A consideration of the normative status of skill in the purposive sports

Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 1 (1):22 – 32 (2007)
Abstract
It is popularly believed within sport's practice communities that a contest fails if the competitor who performs most skilfully in it does not win. The belief is rarely acknowledged explicitly, and therefore deserves to be considered ideological in a sense. In this paper I challenge that belief. For conceptual reasons, I confine the discussion to the purposive sports, e.g. football and tennis. The concept of skill is approached by articulation of a set of platitudes about skill in the purposive sports. The first is the conceptual wedge between skill and success. The second is the distinction between skill and other performance-relevant qualities such as courage, strength and luck. The third is the fact that skill deficits can be compensated by sufficient amounts of the other performance relevant qualities. The fourth is the dispositional and dynamic character of skill. The relation between skill and final objectives in the purposive sports means that (i) qualities such as nerve and courage can trump the more skilful performance; and (ii) poor execution of a narrow range of skills can result in the competitive failure of the more skilful performance. There is no viable ideal of sport that would ground regret about the realisation of the immediately preceding possibilities. The inclination towards such regret might be partly motivated by the wish to take a gratifying view of ourselves. An end to this response, and a more inclusive, less hierarchical conception of sport skills, is worth recommending
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