The relationship between Sport and Society

This blog follows on from previous attempts trying to provide information about the new topics in the AQA AS and A-level specifications, trying to be helpful by providing suitable notes / explanations of each (most) of this new content


We’ve looked at venous return and vitamins and minerals; stability and Vygotsky; the history of mob football, real tennis and the Much Wenlock Olympic Games together with the emergence of female performers in football, tennis and athletics.  The last effort concerned fluid mechanics.


Now, it’s time to look at the sociology of sport


The sociology of sport considers the relationship between sport and society. It also considers the social processes that occur within sport and how inequalities in sport can be overcome for minority groups in society.



A society is a group of people involved in interpersonal relationships, subject to same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.


It is often thought that sporting success reflects a society’s / country’s status, for example ethnic / gender groups and sporting success such as Brazil and football / Kenya and distance running.



Socialisation is the process by which children and adults learn norms, attitudes, values and actions of their culture from others.  There are two main forms of socialisation, primary and secondary:


  • Primary is socialisation during early years of childhood. This takes place mainly within the family
  • Secondary is the socialisation of teenagers / adults. Here the family less involved as the process continues through schools, peer groups, media, etc,


A typical examination question might ask you to distinguish between primary and secondary socialisation; can you do that?


Social Processes- social control and social change


  • Social processes are the ways in which individuals and groups interact, adjust and readjust and establish relationships and patterns of behaviour which are modified through social interactions
  • Social interactions are when individuals or groups influence the behaviour of each other
  • Social change is alterations to society over time
  • Social control is the idea that refers to the way in which people’s thoughts, feelings, appearance and behaviour are regulated in social systems


Society is made up of various groups, with the family viewed as the most basic unit. These groups work together by socialising people through a variety of processes to make sure that we all become socialised into society and help maintain order and social.


Another exam-style question might ask for a definition of a term.

Can you identify the correct term for each of these definitions:


  1. Alterations to society over time
  2. The influence individuals or groups have on each other’s behaviour
  3. The ways in which people interact, and establish relationships and patterns of behaviour
  4. The way people’s thoughts, and behaviour are regulated


Some social processes act as restrictions and limit opportunities.  For example social processes can limit involvement in sport.  Ours is a male dominated, patriarchal society.  This means that various social processes prevent women from having the same freedom to participate in sporting activities as men.


These are often linked to what society deems to be gender appropriate behaviour. For example, husbands/male partners may disapprove of a woman’s involvement in certain sports. So the woman chooses to play Badminton rather than Rugby.


Women may give up physical activities once a child has been born because of the ‘expected’ mothering instinct.  A lack of time and lower disposable income may also act as a form of social control and reduce participation rates for women.


I would expect that a typical examination question might ask you to suggest reasons for fewer women participating in physical activity than men.  My expectation would be that this would only be a 3 or 4 mark question, so learn 3 or 4 reasons!


Individual women are unable to change society by themselves.  Changes occur when other aspects of society change to meet their needs.  For example, more crèches provided at leisure centres helps minimise some of the negative effects of traditional child care responsibilities.


Such social change is an alteration in the social order of a society.  Physical activities can be used bring about social change in a positive way, by for example, providing ‘taster sessions’ or involvement for reduced costs to encourage participation.


Social issues

All societies have some form of inequality with things like power, prestige and wealth divided unequally amongst the population.  This is social inequality.  Such inequality could be due to economics, gender, culture, or disability.


There are a number of potential causes of inequality, including:


  • Lack of money / costs of participating
  • Lack of confidence / self esteem
  • Lack of role models to aspire to
  • Myths/stereotypes in some sections of society about individual capabilities


Social structures / stratification

Different social structures, for example, type of school, family and friendship groups can affect a person’s involvement in physical activities.


Within society, the population can often be divided into several layers, a mechanism called social stratification.  This is usually a form of inequality based on wealth or status. Sport can be a means to change layers, through the fame and possible wealth associated with sporting success, a process called social mobility.


Levels of disposable income can affect the type of activity participated in, the level of equipment used and so on. Social stratification is present in sport with a number of groups within society lower down the system, and identified by Sport England as under-represented in terms of participation, E.g. ethnic minorities, individuals with a disability etc.  The dominant layer within UK sport tends to be the white, male middle classes.


Social action theory

This theory suggests that society is created by social interaction.  By interacting with others, people form organisations such as schools and clubs, which will influence people, for example by expecting people to obey the rules of the organisation.  Because people interact, people can cause change in the social processes that exist.


The interactionist approach

This is the idea that social institutions such as the family or schools are not distinct from the people that are in them, but are the product of the interaction of the people with and within the institution.


In terms of sport, the theory is mainly concerned with how sports people interact with each other in social groups and in turn how they affect external social factors.  The theory can affect sport by getting sports to become more democratic and stop the dominance of one group



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