Viðar’s argument explored

On 16 February. Viðar Halldórsson, professor of sociology at the University of Iceland, published an article in Kjarnan entitled “The ends justify the means”. Viðar’s article is about the recent documentary “Raise the bar”, which is about the girls’ basketball team coached by Brynjar Karl.

After the film came out, there has been some discussion about the coaching methods, which are used in the movie. Opinions have been divided on the merits of such methods, but any discussion of the movie, coaching methods, empowerment and advantage difference between men and women in sports must be considered good. Viðar is a scholar in his field and it can therefore be expected that his views have some weight in such a discussion. The author therefore considers it important that Viðar is held accountable for his reasoning, just as the coach is held accountable for his coaching methods. Therefore, the author considers it appropriate to point out some points in the aforementioned article by Viðar that the author considers to be poorly passed inspection.

Straw man argument from professor Halldorsson,

The starting point of Viðar’s article is that the coaching methods that appear in the documentary include professionalization in sports. The article then describes, with some convincing arguments, why such ‘’elite’’ coaching in children’s sports activities should not be considered desirable. In the author’s opinion, Viðar’s argument is an example of a so-called “straw man fallacy”. Applying such a straw man argument is a common and well-known method of argumentation in which a critic of a situation presents his own, distorted version of the same situation and then attacks that version (since the critic’s version is usually presented in a way that is less tolerant of criticism).


In Viðar’s article, the straw man argument is presented in the following way: “The experiment that appears in the film with the aim of empowering players, in fact, involves the professionalization of sports for 8-11 year old children.”  With these words Viðar has shifted the emphasis in Brynjars coaching methods from the goal of empowering young girls to maximizing their ability to play basketball. Viðar’s article then seems to assume that the coach’s goal, which he compares to the Soviet coaches of the Cold War, was to make the girls as good basketball players as possible by every available means. Viðar’s article then seeks to provide a fairly convincing argument as to why an attempt at such an achievement in children’s sports activities is not desirable.

Distorted assumptions of criticism

Viðar’s assumption above about professionalization in sports and basketball skills as the main goal of the training however has little support in reality as was stated in the documentary. On the contrary, it is repeatedly stated in the film, both by the coach, the girls and their parents that basketball skills are not the main focus. Basketball is just a tool which is used in this character building program. A character that can then help the girls to change the world – or at least their immediate environment if they think smaller. This prioritization which is very clear in the documentary, which is literally drawn on a board and explained to the girls, seems to have completely passed by Viðar, who then bases his entire article on the coach’s alleged goal of creating the best basketball players. 

Whether Viðar’s intention was to facilitate criticism of the training methods in question or whether his article is based primarily on a misunderstanding about the training arrangements should be left unsaid. However, the author considers it a responsibility of scholars to obtain appropriate information on the societal issues they choose to comment on at any given time. If Viðar has not been interested in contacting the coach, his players/their parents, or Brynjar’s former players who have since stopped training with the coach (who Viðar considers to be the biggest victims of the training methods), he should at least stick to the information provided in the movie, as they represent information put forth as the academic work of a specialist. 

Convincing discussion

The coach’s methods are certainly controversial. Discussions that have arisen following the publication of the documentary have made that clear.  As stated above, the author’s opinion is that a discussion like this is a good thing. A discussion like that must, however, take place on a factual basis, be in accordance with the available information and free from emotional arguments and snap judgements. 

Viðar’s article, a scholar in his field, unfortunately does not seem to meet this requirement. Thus, an indication of Viðar’s attitude towards the coach can be found in the first paragraphs of his article, where he likens the coach to a religious leader who has wrapped both players and their parents around his fingers. Such snap judgements do not belong in a scholar’s article on social issues that concern his field.  

The title of Viðar’s article is “The ends justify the means”. The author believes that the question  is perfectly justified in the context as it relates to the training methods shown in the documentary. In that discussion, however, we should not be confused as to what the real purpose of the coaching is, empowerment and the character development, but not professional professionalization in basketball.

The author is a coach at Athena, a sports club supervised and run by Brynjar Karls, and a former footballer.