The words “athlete”, “athletics”, are Greek. An athlete was, literally, one who “contended for a prize”. The ancient Greeks thought much of athletic contest, and glorified suc­cessful athletes. They crowded from all Greece to the Olym­pic Games, held once every four years. There the chief, and at first the only, event was the “stadium”, or foot-race of two-hundred yards. The winner of the prize for this race, the olive-wreath, was regarded as the greatest man in Greece.

Other contests were added-running, jumping, wrestling, boxing, and javelin-throwing and hurling the quoits. To win in any of these contests was to win great honour. In modern athletics are included all these forms of sport, with physical and gymnasium drill; along with manly games, like cricket, football, hockey, tennis, etc.

The first use of athletics is that they improve physical health. Athletics harden the muscles, expand the lungs, and make the body strong and fit. They supply the body exercise so necessary for the maintenance of health.

Then manly games, like hockey and football, give a man pluck and courage. Naturally timid boys should play such games, so as to become more manly.


Moreover, athletics teach self-control. No man can be a good athlete who does not control his appetite. He cannot eat and drink what he likes, or he will become “soft”. In training, an athlete is put under a very strict diet, and is not allowed to drink or smoke. So athletics strengthen the will power.

Further, athletic games teach boys and men to work to­gether, and so encourage corporate discipline. Football or hockey teams have to learn “team-work”, and each player realizes that he must often efface himself for the good of his side. It takes some self-denial and discipline to pass the ball to another player, when you would like the glory of kicking a goal yourself. This is what is called esprit de- corps.

But athletics may be abused. Carried to excess, it may damage instead of improving the health. Over-training and excessive muscular exertion may weaken the heart, and so shorten life.

In schools and colleges, too, games and athletic sports may take up much of the time and attention which should be given to study. Often the best athletes are the worst stu­dents.


Athletics should be a recreation. But when games and sports become the chief interest in life and are exalted into a serious profession, they do more harm than good. On the whole, however, the balance is in favour of athletics, which keep the body, the animal side of us, fit; for, as Herbert Spencer said, “The first requisite to success in life is to be a good animal”.