Academic journal article Physical Educator

Do Sports Build or Reveal Character?-An Exploratory Study at One Service Academy

Academic journal article Physical Educator

Do Sports Build or Reveal Character?-An Exploratory Study at One Service Academy

Article excerpt


Whether participating in sports builds character and if character can be measured continues to be a debated, though important, topic. Almost daily we read or hear about athletes displaying poor character. Most research shows that as the level of sport competition increases, the level of character decreases. However, participating in sports, at any level, can and should build positive character.

An insightful three-part exchange between Gough, Stoll, and Holowchak, discussed the merits and feasibility of measuring character through sport. Gough and Holowchak argued that the construct of "character" is too elusive and that empirical attempts to measure it lack validity. Stoll disagreed with Gough and Holowchak and developed an instrument that measures character in sport. We agree with Stoll for two reasons:

1. The problem of character in sport is too big to be ignored.

2. Attempts to measure character contribute to efforts to address the character in sport problem.

These two reasons resulted in a research effort to develop a valid and reliable instrument to measure the character of individuals participating in sport. The research resulted in the validation of a user friendly, less time consuming, psychometrically sound instrument that measures character in a sport setting.


The missions at the service academies in the United States (United States Air Force Academy; United States Coast Guard Academy; United States Military Academy; and United States Naval Academy) state that these institutions educate and prepare junior officers who will become leaders of character. For example, the vision of the Air Force Academy is to be "the Air Force's premier institution for developing leaders of character" (U.S. Air Force Academy, 2007). The U.S. Military Academy's vision is to be the "nation's premier leader development institution" (U.S. Military Academy, 1999).

To achieve these lofty aspirations, leaders and faculties of these institutions emphasize character development at the forefront of all learning experiences of students. Therefore, the officers and civilian faculty are expected to teach, discuss, model, and reinforce core values, like integrity, loyalty, and respect, as integral to the character development experiences of their students.

The importance of character ["i.e., those moral qualities that constitute the nature of a leader and shape his or her decisions and actions" (USMA Circular 101-1, p. 15)], is a central and an essential aspect of what these institutions advocate and seek to build. It could be argued that this emphasis on graduating men and women of character separates the service in academies from other institutions of higher education. Other university administrators state that their institution's graduates have learning experiences that positively influence character development; the service academies emphasize character development throughout all aspects of the preparation of future officers.

To emphasize this further, the United States Military Academy seeks to commission officers who are "exceptionally effective leaders who embody the highest standards of moral-ethical t behavior. Officers that not only do things right, they do the right things" (USMA Circular 1-101, p. 17). This point was reinforced by Arthur J. Schwartz, Director of Character Development Programs at the John Templeton Foundation, when he stated, "The U.S. Military Academy's strong commitment to character development and the strength of its program make it a model for colleges and universities nationwide" (U. S. Military Academy, 1999).

While this character development mission is stated at each of the service academies, it is less clear the degree to which it is achieved, even though all programs are expected to contribute. One of these programs deals with the physical development of future officers, some of which occurs through sports. …

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