The honors program at the University of Rhode Island is offering a three-credit upper-level course called Philosophy of Sport this semester.
This course involves “thinking about sports and athletic activity through the prism of philosophy, starting with the idea of human beings as homo ludens, or ‘playing animals,’” as suggested by the URI course catalog.
The course is instructed by Dr. Cheryl Foster, who has been teaching for more than two decades. Students are not required to have any background in philosophy or have athletic experience to take this class.
“Everybody has some relationship to sports and athletics, either as an appreciator or a practitioner,” Foster said. “The course introduces philosophical practice through something all of us know something about in some way. I would like to think there’s something for everybody, even if you have minimal interest in sports and a stronger interest in philosophy. It’s a good touchstone almost everybody can relate to in some way.”
The material used for this course is called “Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport” by Heather L. Reid. This text examines the history, ethical and socio-political issues of sport through a philosophical dimension.
“I had read about eight books and I thought that this one was outstanding,” Foster said. “One student who took this class went on to get a master’s degree in sports psychology and is now an athletic counselor and advisor and he says ‘I’m using all that stuff we learned,’ which made me realize how valuable this could be.”
The course goes beyond just basic textbook learning, as students have a lot of autonomy in deciding what to theoretically focus on. Every student has to teach one class for each unit of the chapter. They self-select into the topic that they want to teach to their peers and devise mechanisms for teaching content that they justify as important.
“That is the single best thing I decided to do because the students have been phenomenal,” Foster said. “The way they have taught it has been genuinely illuminating for peers.”
Autumn Walter, a junior taking the class said, “I want to be in the sports realm after graduation; I like all the different ways of thinking and focusing on sports because it gives me a different perspective than the kids in my other sports classes.”
Kyleigh Richard, a junior majoring in biological sciences, didn’t know what to expect when she signed up for the class but she’s had a very positive experience having her classmates teach the class. “It has been great to see everyone’s different interpretations of the chapters we have studied and all the different ways they chose to teach,” she said. “In other classes, I’ve had teachers suggest that we practice trying to teach someone else the material in order to remember it. This class puts that suggestion into practice and proves how great a learning technique it is.”
Students enrolled are graded based on four criteria: well-executed plan and justification of the material chosen to be taught, peer review, internal group assessment and a final reflection. HPR 411: Philosophy of Sport can be taken by sophomores, juniors or seniors who have a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or higher.