Craftsmanship and Meaningful PE – Noora Ronkainen

Dr. Noora Ronkainen is a senior researcher at the University of Jyväskylä. In the following post, she explores craftsmanship and its relevance for understanding meaningfulness of sport and physical education. Noora hosts the Meaningful Sport podcast, writes a blog on meaningful sport, and tweets from @MeaningfulSport

We might easily think that craftsmanship represents a way of life that is no longer relevant for most modern people. Therefore, it might be surprising that some sport and youth culture researchers have suggested that it can be a key factor in understanding meaningful engagement in sport and physical cultures (Højbjerre Larsen, 2016Thorlindsson et al., 2018, Ronkainen et al., 2020). 

But what is craftsmanship and what do we know about its relationship with meaningful experiences?

American sociologist Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman (2008) has been a central inspiration for researchers of craftsmanship. For Sennett, craftsmanship is “an enduring, basic impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake”. We can use the craftsmanship approach in any activity, in work, school, gardening, cooking… and sport and exercise. It is a mode of engagement where we are totally immersed in our chosen activity, trying to understand how we can do it better, and developing our skill through dedicated practising. 

Craftsmanship overlaps with notions of flow, task orientation, intrinsic motivation and play that are already familiar to physical educators. But it is also something more. Craftsmanship is also about a holistic understanding of your task at hand and tacit knowledge. It is nurtured in communities of practice or “workshops”. 

If you think of how a novice martial artist learns the skills, the ethic of the art and becomes a martial artist, you realise that most of it does not happen through verbal instruction. Instead, learning happens through being a part of the community of practice, observing and imitating the coach or other practitioners, and through trial and error. 

Craftsmanship theories have emerged as a critical response to the bureaucratic organisation of schoolwork. Standardised learning outcomes, assessments, and hierarchical authority can stifle spontaneous learning in children, and they lose ownership over the content of learning. In craftsmanship, the learners produce their learning through cycles of problem-setting and problem-solving. 

Our new research has shown that craftsmanship can be an important element in understanding meaningful engagement in sport. Adult athletes in the UK, participating in 54 different sports, filled out our survey. The results indicated that craftsmanship was a predictor of higher levels of meaning in sport. 

In our study, individual sport athletes had higher levels of craftsmanship than team sport athletes. It can be speculated that individual sport athletes have more time to reflect on their learning and decide on how they engage in their own learning and development. Furthermore, older athletes also had higher levels of craftsmanship. You do not become a craftsman or craftswoman overnight. It takes time. 

The study of craftsmanship in sport and physical education context is at nascent stages. However, given the promising initial findings on the potential role of craftsmanship in fostering meaningful engagement in movement culture activities, it provides an exciting avenue for future research and practice.    


Højbjerre Larsen, S. (2016). What can the parkour craftsmen tell us about bodily expertise and skilled movement?. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy10(3), 295-309.

Ronkainen, N. J., McDougall, M., Tikkanen, O., Feddersen, N., & Tahtinen, R. (2020). Beyond health and Happiness: An exploratory study into the relationship between craftsmanship and meaningfulness of sport. Sociology of Sport Journal. Online ahead of print.

Thorlindsson, T., Halldorsson, V., & Sigfusdottir, I. D. (2018). The sociological theory of craftsmanship: An empirical test in sport and education. Sociological Research Online23(1), 114-135.

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