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September 13, 2021

Football

Three philosophical conceptions of football: The inquisitive conception

By Marc Masats i Riera.

The unpredictable nature of the football game keeps it from being considered an exact science, and possibly for this same reason, it is approached from all possible disciplines, making clear the insuperable need of humans to expand knowledge and satisfy our curiosity.

Today, we have thousands of articles that study football from different standpoints: biology, medicine, neuroscience, nutrition, psychology, and other areas such as economics, marketing, technological innovation, or recently “fan engagement.” However, few references link football with philosophy when it is considered the mother of all sciences and governs the principles of any human activity.

This is the first article in a sequence of three, and it will refer to the effects of Christian culture and its dogmatic nature on the coach’s personality and the conception of the game. A perspective considered almost extinct but still has its reminiscences of the cultural residue that we inevitably drag.

The inquisitive conception

In an almost extinct era, when social relations were still hierarchically structured, the coach was a dictatorial figure in the highest part of a football team’s culture. With a whistle in his chest, the coach led with a firm hand and was directly responsible for any decision. He imposed the hammer philosophy.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a critic of the hammer philosophy characteristic of the Western tradition, specifically the traditional morals and philosophy represented in the Christian religion and its dogmatic nature. Like the hammer, the coach is shaping the team and straightening the players with his strength.

In an interview shortly after his retirement, Javier Mascherano made an unusual statement, far away from the “mainstream” discourse of football players. “I suffer football; I do not enjoy it. I am not one of those who has fun but quite the opposite. The 90 minutes of the game mean suffering for me. I have to stay focused, not make mistakes, and observe the teammates … “.

Suffering is a concept closely linked to Christianity. Christians believe in the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus, who has been most human in the moments when he has suffered the most. No one has better represented the concept of suffering than Mascherano, the Jesus of football. The Argentine national team said farewell with an emotional video typical of a biblical passage. The message said, “Masche, you were always the hero,” and continued: and transformed others into heroes, because that’s what heroes are, those who seek glory, but not fame and are willing to give their lives for others.

In suffering, man finds the opportunity to feel like Jesus. In the same way, as when he died on the cross for love to the world, a player sacrifices himself for his team’s colors. Suffering is hard, but it is also a privileged moment for the personal encounter between man and God, between the player and the coach.

The strict coach and sacrificial player’s time also coincided with a reductionist foundation of the world and science, and therefore, sport. The hammer served to impose and destroy reality and break down the problem to understand its parts. This analytical current, understood training as the sum of its components and trained each separately, without interrelation and prioritising physical condition. The game was divided into defense-attack phases, and performance was measured through quantitative elements, avoiding contextual value. These events happened, as we mentioned before, with the coach as the owner of the knowledge.

According to the linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff, there are two types of father figures, the strict and the protective. The authoritarian parent is the moral authority that must support and defend the family, tell their partner what to do, and teach their children the difference between right and wrong since it presupposes that the world will always be dangerous and competitive. This strict figure coincides with the personality of the inquisitor coach, who embodies the most conservative values.

Maybe this is the reason that justifies a customary practice of this vision of football. The players’ is part of the coach’s property, are players who accompany the coach to any team he leads since the player has been modeled to the image and likeness of what the coach wants. Thus, he doesn’t have to do it again with other players or having to adapt to the reality that new players offer him.

All these facts make the inquisitorial vision a stagnant and immobile approach, always defensive against any possibility of progress and with the will that years go by, but nothing changes, so that those who are in the power of knowledge can remain there forever.

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