Why do high-risk sports attract young people so much?


The changes associated with puberty generally cause adolescents to question their identity and to question things they have taken for granted. Practicing a sport intensively is a way for some young people to protect themselves from heavier questions around these upheavals.

The quest for sensations and self-control, the repetition of training are accompanied by a distancing from an inner world that is difficult to contain. Regular attendance at a sports space with its rites and familiar figures provides the assurance of an understandable world, always to its measure.

We prepare competitions, we discuss practices, we find an immediate complicity with peers, mutual recognition, etc. Sports activity thus sometimes appears as a transitional space where the difficulties of existence are tamed. .

Sociability of performance

By creating other concerns, well manageable and concrete – challenges, efforts, schedule constraints, etc. – practicing sports becomes a way of suspending time and the questions specific to adolescence . Taking place in a well marked out microcosm, strongly invested as if it were going to last forever, it is an effective barrier against the sexuation of the body and the new responsibilities that it implies.

She often postpones romantic relationships or entering into sexuality until later. The body is mastered and denied in its instinctual aspects in the name of the constraints of training and the sacrifices necessary to obtain good performance.

With a rigorous schedule, sports activity occupies the whole mind by avoiding projecting oneself into the future other than in the form of a calendar to be kept and adequate physical preparation to be in good shape at the time. of the competition. It gives directives, a framework, a way of life, aspirations, a controlled sociability and focused solely on performance.

Beyond more conventional practices, physical and sporting activities underwent a profound change in the 1980s, in which the younger generations engulfed themselves. With technological transformations, the appearance of new materials extends the area of ​​new activities: board sports, outdoor sports, etc.

The marketing of instrument manufacturers will also be able to exploit the new sensitivities linked to the search for sensations, freedom, looks, etc. Unbridled consumers, on the lookout for the latest products, these young adepts simultaneously “play” rebellion and indifference to norms or social rules. They have no references other than themselves. They particularly invest in the world of board sports. Out of competition, out of classification, out of limit, out of markup, out of rules, autonomous, individual, practice is first and foremost a passionate search for sensations.

Body to body with the world

Passionate engagement in these activities is a way of feeling alive through a physical and intense relationship to the world. In this sense, they are related to risky behaviors. Admittedly, the latter are the response to suffering, where the former are rather a search for the intensity of being, but both are on the razor’s edge, and, through being put to the test by different paths, they sometimes ask death for an answer on the meaning and legitimacy of existence.

Socially valued, they are so not only by the younger generations who find in them a field of emulation and communication, but by the whole of society which sees in them a playful affirmation of youth. The values ​​of courage, resistance, vitality, etc. are rented there.

These so-called “risky” activities, where playing with the limit is a founding fact, provide forms of narcissism by fueling the conviction of being above the lot, a virtuoso, and of being among the chosen ones. The hand-to-hand combat with the world is established in places and circumstances that the young person decides and which remain under his control, to the extent of what he presumes of his competence.

The young person feels in his physical or sporting achievements a feeling of self-evidence, creation and personal determination. The fear thus overcome induces the jubilation of having succeeded, and of possessing a fabric that is not common. Through his prowess, he has the feeling of existing in the eyes of others. He is in search of limits of meaning, but in a playful mode, unlike risky behavior. He seeks to know who he is, how far he can go too far. He experiments with his resources in a feeling of fulfilment.

Risky physical and sporting activities respond to a logic of physical confrontation with the world in a jubilant mode, even if the risk of accident is always the price to pay for the intensity experienced. To exist is not enough for him, he must feel that he exists.

Quest for limits

These activities are strongly invested by the boys in a quest for limits, a frantic search for sensations and recognition. For them, measuring themselves against others is part of an intimate rite of virility and involves surpassing oneself under their gaze. The test has a value of confirmation of personal value, it calls for demonstration, at the risk of overestimating one’s skills and giving in to an often dangerous feeling of omnipotence.

The presence of others tends to put it into representation. The search for prowess or the demonstration of one’s dexterity in front of others are also, beyond the personal fulfillment they provide, a narcissistic line of defense against the feeling of self-insignificance.

We know in this regard the concern of skateboarders to settle in public places to operate their demonstration of skill. Through a feigned indifference of the adept, the gaze of others is necessary for the validation of talents. But the show is given “casually” and not ostentatiously in a permanent game.

The practice solicits a friendly complicity with the other partners of the mutual contests. It involves hours on the board and countless falls before finally landing the coveted trick or snagging the stair railing for a moment. The abrasions, the bumps, the fractures multiply as long as the technique of the body has not been perfectly mastered but such is the price to pay for a feeling of being rooted in the world, the search for a stop through this mixture ambiguous of dexterity and falls, as if it were a constant question of finally finding the right distance with a slipping away world.

Games with speed or the risk of falling by taking advantage of the urban geography, by descending the slopes at full speed for example, or by mixing with the traffic of cars, possibly clinging to them to experience moments of acceleration and exercise virtuosity while defying danger. A number of physical practices thus invested by the younger generations multiply the areas of transgression, and therefore the feeling of omnipotence.

Especially among the younger generations, the frantic search for limits during risky physical and sporting activities marks a personal belief in the fact of being “special”, of having something that others lack, but simultaneously putting oneself in a situation perilous they constantly seek confirmation. The narcissistic flaws are plugged in a process always to be resumed.

In their discipline they are sovereign and flourish in bending the resistance of the elements, in taming gravity. These are practices of vertigo, or rather of playing with vertigo, whether in the air, on the ground, in the snow or in the sea, the research is that of mastering the imbalance. A groping and intense way of seeking one’s place in the world.

Author Bio: David LeBreton is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Strasbourg