Character & Moral Development in Sport & Physical Education Research Paper Starter

Character & Moral Development in Sport & Physical Education

Currently, the "sport builds character" claim is highly debated, most often in the ideological sense rather than based on any reliable and valid empirical evidence (Shields et al., 2001). The argument for sport building character is focused on the ideas that participants in sport must overcome adversity, learn persistence, develop self-control, learn cooperation, and deal with victory or defeat and, as a result, develop a sense of fairness, courage, persistence, self-control, and courage (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). From this viewpoint, sport is viewed as an embodiment of freedom and equality and is a context in which the participant chooses to engage. Conversely, the argument against sport as a means to build character focuses on sport as a morally neutral domain, that the positive attributes one may develop through sport are not necessarily transferred and utilized outside of the sport context, and that sport merely "builds characters" (Chandler, 1988; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995, p. 175). This argument is supported by the regular incidence of negative activity such as collegiate recruiting scandals, aggressive behavior or assault, hazing rituals, and the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Keywords Athletics; Character; Character Development/Education; Cognitive Development; Compassion; Fairness; Integrity; Moral Action; Moral Balance; Moral Development; Physical Education; Sport Participation; Sportspersonship

Overview

The saying "sport builds character" can be traced back, in modern history, to the British use of sport in school and military training as a means to maintain and expand the British Empire (Bredemeier & Shields, 1994; Chandler, 1988; Gerdy, 2000; Ogilvie & Tutko, 1971; Sage, 1998; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995; Shields & Bredemeier, 2001; Shields, Bredemeier, & Power, 2002; Stevenson, 1975). This belief was then adopted in the United States during the American Industrial Revolution as a way to socialize immigrants into the American way of life (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). Sport then began to be shaped by the capitalist and patriarchal values that were prominent in the United States (Coakley, 2004).

Currently, the "sport builds character" claim is highly debated, most often in the ideological sense rather than based on any reliable and valid empirical evidence (Shields et al., 2001). The argument for sport building character is focused on the ideas that participants in sport must overcome adversity, learn persistence, develop self-control, learn cooperation, and deal with victory or defeat and, as a result, develop a sense of fairness, courage, persistence, self-control, and courage (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). From this viewpoint, sport is viewed as an embodiment of freedom and equality and is a context in which the participant chooses to engage. This commitment symbolizes the individual's moral obligation to follow the rules of the activity, yet once those rules are broken the activity is no longer considered sport (Arnold, 1984). The experience of sport participation is one that provides an opportunity for the athletes to develop moral virtues (e.g. persistence, courage, fairness) as they learn to uphold the sense of fairness and justice in the sport context.

Conversely, the argument against sport as a means to build character focuses on sport as a morally neutral domain, that the positive attributes one may develop through sport are not necessarily transferred and utilized outside of the sport context, and that sport merely "builds characters" (Chandler, 1988; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995, p. 175). This argument is supported by the regular incidence of negative activity such as collegiate recruiting scandals, aggressive behavior or assault, hazing rituals, and the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Sage (1998) points out that sport may have the power to shape participants' values, beliefs, and consciousness, but that the uniqueness of the "sporting process is not in learning skills or in teamwork but in the social relations of sporting encounter" (p.17). The debate surrounding whether or not sport actually does foster character in its participants may be linked to the lack of a clear definition of what character actually is, as well as whether or not one's character can actually be measured (Gough, 1995; Holowchak, 2001; Sage, 1998; Shields et al., 2002; Stoll, 1999; Stoll & Beller, 1998).

Defining Character

Identifying a singular and concise definition of character is difficult as it is a vague and socially constructed notion. The definition of character has been shaped and modified throughout time, originally defined as a distinctive mark, evolving into the equivalent of "personality" (Shields et al., 2002). Character has been defined by sport and exercise scientists as:

• The "…inner dimension of self-agency in which the various processes of moral action become synthesized, coordinated and "owned" as self-expressions" (Shields et al., 2002, p. 541),

• The "possession of those personal qualities and virtues that facilitate the consistent display of moral action" (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995, p. 193), and

• "…having the wisdom to know what is right and having the courage to do what is right" (Docheff, 1997, p. 34).

With these definitions in mind, Shields and Bredemeier (1995) offer four virtues that can be used to describe character within the sport context. The virtues included are:

• Compassion,

• Fairness,

• Sportspersonship, and

• Integrity.

Compassion is considered one's moral sensitivity. Fairness involves equal consideration of others. Sportspersonship is identified by the desire and drive to succeed coupled and controlled by one's commitment to play within the spirit of the game. Lastly, integrity is the true picture of one's ideals and is having the ego strength to follow through on one's moral choice.

Moral development is an important part of character and has been operationally defined "as the evolution of a person's grasp of the interpersonal rights and responsibilities that characterize social life" leading to the development of one's character (Shields & Bredemeier, 2001, p. 585). Theories of moral development attempt to describe how moral virtues and conceptions are learned.

Further Insights

Structural development theorists believe that there is a definite sequence of development that individuals undergo in order to acquire the specific cognitive abilities necessary to make moral judgments and actions. This transformation is reflected in one's moral reasoning level/stage and can be assessed in both a quantitative and qualitative manner in terms of maturity and adequacy (Weiss & Bredemeier, 1990). Constructivist approaches are the most utilized theoretical frameworks used in sport. For the purpose of this summary the theories of Kohlberg, Gilligan, and Haan will be briefly summarized, including the moral action models of Rest (1984) and Shields and Bredemeier (1995).

Kohlberg's Six Stage Approach

Kohlberg's six-stage approach to moral development proposes that the individual makes moral judgments based on a universal orientation of justice and fairness (Kohlberg, 1976). Three levels are comprised of two stages each.

• Preconventional Level: Characterized by an egocentric social perspective where one follows rules that then shifts from viewing issues as black and white, to a more right is relative perspective. For example, consider an athlete is faced with the decision of whether or not to skip practice. At this level, the athlete will chose not to skip practice simply because it is against the rules, yet this reasoning will evolve to include whether or not skipping practice serves one's own interest. For example, the athlete may decide to skip practice because there is something else that she wants to do such as hang out with friends.

• Conventional Level: Involves viewing relationships with others with an awareness of shared agreements. In this case the athlete may choose to attend practice, reasoning that it is what is considered "good" and is expected by the coach and parents. This then progresses to the athlete feeling a sense of obligation to the team because he or she agreed to attend practice when joining the team and believes that he/she serves a role on that team.

• Postconventional/Principled Level: Involves a sense of obligation as part of a social contract and involves one's belief in the validity of moral principles and commitment to conduct one self within those guidelines. At this level, the athlete would base his/her decision about whether not to attend practice only after considering the needs for and respect of all others based on the belief in universal moral principles.

There have been a number of criticisms, including of the research methodology, of Kohlberg's model that have resulted in more moral principles being added to the stage theory and an objection to the idea that some moral principles are more or less adequate. These have led to many modifications and extensions of his theory by other theorists including those by his own students, such as Carol Gilligan.

Moral Perspective Orientations of Gilligan

Gilligan (1982) believed that Kohlberg's theory was inadequate because his focus on justice does not consider the female-oriented themes of care, relational responsiveness, and responsibility. According to Gilligan, males experience separation from the female caregiver as they establish gender identity, while females establish this identity through attachment to their caregivers....

(The entire section is 4312 words.)