Innovation – Liberal education making sport a tool for moral development

This research assumes that the main problems current SDP programs face are a lack of integration and questionable legacies, which make them inappropriate or at least inefficient for assisting in fulfilling broader development objectives.  Thus the following chapter assesses a tool that is claimed to be compatible with sport and capable of extending the sporting experience in ways that morality can prosper.  The researcher suggests liberal education as an instrument that has the aptitude to accompany sport and help develop its full potential. 

It is claimed that integration in wider development activities is vital for the success and sustainability of a Sport for Development and Peace program, which as discussed earlier, is seldom the case.  Hence, this final piece constitutes the innovative part of the research, because most SDP initiatives fail to take lessons experienced from the sport activity as an example how moral behavior impacts outcome and individual success or failure.  The communication that emerges when discussing what has happened and how actions could be changed so they become mutual beneficial for each participant is a pivotal component if moral judgment shall develop.  In particular, if conflicts are to be transformed, a platform providing the possibility to openly and fearlessly address concerns and derive lessons from what has happened during play appears essential.

Given the scarcity of literature on it and the infancy of SDP, data and research is limited; thus the following relies on secondary research and derives arguments from the first two parts of this thesis.  Conclusions and recommendations are formed from the common understanding of moral development established earlier and the researcher’s expertise.  An institution that offers assistance in curriculum construction with similar aims to develop moral values is briefly discussed.  However, statistical significant evidence that prove the likelihood of success is not available at this time, given that improving moral reasoning is a long-term process and assessing it would exceed the scope of this document. 

Finally, it should be noted that the herewith discussed educational and activity-based methodology, to teach and develop moral values, is meant to spread far beyond the program itself.  It is assumed that some participants may become moral ambassadors within and outside their communities, facilitating psychological dialogue based on the ethical virtues learned and experienced.  Promoting according to Koshmanova (2011), ‘a dialogical perception of the world, and a polyphony of views to achieve better understanding of the other, even if one remains within the borders of his/her cultural tradition’ (p. 25).

Sport, Universalism and Education

Sport as a valued human practice.

Arnold (1997) argued in his book Sports, Ethics and Education that sport as a global phenomenon is ‘best understood as a trans-cultural valued human practice’ (p. 1) inherently ethical and as such universally applicable for moral development.  But can we truthfully confirm such a claim while at the same time corruption and other ethical questionable stories are frequently making the news?  Hoberman (2009) argued, for example, that sport is governed by a so called performance ethic, linked to deviance because overconformity to its norms is expected in many sports.  It is argued athletes should love the game above all other things; for example, they shouldn’t play for the money, rather the game should be an intrinsic part of them.  Controversially, it is also reasoned athletes should not accept any obstacles in their pursuit of success (i.e. win by all means necessary).  Hoberman proclaimed that these two ethical principles are inherently paradoxical, resulting in immoral behavior where ego-centric decision making is put in front of moral reasoning. 

The solution to this bias, this paper suggests, is to apply a ‘mutual quest for excellence’ and pair sport and education.  While experiencing morality on-the-field and reflecting on those happenings off-the-field, Arnold’s goal to make sport a valuable practice for everyone can be met.  Integrating sport in curriculums or making it part of greater educational development schemes requires an understanding of societal and cultural beliefs and values, as some sociologists (Eitzen and Sage, 1989) argue that sport is a mere mirror of society.  If what we do and how we behave is irrevocably linked to our societies’ ideologies, universal moral values and an underlying ethical framework would become impossible to agree upon.  This, however, Arnold argued, is not the case, because what differs is the external value attached to sport, not its intrinsic worth.  Sport, for instance, remains valuable when it allows for understanding, appreciating, and experiencing diversity. 

Further, the aforementioned reductionist view some sociologists stand for is not shared by all.  Coakley (2009), for example, claims that sport may initially be designed as a microcosm of society, though it may well change society itself in the long-run.  This paper argues that this bi-directionality is a focal point of the herewith suggested methodology, given that the author assumes that the ethical values taught will be channeled back through the moral agents the program generates.  Those need to be for the betterment of society, which, therefore, requires a clear understanding of which ones are the most beneficial for the specific situation, culturally and socially.  Particularly in conflict-ridden areas, cooperation with current conflict resolution initiatives, incorporating local governments, and analyzing contemporary and past issues are consequently prerequisites for the success of this thesis’ methodology.

(Re-)gaining an appreciation of the inner values of sport.

Whether or not ethical values are generated through sport is commonly a question of how we get socialized into such an activity.  Generally this occurs during childhood and mainly through interaction with role models; mainly significant others.  Whether we focus on the intrinsic values of sport (e.g., its ethical principles), or if we are more interested in the ends, the rewards (e.g., pleasure, winning), is answered during those early experiences.  Nonetheless, this thesis claims that we can (re-)gain an appreciation of the means – the inner values – at any time while de-prioritizing the ‘result’ as not being the only measure of success.  Our approaches to victory may vary and could involve deviant behavior (i.e. winning by any means necessary, but sports’ ethical values are unbiased; something we need to focus on and (re-)discover.

For instance, Western sport is usually focused on competing and winning.  Even though, this thesis does not wish to disregard the likely benefits of competition, it should still be noted that there are many ways to ‘victory’.  Certainly, there are rules and enforcements of them, but cheating has the paradoxical nature of not abandoning the rules if it is either not stipulated or has no witness.  Consequently, designing the herewith suggested program needs to clearly emphasize sport’s inner values, bolstering those through its educational angle, while using both reflection of the experience and extension to other areas; the latter describing a process where sport is related to other social worlds which may be similar and in which certain behaviors will have similar results.  For example, incorporating lessons that explain Western business behavior and its survival-of-the fittest mentality provoking immoral decision compare to the performance ethics of sport in those societies.

Sport is assumed to be morally objective (impartial), which would support the claim that it can be used for moral development.  Were it, in contrast, relative as is the theory of ethics, one could always find a reasonable argument to justify one’s decision and/or behavior.  Theoretical concepts of morality are important and the foundation of this document.  An understanding of them helps us to comprehend different behaviors, though solely focusing on those may confuse and frustrate because interpretation are subject to culture, society, time, and place.   Is it even possible to acknowledged, appreciated, and celebrated diversity if we are unable to understand the influence of contextual factors on our own and other’s moral judgments?  This thesis claims it is, if we respect everyone’s worth and target our decisions to provide the greatest benefit for the largest number of people. 

Morals should be universal and if sport is to be part of this, the values one derives from this activity based experience need to comply with those principles as well.  It appears reasonable to argue that, as such, we can’t rely on de-facto standards, because all ideals sport should stand for need to be adopted and freely and intrinsically valued by all participants.  Though the difficulty to find those virtues should not be understated, striving for mutually beneficial ends can, however, establish an appreciation of things like fairness or equality when living these values enriches all participants’ lives alike.  Sport and education are intrinsically linked, but we should not impose the former on the latter or vice versa.  Not every cultural and social context will allow sport to remain true to itself promoting the values discussed here throughout.  The proposed program is not meant to focus on the ends, to develop elite athletes, to teach competition, or make skill attainment the main objective.  This is not to be said it can’t be a result, but reflecting upon the experiences we make on-the-field, to understand how we judge, how we act, and how we learn a respectful togetherness, does not depend on a certain kind of sport, or may not even require sport at all.

Sport, morals, and the freedom of choice

Limitations and possibilities of sport.

Theory suggests three distinctive views relating sport to moral life: first, sport is governed by an inherent morality that is passed on to its participants; second, sport has a temporary impact on moral behavior (good or bad) that, however, does not change or develop one’s beliefs and values; third, sport deteriorates one’s character through its competitive, winner-takes-it-all mentality.  All of these interpretations hold some truth but can be neglected as far as this thesis is concerned, because sport is seen as an element of a greater whole, shaped by its participants, by their culture, and how they express what they feel, believe, and understand.  As such, it can be utilized to exemplify different behaviors and habits and to gain a better mutual understanding of each other.  The qualities of sport are neither overemphasized nor regarded as the only means available: sport is understood as a possible tool which can be adjusted to elicit different ways of moral reasoning, which is important for diversity to be truly experienced and understood.  Thus, it does not matter how people act; it matters how their doings are analyzed with regards to their negative and positive impact on a mutual togetherness.  Hence, moral reasoning could be understood as the ability to critically reflect on self and the situation; to make an informed decision.  Further, moral individuals are capable of acting while using good judgment, even if this requires reaching beyond one’s inner beliefs and values, or when these actions could have negative impacts on themselves.

The appreciation and practice of sport for its inherent values can help to attain a moral skillset.  For example, passing the ball (in soccer) to a better-positioned teammate requires acting for the greater good of the team, rather than striving to score from an impossible position.  Similarly, fairness, such as in the absence of cheating, can be understood as a universal principle of sport that should apply to everyone and is not any less valid in other areas of life.  As argued earlier, even though rules may differ and are interpretive, impartiality and universalism are achieved by basing the practice of sport upon a social (unwritten) contract, appreciating and respecting the mutual values to which each and every participant has agreed upon.  Even if this agreement is violated, the herewith suggested SDP methodology is accompanied by education hence abuses can be used to exemplify negative consequences for the group.

The impartiality and universality of virtues.

Violence on-the-field appears to be commonly accepted as part of the game, particularly in power and performance sport.  Similar behavior would, in contrast, be negatively judged and punished off-the-field.  This thesis will not theorize the ethical impact of those statements; sport should be understood as part of a greater whole, an element of society.  Therefore, and in order to fulfill the impartiality claim, we need to be consistent in our judgment and our behavior, regardless whether that is during play or in any other activity that involves interaction with others.  The ‘mutual quest for excellence’ is, therefore, a principle applicable to every social activity and meant to be a universal virtue as it serves the greater good. 

Reflecting on Aristotle’s (1973) work about virtues, the philosopher understood moral life as both intellectual and practical.  Whereas theoretical knowledge appears indispensable to understanding principles, particularly considering a mutual togetherness, practice is similarly important; as it builds and forms our character.  Our habits, behavior, and ideology we apply to make decisions are, though influenced by societal and cultural norms, represented by our actions (e.g., learning justice, requires being just).  Aristotle argued that being morally virtuous requires understanding the impact of our doings, acting considerably and not extremely, and having the liberty of choice. 

Sport can provide a platform to learn acting upon the decisions we make.  Its ways can be learned, its actions lead to reactions, and we are free to choose how to play; hence fulfilling Aristotle’s requirements to be moral virtuous.  If we act too extremely, if we play unfairly, we may risk injury, hinder others in playing their best, gain disrespect, and jeopardize the greater good.  Thus, the impact of violating the moral principles agreed upon by all may fire back immediately, creating a suitable environment to derive lessons from those experiences.  We might be motivated by the reward of winning, but we may also be encouraged – or learn – to overcome our wrongdoings, when we understand the harm they can cause for us and others.  Living virtuously should be inherently fulfilling, but also positively influence our doings to make the respectful togetherness rewarding for all.

The underlying aspect of the last paragraph’s contention is that ‘no one’ is self-sufficient; we may all be in need of other’s’ support in specific or unknown environments.  We are all part of a greater whole, and the most rewarding path to live a fulfilling life is to understand that we are all interdependent(Covey, 2004).  Only if we are not afraid to face the unknown, if we understand ourselves and are open to self-critical reflection, accept constructive criticism from others, then will we be able to mutually respect and understand another.  Understanding the equal worth of other’s qualities, opinions, even ideologies, can only be learned if we collaborate.  Sport requires such an understanding; not for the sake of winning, but rather to begin appreciating diversity and understand its benefits.

The aforementioned strengths of sport’s ability to teach and foster moral values might be idealistic, a state of wish, as conflicts will always arise; those conflicts, however, constitute valuable lessons to experience and to learn from.  The fact that prestige, chauvinism and sport as a game makes infringements easy, are likely not being punished, at least not severely, makes an educational element compulsory.  Without it, sport may not become the morally beneficial activity this paper seeks.  Moral theory which must govern the ethos of sport needs to be taught, allowing different behaviors to emerge and experiencing what those concepts mean in reality.  The non-threatening – almost playful – environment this paper proposes is the platform that helps to develop moral agents of change.  Ambassadors who are capable of reflecting upon activities and violations on-the-field that impact a few and understand what such behavior would cause in other social settings – affecting many.  People that have established a deeper understanding that consistency and impartiality are characteristics inevitably linked to moral reasoning and hence part of any social activity, where mutual beneficial ends are sought.  Moreover, it is assumed that the constructed environment, the working, the learning, the playing together would gain its own momentum.  If only a few understand what has happened and has been taught, sharing ideals and appreciation of others (i.e. diversity), even with those not being part of the program itself, may start a process that could transform an entire society to become morally just.

No one will ever achieve moral perfection.  We all learn and develop, but also adapt principles which we once thought were eternal when we see and experience the unknown; something that might be inevitable in a world as complex as ours.  Learning ethics and experiencing the moral ethos sport and other parts of social life should be governed by requires time, yet more importantly it is a never ending process.  The methodology outlined in this thesis is meant to create an environment where moral reasoning can prosper; establish a non-threatening opportunity to critically reflect on self, others, and the situation; enlighten through discussion and experience; but also empower to find self-worth to share and to be unafraid when facing the unknown.  It is not, by any means, intended to be paternalistic, assuming superiority of one belief system over another.  Ideologies should merge and a subculture should develop in which a new, more stable and respectful social order can prosper. 

Planning, introducing, and implementing a liberal environment.

The principle of freedom needs to underlie the suggestions made throughout, from the liberty to choose a sport to the voluntary adherence to the social contract this program promotes and applies.  Morally it would neither be just nor would it send the right message, if coercion was required to agree on mutual standards which without the proposed methodology lose all worth.  From an educational perspective, as the suggested methodology sees itself being part of, an environment where a liberal form of education is established that according to Bailey (1984) ‘liberates from the tyranny of the present and particular and liberates for the ideal of the autonomous, rational, moral agent.’ (p. 22).  If a program would be capable of establishing such an atmosphere, the characteristics of the second part of Bailey’s quote would support fulfilling Kant’s (De Vries, 1997) beliefs that just behavior is based on an innate sense of moral duty and utilitarian ethics of serving the greater good.  Serving a general welfare requires subordinating our own interests.  Our behavior is according to Kant intrinsically motivated, independently and rationally judging what is morally just.  According to Kant, we choose actions that fulfill an inner logic of moral responsibility, not because they may be best for us.  This paper argues that we can create such an environment, where selflessness leads to mutually beneficial ends.  While teaching the principles of ethical philosophy, participants agree on a social contract, even if some of its ideas and beliefs may oppose their own.  Over time, however, by practicing and experiencing the worth of those rules, an inherent sense of just behavior will develop; together striving for the greater good. 

The result is a methodology that appears adaptable and universal to a variety of situations and environments because it describes a process.  Implementation may range from general education to partial integration in curriculums; from the general public to specific target groups in conflict-ridden areas.  The outcome, however, remains the same: promote a mutually accepted framework and foster the belief that morally educated people judge on an innate sense for just behavior, acting in absence of personal dispositions towards the greater good of all (McIntosh, 1979).

Planning and introducing the structure for such a methodology is hence a vital part in the whole implementation process, as it must be of a facilitative nature, incorporating differing beliefs, values, and objectives to create an environment where learning moral reasoning can thrive.  Facilitation (Kolfschote, Den Hengst-Bruggeling, & De Vreede, 2007) can be understood as a function of advisory and moderation, where tools are employed to accomplish an external group’s goals.  Preparation is essential and various scenarios need to be considered to allow flexibility and to adjust to a group’s dynamic and its characteristics (e.g., size, cohesiveness, time).  Creativity is required to evaluate possible alternatives, because the most logical outcome is not always feasible, given contextual circumstances, such as time pressure, organizational culture, and the like.  Assessing worst and best cases scenarios, including their impact on the satisfactory value of achievements, become therefore essential. 

Scenario assessment and creation of alternatives does, in turn, require a deep understanding of not necessarily the stated, but rather the hidden aspirations of each group member.  Objectives and needs may differ, but assuming varying priorities exist, as facilitators we may still find mutually acceptable ends, even if the outcome differ from our initial best-case scenario.  The overall planning procedure requires expertise, particularly in working experience with that specific set of people.  Tools can support a facilitator’s work, but their application requires flexibility, situation-specific adjustments, and an extended view on possibilities, group dynamics, pitfalls and an understanding of how to stimulate each member’s strengths.

A program that exemplifies ways for moral development

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued a paper in 2011 describing their approach to promote a culture of non-violence and peace.  The program targets youth and is a joint initiative of multiple institutions, where value and skill-based education attempts to convey humanitarian principles by teaching morality and techniques essential for a better togetherness (e.g., empathy, communication).  The program further utilizes arts, music and sport to practice and nurture those moral values and skills required for effective collaboration.  As such the program appears to be the most comprehensive moral development initiative the author could locate.  IFRC’s activities to promote a culture of non-violence and peace can be understood as a form of conflict resolution, aiming to teach mutual respect and tolerance (i.e. value education) through effective communication and culturally appropriate interaction (i.e. skills).  It is argued that misunderstandings and stereotypes could be overcome if language were used more effectively, if we were more commonly exposed to different situations and people, and also became more self-critical of our behavior and its impact on others (IFRC, 2011). 

IFRC’s initiative is a long-term process that starts on an individual level, but is meant to create ambassadors who pass on the humanitarian values they attained.  Its actions range from formal to non-formal education, to community activities such as sport, arts, or music.  IFRC supports curriculum constructions, connects schools with value and skill-based educators, and cooperates with local clubs or international sport federations to host community events (e.g., National Olympic Committees).  In sum, IFRC’s program intends to develop a global mindset which celebrates cultural diversity and allows interaction with a diverse set of people in various situations.

IFRC’s program focuses on youth education and given that this thesis had only access to secondary data, assessing the initiative’s adaptability and universality could not be assessed at the time of writing.  Further studies could evaluate the effectiveness of value and skill-based training in the short- and long-term.  It is assumed that recommendations could be derived for adult education as well, though we may assume that older participants have more hardened beliefs and values, so that behavioral change becomes more difficult.  Most likely, such a program could spice up the curriculum by offering business education, which could be beneficial for older participants and may therefore establish a more positive attitude towards ethical training, if links with the business world are identified and explained.

Final remarks

The question when we entered this chapter was how to connect the moral foundation – which we deemed to be important in part one – with sport as a possibility to facilitate moral development, has been answered throughout the final part of this thesis.  The answer being, in the view of the author, a reflection and extension of the sport experience through a form of liberal education.  Participants should become capable of evaluating different, even unknown, situations and understand the impact their behavior has on self and others.  They should be able to base their decisions and doings on all information available, guided by the mutually agreed moral framework they learned and experienced (i.e. social contract).  As egocentric as most of us may start off to be – lacking experience, exposure and an understanding that acting together is mutually beneficial – we may learn and be taught to strive for more socially favorable ends; virtues which are intellectual taught through a form of liberal education and practically experienced through an (playful) activity such as sport. The moral development cycle introduced previously (Figure 2, p. 11) illustrates the connection between the moral foundation from part one and sport.  It describes a process that is constant yet adjustable to changing circumstances so that new experiences and learning are continuous.  Not only coaching practices, but also the sport itself, participants and even staff members might need to change so that diversity remains the pivotal part of the overall program.  New participants may find it difficult at first to integrate or to comply with the unified identity a group may have established already.  Similarly, the group in the beginning may most likely not understand the importance of new members, even when they have learned and experienced that acknowledging and respecting diversity is beneficial.  Nonetheless, given that the entire program suggested is founded on an agreed social contract which disregards any socially construed characteristics, beliefs or values, a principled identity will develop that not only accepts, but celebrates diversity; an personal disposition, understanding, and acting based on a mutual agreed framework, pursuing and facilitating human excellence that over time cultivates virtues that become ingrained in everyone’s personality.

Figure 5: Developing an innate sense of moral duty