Sport studies textbook with flaws and virtues

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Owe Stråhlman
Dpt. of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science
University of Gothenburg


Barbara Bell Sport Studies 194 sidor, hft. London: Sage Publications 2009 (Active Learning in Sport Series) ISBN 978-1-84445-186-9

Barbara Bell
Sport Studies
194 sidor, hft.
London: Sage Publications 2009 (Active Learning in Sport Series)
ISBN 978-1-84445-186-9

The book Sport Studies by Barbara Bell is an introduction to studies in sport and does not, according to the author, require any deep knowledge of the field to be understood. It is a book that caters to those with relatively shallow knowledge in the field of sports studies, and its purpose is to provide an overview of different subjects and disciplines that can contribute to knowledge of the topic.

A critical perspective on the book’s title is that it does not discuss the study of sports in itself, as the text does not specify the kinds of sports that are being studied. Instead, it is about how sport, as a relatively static phenomenon, is studied in various scientific disciplines (with economic implications) and life situations, where the motive is an “understanding of how various scientific disciplines develop while mastering sports-related phenomena.” Those who read the book with the aim of studying development of sports performances (for example, how to jump higher, run faster, or play better football) have nothing to gain here, and that is not the author’s purpose. Perhaps another title would have made ​​this clear, a title that also emphasizes that it is written in a British context. A second critical perspective is that the author initially writes, “I have focused here on the social-science based study of sport”; but is it not social science studies that are discussed with examples from sport?

The book is, in a structural sense, quite traditional, with an initial theoretical section (part 1), an applied social-orientation section (part 2), and a “get the most out of your studies” individually oriented part (3). This division has a clear pedagogical approach and will not pose any problem for non-versed readers and will thus serve as a tool for learning. This means that, from a structural perspective, the book does not add anything revolutionary or innovative in its structural approach to the multidisciplinary studies of the phenomenon of sport. Perhaps a discussion about multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or disciplinary scientific differences would have shed some light on the differentiation of sport studies.

The first of the book’s three parts discusses historical, sociological, and philosophical/ethical aspects of sport. Different theoretical starting points are described for some scientific disciplines, and different types of methods are also discussed. Theories and methods are described quite extensively, and this strategy, probably based on the author’s experience, was likely used in order to meet the goal of writing a book that can be read and understood by those with relatively shallow previous knowledge. A discussion about the need to develop sport science theories has definitely been a way of approaching a sport’s scientific essence, when the author’s text claims to be about the study of sport. Moreover, there are strong doubts whether hermeneutics is a sociological theory; it’s not a knowledge-based approach of similar character to positivism and phenomenology.

Exemplary, also, are the discussions about how to link knowledge in sport to a kind of employability.

The second section focuses on sports policy implications and economic aspects, with examples from sports. There is an expression to the effect that, “People who say that sport and politics do not mix have strong political motives for saying so,” and this undertone is discussed in an interesting way. All sections are strongly related to British circumstances, and perhaps that causes a reduction in readership, particularly readers from other countries. But would it not be possible to transfer the British conditions to conditions in other countries? Certainly, it would; however, for students with relatively little knowledge of the field in their home country it might be confusing.

The third section focuses on skills for studying sports and improving academic performance on sports studies courses related to personal development, career, and employment. Perhaps this is the book’s most important and useful part. Here, the author admirably, creatively, and generously shares her knowledge and tips, and clearly many students will enjoy this section. It is also an important one for many teachers to ponder, especially those who have trouble getting their message across. Exemplary, also, are the discussions about how to link knowledge in sport to a kind of employability. This discussion is motivated by thoughts that most students ponder concerning how to get a job in their field of study. This section also has almost exclusively British examples, but here this is more acceptable. The labor market is international, and in the EU, both goods and services are freely transferable among countries. Being able to plan one’s studies to get as much as possible is a skill that is important. One question, however, is whether the learning process in sport studies in the general sense differs from learning in other subjects. Isn’t learning from a socio-cultural perspective always individualized?

The book Sport Studies by Barbara Bell has both flaws and virtues. Of its three main sections, the first and second are related in a relatively effective way but provide a somewhat superficial description of three different disciplines and discussions of the impact of capitalist market forces on sport. Section three is different from the other two and quite unique; it is the highlight of the book and is worth reading for multiple reasons. One gets the sense that parts one and two could be one publication and section three another, the latter with great relevance for students. From an international perspective, section two is the book’s weakest link, as it is exclusively British and very similar to other books in the field.

Copyright © Owe Stråhlman 2014

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