The Magic Circles of Basketball and Hockey

The basketball court of Crisler Center is the magic circle during a Michigan basketball game (from wikimedia.org).

The basketball court of Crisler Center is the magic circle during a Michigan basketball game (from wikimedia.org).

I remember being woken up early Saturday mornings as a kid to prepare for my basketball tournaments. Giving up my precious sleep was unfortunate, but being able to compete and showcase my skills made it more than worth it. The games were always fun and exciting for all involved. It felt like I was in a different world which is governed by new rules, this is also true for college athletes. I attended the Michigan basketball game against Syracuse as well as the Michigan hockey game against Penn State this year. These players compete on one of the highest stages in sports and prepare for these contests every day. Every second of the contests the student-athletes give it their all and fight for the victory. This is the same as my experiences in sports, these players lie in a different realm where putting a puck in the net is scoring a goal. This is because of what is called the magic circle, as proposed by Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens.

Huizinga introduced the idea of a magic circle in his book Homo Ludens (from wikimedia.org).

Huizinga introduced the idea of a magic circle in his book Homo Ludens (from wikimedia.org).

Essentially, Huizinga’s idea of a magic circle is a place of fantasy which is governed by different rules than the actual world. Actions have different consequences and the area of the game is contained. All play takes place in a magic circle whose bounds are clearly defined. The magic circle is trans-formative, and a person leaves the magic circle with experience and meaning. The magic circle is completely separate from the rest of the world and the existence of it is completely dependent on the acts performed inside of it. Huizinga’s magic circle refers to a physical area whether it be the court, stage, pool, etc. The magic circle is an amazing phenomena which is governed by different rules and actions have different consequences.

When I attended the basketball and hockey games, I could observe what was going on in the respective magic circles. The players were in a world all to their own while spectators watched what happened in the world. For the basketball game the magic circle was the court and the ice rink for the hockey game. The basketball game was bounded in a world which exists based on two twenty minute halves and the winner is determined by the number of points scored. The ball is forced to be dribbled instead of held like a football and breaking a rule may result in the opposition having the opportunity for easy points. In the hockey game time is bounded by three periods and movement must be done through skating. A stick must not be raised over the chest of the player, and not following the magic circle’s rules can lead to a team losing a player for a short time. In both of these worlds, there is a winner and a loser which is determined by the number of points scored. These magic circles are entertaining to watch but it must be completely different to play in them.

The events on the ice at Yost Arena create a magic circle for spectators as well as players (from wikipedia.org).

The events on the ice at Yost Arena create a magic circle for spectators as well as players (from wikimedia.org).

Spectators in a sense live in their own magic circles where they watch the action occurring on the court/rink. This kind of magic circle is bounded as any location where the contest is viewable. The magic circle lasts as long as there is play to be seen and without the existence of the magic circle of the contest there is no magic circle for spectators. It really is magic if you think about it, fans can become just as involved in a game they are not physically performing. The magic circle is so powerful it mimics the experience of playing to spectators. This is apparent at any sporting event at any level and also can be applied to other types of play such as theater performances and debates. I was in my own magic circle while watching the basketball and hockey games, I was attached to the game itself just as it was a Saturday morning and I was playing myself.

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