Friendly fields: the promissory joy of playing soccer outdoors

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    Feeling at home on the field of play offers insights into sport as a social experience between humans and the non-human world. Players, in whatever sport, but especially outdoor team sports, engage with each other and their environment. Take soccer, for instance. Beyond the mercenary dominance of FIFA and the competitive machismo of many player and fans, a universal cultural experience remains–one that is contingent on environmental circumstances. A key aspect of the game’s lingua franca is the transferable joy of outside play–something experienced across ages and genders. For those working in physical education, where dominant sports will likely remain so, the question is whether the joy of codified outdoor play can be celebrated and taught above imperatives to produce fit and competitive selves. This paper contends that it can. By reflecting on a regular after-work soccer game at an elite school in Argentina, with the aid of soccer phenomenology and nature writing on joy, it is shown that momentary experiences emerge that celebrate social connections reliant on fragile material conditions. The game, which was prima facie welcome to all, was an event in which histories of soccer were evident in players from around the world. Such histories converged on the field each week as provisional delight and sincere congeniality. Contradictions inevitably remained within this space–inclusion and exclusion, environmental spoliation and appreciation, justice and injustice–just as they do in all encounters between the human and non-human. Yet the act of playing together outside contained the promise of lives not determined by human domination of each other and, crucially, the world around them.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)378-388
    Number of pages11
    JournalSport, Education and Society
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


    • Argentina
    • education
    • environment
    • joy
    • nature
    • non-human
    • play
    • soccer

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