- Fields of Play: An Ethnography of Children’s Sports by Noel Dyck
Fields of Play: An Ethnography of Children’s Sport is the most recent synthesis of Noel Dyck’s research into the area of children and sport. Dyck’s scholarly and storytelling abilities unfold through the complexities and contradictions constituting children’s sporting environments. Weaving together social relations and arrangements he uses various fields to frame how individuals navigate their own identities, realities, and communities in ways that interrogate the “play” in Fields of Play. In his own words “the book considers the views of not only the promoters and critics of community sports but also those of parents, coaches, and child and youth athletes whose involvement in sport is too often taken for granted and depicted in clichéd and stereotypical terms” (p. 21). The actual narratives of participants in sport provide vivid illustrations of the interrelationships, assumptions, and tensions between the elements and perspectives held within community sport. Dyck’s ability to share these crucial stories broadens common understandings of mere stereotypes or commonalities in sport to expose, for example, the more nuanced practices of being a coach or competitive or recreational athlete, along with the social roles of being a sport-parent.
Using field theory, Dyck highlights the patterns shaping our cultural understandings of sport. Raising important and challenging questions Dyck provides a relevant and timely analysis of the community sport context. What seems of particular value, and greatly appreciated in sport ethnography, is the voice of young athletes, as they become sports participants, at both the recreational and elite level.
The book opens with Dyck’s own entrance in the sporting culture, and it is from here that his storytelling builds and draws the reader into his experience and the lives of others. He illuminates, with consistency, the intersections of ethnicity, gender, power, age, and ability—the complex matrices that constitute community sport and sport culture. The relationships Dyck built with his participants, from structured interviews with athletes pursing postsecondary scholarships in Canada and the U.S. to dinner table dialogue among friends and family, with each encounter the reader is drawn into the intricacies, challenges, and joys of navigating the cultural expectations. These untold stories are critical to share as a more comprehensive understanding of sport reminds us of the reasons why children participate in the world of sport—where things in play can go “right” but also horribly wrong.
This Canadian-based ethnography joins the pivotal work of other child and youth sport ethnographies. Complementing the ethnographic work of scholars Barry Thorne in Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School (1993), Shona Thompson in Mom’s Taxi: Sport and Women’s Labor (1999), and Gary Fine in With the Boys: Little League Baseball and Preadolescent Culture (1987), Dyck’s addition provides perspectives from various sporting angles where issues of gender, social class, ethnicity and post-secondary education brush up against each other. Each chapter offers an important perspective into sport, and indeed [End Page 158] the entire book provides complex insight into a culture that shapes the lives of many Canadian children, families, and communities. The specific identification of key players in sporting cultures makes the book immensely valuable and readable. Undergraduate students will undoubting and quickly take up the sporting stories, either because they resemble or starkly contrast their own lived realities of community sport. Regardless of which relationship is built with the book, Dyck will draw the reader into his passionate account of environments adults create for thousands of children across Canada. In addition, the book is highly recommended as a venue to talk about research in sport studies and would be of interest to those teaching graduate courses that willingly enter the complicated and complex trajectories of Canadian community sport.