Athletes in all sports face some measure of physical risk in the pursuit of their sport. Whether such risk takes the form of the slight possibility of minor aches and pains or the real chance of crippling or even fatal injury, accepting the risk is part of the athlete's socialization within the individual sport. Sociologists and psychologists struggling to understand the mechanism of this socialization have approached the question from several different perspectives, including psychoanalytic analysis, gender-related views, and the point of view of structural functionalism. All three approaches offer useful insights to understanding why and how risk acceptance functions in the psychology of sports.
Jennifer C. Hunt (1995, Winter) argues, "Risk is a socially recognized construct which defines group boundaries and internal subdivisions" (p. 439). These boundaries and subdivisions vary among different sports, but they exist in every one of them, enabling individual athletes to measure their progress and acceptance within their chosen field. The divers in Hunt's study, for example, learn that completing a safe dive to the wreck of the Andrea Doria, a deep and dangerous cold water descent, brands each as an experienced member of a very elite club.
Understanding, accepting, and even welcoming the risks that come with the pursuit of a particular sport are important steps in the athlete's advancement, and they are every bit as important as learning to master technical skills and comprehending the rules of the game. The football player who does not realize that practice can include sore muscles and that play can result in broken bones is unprepared to advance in his field.
Psychoanalytic theorists apply their emphasis on unconscious urges and childhood traumas to understanding how athletes learn about and accept risks. Sandy Kendall (1993, November-December) notes that psychiatric instructor Robert Pyles finds, "For people ve...