What’s in a game: passion

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Little is more precious to college students than their time and energy. With a sizable portion of the University of Dallas’ student body taking their midterm examinations this week, UD athletes have less time than ever. In the eyes of UD athletes however, the passion each individual possesses for their respective sport outweighs the sacrifices. 

Robert Vallerand, a leading scholar on passion from the University of Quebec at Montreal, defines passion as “a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that one likes, finds important, and in which one invests time and energy.” Vallerand implemented a dualistic model in which he distinguishes between two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive.

Unsurprisingly, passionate activities are valued by individuals, which leads them to become part of one’s identity. The process through which activities come to define people is called the internalization process and can result in two different outcomes. 

The first is harmonious passion, which develops from individuals freely accepting the activity as important for them and choosing to engage in their passionate activity, without any contingencies attached to it. 

The second is obsessive passion, which comes from accepting the activity entirely or partially due to external pressure, such as fears of low self-esteem or a need for money. 

Having harmonious passions results in a more gradual change in one’s identity that fits well with the other aspects of one’s life. Meanwhile, an obsessive passion defines one’s identity out of both love of the activity and the extrinsic benefits the activity provides. This results in a lack of individual control; the activity controls the person more than the person controls the activity.

One instance of an obsessive passion recently took place in the Bundesliga, a professional soccer league in Germany. When Bayern Munich was up 6-0 against Hoffenheim, fans laid out a banner that was offensive to Hoffenheim president Dietmar Hopp. Hopp, a billionaire, was being criticized for taking majority shares in his Hoffenheim club, which is supposed to be majority-owned by the club’s fans. 

In order to protest the banner, both teams decided to quit playing, instead opting to pass the ball to one another for the remaining thirteen minutes of the game. As the first case of a professional soccer match unofficially ending early, one could hope that such a landmark event would happen in order to protest some form of injustice — the Bundesliga has struggled with expressions of racism in past years. 

What was the true reason for the Bayern players actions? Hopp was a strong investor in the Bundesliga. In order to strengthen their job security, the Bayern Munich players made a decision that defined their character based on an external contingency: a prime example of an obsessive passion.

To contrast athletics characterized by obsessive passions, take a look at the harmonious nature of UD’s athletes. Most engage in daily (six times per week) practice for two to three hours in addition to spending time in the gym — and that’s with the demands of a full class schedule. In addition, Division III athletics lack the scholarship money that would entice players with financial perks.  

Athletes at other schools may be playing for the enjoyment of the game as well as the financial security offered by scholarships. There’s nothing wrong with that — but there’s something to be said for pursuing a passion solely out of appreciation for the subject or sport, which is what the majority of UD athletes do. Their pockets may not be overflowing, but student athletes at UD play for one reason: love of the game.

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