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Mark Norman's blog

Making sense of diversity: How the GTActivity research team is creating categories of physical culture

There has been much debate among philosophers, sociologists and historians of sport over how to define what constitutes a “sport” versus a game or physical activity. Traditional definitions of sport usually dictate that a sport must be physical, competitive, institutionalized (i.e., possessing standardized rules and regulatory bodies), and motivated by the attainment of both internal and external rewards.[i]  While this understanding of sport is influential, it creates a very narrow understanding of what constitutes a sport and risks ignoring many other forms of physical activity—such as dances, martial arts, or unstructured play and games—that do not easily fit this idealized definition.

In contrast to this strict definition of sport, sociologists Jay Coakley and Peter Donnelly offer an alternative way of examining various physical activities and their cultural meanings. They suggest that asking “what activities do people in a particular group or society identify as sports?” and “whose sports count the most in a group or society when it comes to obtaining support and resources?” will allow “researchers to dig into the social and cultural contexts in which people form ideas and beliefs about physical activities.”[ii] This approach allows us to examine various forms of physical activities as they are understood and practiced by people in specific cultural contexts around the world, and to recognize that their forms and meanings are not static, but are constantly being shaped and re-shaped by humans.