Published April 16, 2018

The most important thing in sport is friends

The Research Institute for Olympic Sports, KIHU, asked people to share significant sporting experiences. The responses revealed that community is more important than training. Surprisingly, one group of respondents was concerned parents.

Top-level sport often has to justify its position in society: why it is important and why it should receive public funding. One answer could be found in a study by the Research Institute for Olympic Sports KIHU, conducted as a part of the SenseMaker trials.

The gathered experiences show in no uncertain terms that sport evokes strong emotions. Joy and rage for your country (narrative 1: see the narratives below this article), pride (narrative 2) in your own or your child’s success and the positive experience of team spirit (narrative 3) in sports clubs.

KIHU asked respondents to share recent experiences they felt were significant for the future of Finnish sport. The survey was distributed by email and social media, and it received 48 responses. Even though the number of responses was low, the experiences and roles of the respondents were very diverse.

“The responses included types of responses and groups that we weren’t really expecting,” says KIHU researcher Outi Aarresola. “We thought that responses would have mostly been from people doing sports, but there were many responses from the parents of children with sporting hobbies.”

Without asking, concerns were raised by parents: exhausting trips to competitions, harsh qualification rounds, bullying and, most clearly, rising costs. Parents reported annual costs of over thousands of euros.

After all, the cost of funding adolescents’ competitive sports has doubled or even tripled during the 21st century. For example, the cost of competitive ice hockey for a 16-year-old cost over 12,000 euros in 2012. According to a report by the Ministry of Education and Culture, children’s sports hobbies are too expensive for a third of Finnish families.

So, the cost problem was not a new subject for KIHU researchers, but hearing from the parents gave it some depth.

“The cost of sport is a kind of abstract and pervasive theme,” says Aarresola. “But when you hear from a parent how much money they spend and what the family worries about, you get a sense of the everyday experience.”

The survey produced some other insights, as well. Firstly, nearly all positive sports stories were related to doing something new or in a new way, not repeating old things. In addition, a sizeable contingent of respondents estimated that, in their story, the most important thing was the connection to other people or the related thoughts and feelings. The physical body seems to be somehow secondary. Instead, the source of joy in positive stories was often the community.

SenseMaker teaches a new way of thinking

KIHU produces research on sport constantly. It is first and foremost concerned with top-level sports, but there is a forthcoming traditional survey for charting the general population’s views on sports.

For Outi Aarresola, SenseMaker was largely a trial method. “Maybe the other workshop participants had a clearer research problem, but we wanted, first and foremost, to try out this system, so we came up with a suitable subject,” she says.

All things considered, the trial worked well, and researchers learned new ways of thinking.

“This thought process can also be applied to other research tools by not posing questions to participants but providing respondents with an article that they start to give significance to. That way, you can get closer to everyday emotional states.”

However, Aarresola does not intend to start using the SenseMaker tool just yet; she thinks it is incomplete on a technical level. For example, designing and editing graphs felt awkward.

Analysing the KIHU responses in SenseMaker was made difficult by the low number of respondents. No clear trends appeared in the triangles for further observation. That is why Aarresola ended up organising the stories in a traditional way, by topic. The material is also so fragmented that it does not provide any clear research subject for further study.

So why were there so few responses?

“With regard to context, all sports as a single whole constitutes a huge area of interest. If we had, for example, only asked for stories from students in sports-oriented upper secondary schools or from the parents of small children, it would have been easier for the respondents to recognise themselves.”

Moreover, the time frame for this trial was a bit too short.

“This reminded me again why you need to plan things well!” says Aarresola, laughing. “Trials are a good idea when you are learning something and not just doing something new in a hurry.”



I was watching the Nordic world ski championships in Lahti in the winter. In the men’s sprint, Iivo and a Norwegian were skiing down the last stretch. The skis were working well for Iivo and he could overtake from behind. The whole stadium was cheering and note, the stadium, not people. It was a guaranteed victory, but then something happened no-one was expecting. Cutting in front of the Norwegian and boom. There was a dead silence for a few seconds. The most powerful and sudden thing to have ever experienced on an emotional level. Then fast, eyes on Iivo: is his gear intact, please? It was. Fierce cheering for Iivo again and lots of cusses at the Norwegian. That’s everything within 20 seconds, the joy of expectation, excitement, confusion, disbelief, anger, rage, disappointment and faint happiness.


Feeling of joy and empowerment created by competition

After a long break, I participated in a gymnastics competition in the adults’ series. Gymnastics was the sport of my childhood and youth that I was very passionate, serious and competitive about. At the time of participating in the adults’ competition, it had been nearly 20 years since my last competition. I had assumed that the competition in itself or the memory of all the excitement and trembling caused by competing would not be so significant, but my assumption was wrong. The feeling at the competition arena, even in my forties, was breathtaking, wonderful, joyful, delightful. What was it that even though my movements weren’t as fluid or impressive as in my childhood the feeling inside was the same. I felt empowered, I felt that I had excelled myself, I felt once more that I was an important part of the team, of the entire sport.


Sports club team spirit

I have felt that sports club team spirit and being an active participant is very meaningful. Thanks to good team spirit, children and adolescents feel very welcome to the world of sport. Good team spirit is reflected outwards. Even in an individual sport, collective practice time has great importance. In addition, it is important for children, and frankly everyone, to feel that they belong in a group. It could be very important for building up their self-esteem. For children and adolescents, it can support their future integration in society and working life. Young people learn a good way of behaving in a group and in social situations. In addition, with good team spirit, club matters can be handled more easily among participants. In shared events and such, you get to know each other, so it’s easier to approach your colleagues. I have been a part of many sports clubs, actively doing the sports as well as coaching, and I have felt that team spirit plays a key role. Unfortunately, it varies between clubs. In some sports/clubs, I have felt that, as a new arrival, I was left in the dark in some matters, which has had an effect on my interest in the sport as a hobby. I have not felt I was an accepted and equal participant who is allowed to improve and whose improvement is also of real interest. First impressions of the atmosphere really make a difference!


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