Ask The Readers: What If Sports Programs Were Replaced By Engineering Programs?

One side effect of coming up with my ideas while running is that I’m influenced by the things I see and hear while I’m running. Normally, it’s no problem. I go to a gym where I can run on the inside track and either ponder the engineering problem of the day or let my mind drift. But the other day, I had an issue where I couldn’t recall any problems I had been having. Instead, my mind turned to people watching and observing the activities around me. And being a suburb dweller, the primary activity was kids playing sports, namely basketball. 6 courts full of children competing against one another, working with their parents, working with their coaches and striving to be the best basketball players they can be.

So what’s the payoff? What do these children expect? I’m sure some of them are just there to have fun. They’ll bounce the ball and shoot some hoops and go home happy. But I noticed instead the children that were really competing and striving to be the best. It was most of them. And throughout my run, I watched these kids thinking: why do they bother?

Wow. That sounds like a horribly defeatist attitude, doesn’t it? I prefer the term: “realism”. Everyone likes the story of the underdog, but if these kids are to make it to the NBA (the final goal, right?) they need to be one of 7 players out of 540,000 of a real real real good 14-year old basketball players on a high school team. And that’s per year. Yikes. (Of course, perhaps we should compare it to the statistics of getting to be writer at Engineer Blogs! 5 writers currently out of 6,971,827,623 people worldwide by an estimated by the US census means you only have a 1 in 1.39 Billion of being a writer here. Perhaps you should try for the NBA position after all…).

Anyway, I’m sure you understand my point here. It’s not that being the top of your field is a difficult and unlikely thing; that’s true in any field as there can only be so many at the top. What I’m trying to point out is the extreme effort and focus put into sports in childrens’ lives (my own childhood included) are ultimately a waste and one that doesn’t benefit the world in any way (save for the “teamwork” aspect, perhaps). If a student stops playing basketball after years of hard work, what does the world gain? Perhaps another fan of the sport that can help buoy the sports viewing industry?

So now the questions for you, dear reader: What does the world lose if we transition from sports-based recreation to engineering-based hobby and recreation? What happens if instead of each high school not having a basketball or football team (and the gobs of funding that often accompanies it) but instead has one or many FIRST robotics teams? What if the focus was not on the best crossover dribble or fade-away jump shot, but instead the most structurally sound 3D printed component of a robot or quadcopter that needs to complete a particular task? What if our college athletes got in trouble with the NCEA (National Collegiate Engineering Association?) not for skipping classes in order to be on the football team, but instead because they needed to finish their 60 foot robot? (akin to the violations often seen by the NCAA

Maybe I’m being ridiculous. Perhaps I didn’t understand the true value in sports in high school (which I should mention I played throughout high school) and I’m missing the point behind those kids at my gym competing. Maybe the interest would never be there and the students would not participate. Regardless of what I think, I want to hear what you have to say. Would engineering-based “sports” be a viable alternative to the focus put on athletics these days? What would we lose or gain in the event the world suddenly switched? Please let us know in the comments.


Thanks to zilupe for the robot picture.

12 responses to “Ask The Readers: What If Sports Programs Were Replaced By Engineering Programs?”

  1. Niels

    We would have a lot more fat kids?

    1. Chris Gammell

      We’re already at critical mass here in America. But maybe I’m wrong and it could get worse.

  2. JJ

    This is an issue that’s been boiling in the US for decades. Just now are we really starting to see the effects. Slowly. Things like big Tech Corps hiring tons of Indian, Chinese, and Russian engineers. At a fraction of the cost at that.

    Look at Nasa. Supposedly they’ve been asking all of their engineers who’ve been with them for a minute to hold off on retirement. There isn’t anyone to really take their place.

    Sports being held to higher respect than science is def one of the issues. Too many issues to name is another problem. I would like to see science getting the same amount of props that sports in schools do.

    I attended a public high school in San Antonio TX and can tell you that the Football team had the best/most resources out of any other program in the school. Let’s start there. Figure out why this is so. Because this is happening across the US as we speak.

  3. Alexander

    Personally, I think that the sports in high school is necessary to a certain extent, for the purposes of physical activity.

    That however is just referring to phys ed class. What if the of engineering-related activities took the place of competitive sports outside normal class hours? Well, it would be nice, except I don’t think it’s realistic honestly. The kids that would be into that are too few in numbers.

    It’s a nice dream, having engineering-related fun take the place of some competitive sports… however that only has a chance of becoming realistic if more kids were to be into engineering in the first place. It’s a matter of the earlier stages of upbringing I would say.

  4. Charles J Gervasi

    This is a huge problem. I’ve worked with engineers from India who said they knew from a young age they needed to learn engineering or medicine if they wanted to earn enough money to have cars, high-tech phones, etc. So many people in the US think that having these things are a birthright, not something acquired through hard work. I think in the post-WWII period you could get an average job and have a middle-class level of consumption. The level of consumption people expect has gone up at the same time the level of interest in sports has gone up. Sports are great *as an AVOCATION*, but it’s a huge mistake if they take the place of productive work.

    I see a trend of average jobs at a company or the gov’t paying 20% less every generation. At the same time, there are opportunities for people to code iPhone apps, record music w/o a record label, fix up and sell their favorite toys, design PCBs, etc and making good money doing what they love. The people allowing sports to take the place of science and math are preparing for the old-school jobs that pay less and less. This not horrible; they’ll still have a much more affluent life than the average person 100 years ago, but it’s not a smart way to go. I see this even here in Madison, WI, which is an intellectual town that is very close to being as cool as it fancies itself. This post is right on the money!

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  6. Beth Ambaruch

    There are several great programs that I am aware of that have made great progress helping with just this issue. Take a look at FIRST ( and Real World Design Challenge ( I’ve had the pleasure of working with FIRST and have enjoyed every moment. I urge you to get involved, be a mentor, be a sponsor and do something to help these organizations and the kids they are inspiring.

    If you would like an idea of what PTC is doing to help kids realize the passion and potential of a STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) take a look at

    Beth Ambaruch

  7. FrauTech

    I always assumed group sports served the purpose of a sort of general societal assimilation. Much of high school and college is teaching people appropriate group dynamics; when is violence ok and not ok. We could probably get on without sports in particular but I think it is a throw back to pre-industrial societies when competitive sports served to ready the young men to be soldiers. With war becoming more and more technogical you’d think we’d at least benefit from incorporating that into youth groups better.

    Beth is right that there is a lot of cool stuff out there but it really doesn’t compare to our society’s fascination with sports.

  8. bill

    I must be one of the few engineers who am absolutely opposed to the engineering sports bashing. I many times think of the opposite. Imagine if most engineers had been forced to play more sports when they were younger? Perhaps then there wouldn’t be so many socially awkward, emotionally immature, lone cowboy engineers out there.

    I think everything should be practiced in moderation, and there is certainly a problem with ‘some’ parents thinking and pushing their kids to be pros some day and some schools placing too much emphasis on athletic achievement, but overall, I think the many values provided by sports are overlooked by many engineers.

    I can personally say sports provided a large positive in my life and I may not be an engineer today if not for sports. Not to mention, staying active and still playing sports beyond my school years (which is more likely for those active when they were younger) helps keep me healthy, have higher energy levels and lets my mind perform better without having to drink coffee or soda throughout the day. I could run or do some other such (non-sport) exercise but those are all brutally boring and I’d never keep up with it. Plus, don’t we engineers spend enough time ‘in our heads’. It’s nice to do something fun and social that also at the very least, is healthy.

  9. Philip Freidin

    “What If Sports Programs Were Replaced By Engineering Programs?”

    When teams were picked, I wouldn’t have been the last person to be chosen for a team.

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