteen thousand dollars is expended annually to bring the Yale and Harvard boat-crews together at New London, and it is estimated that fifty thousand dollars does not meet the yearly expenses of the athletic organizations of these two universities. Add to this sum the cost of athletic sports to the smaller colleges and city clubs, and the total would foot up in the millions.
The object of this outlay is to vanquish some rival club, to win a championship, to beat the record, or to furnish recreation and amusement to those who are willing to pay for it. With the representatives of our institutions of learning, and with a portion of the intelligent public, the object of the encouragement given to athletics is to counteract the enervating tendency of the times, and to improve the health, strength,, and vigor of our youth.
This being the fact, the questions at once arise: How large a proportion of young men in the land systematically practise athletics?
Probably less than one per cent.
How large a proportion of those who are members of athletic organizations take an active part in the sports fostered and patronized by their respective clubs?
Probably less than ten per cent.
WATER POLO AT THE NEW YORK ATHETIC CLUB.
In the opinion of the writer, the cause for so little active interest in athletics is an increasing tendency with us, as a people, to pursue sport as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end.
In making excellence in the achievement the primary object of athletic exercises, we rob them of half their value in various ways: -
(I.) By increasing the expense of training. The money expended at the present day on an athletic team is greatly in excess of the amount spent upon the same number of men a few years ago. This increased expenditure may be attributed to the improved facilities demanded for practice, to the establishment of training-tables, the employment of "coaches" or trainers, and special attendants, - the latter to anoint and rub the athletes, look after the boats, ground, running-tracks, etc., - to the purchase of uniforms, the expenses of travelling, etc. A long purse is fully as essential to success in athletics as in war or politics.
(II.) By increasing the time devoted to practice. In former years it was deemed advisable to practise no sport out of season. At the present time it is found necessary to skate in the summer, and to row and play ball in the winter months, in order to maintain the high standard of excellence demanded of those who would win prizes in these events. In fact, any athlete, to stand above mediocrity in his chosen sport, must keep in practice the greater portion of the year. So severe a tax is this upon the time and energies of those who are engaged in other occupations that it is quite impossible for them to attend to business; consequently the attempt to make a business of sport is the first step in the direction of professionalism. It is a question, indeed, if many of our so-called amateurs, who devote so much of their time to the practice of athletics, do not belong to the professional class. In either case, the effect they have upon the practice of athletics is detrimental.
Fig. 2. - Method of Testing the Strength of Back and Legs.
(III.) By reducing the number of active competitors. A characteristic trait of human nature is the desire to excel. Excellence in one thing often presupposes excellence in another, though none knows better than the specialist in athletics how weak he is outside of his favorite sport. A man who gains the reputation of being a champion oarsman or tennis-player will in all probability confine his athletic efforts to his specialty, thinking it unwise to risk a well-earned reputation as an expert in one sport by dawdling with another. Moreover, so strong is this desire to become a skilful exponent of an art or sport which one has adopted as a pastime, that as soon as circumstances debar a man from the required amount of practice necessary to maintain a high degree of excellence, he is likely to withdraw from all active participation in the game. In this way the number of competitors in every sport is gradually reduced, until the actual practice is left largely in the hands of a class of experts.
Fig. 3. - Method of Testing the Strength of the Forearms and Hands.
(IV.) By relying upon natural resources rather than upon cultivated material. As athletics approaches a higher standard the time required for development is necessarily lengthened. For this reason those who are naturally strong and vigorous, or who have inherited or acquired the qualifications requisite to success in a given sport, are in great demand. The college clubs look to the academies, the academies to the schools, the schools to homes and firesides, to furnish candidates for athletic honors, while many of the city clubs are eager to absorb members from any source that is capable of supplying them with good athletic material.