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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Field of Dreams: The Importance of Team Sports

By Peter DeWitt — September 27, 2011 5 min read
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“And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces” (Terrence Mann AKA James Earl Jones).

There is something special about watching a Saturday afternoon football game. A few weeks ago I happened to turn on the Michigan State University versus Notre Dame football game. For full disclosure, my family and friends will be as surprised as I am that I would focus on football. I never played football but I did attend some games in high school. Cross country and track were my sports of choice, and my coaches left a lasting impression on me and gave advice that still resonates with me as an adult.

Watching the game last Saturday brought back a feeling of nostalgia. Many people watch college football because it’s an opportunity to reflect on college days where the only activity on the Saturday “to do” list was to attend a football game. Everyone wearing their school colors, cheering on the team together, brings about a feeling of unity.

As we get older, our Saturday activities have changed. We have to mow the lawn, go grocery shopping or complete numerous other weekend chores around the house. Watching a good college football game brings us back to a time when life was a bit easier, and perhaps less stressful. Although at the time we thought homework and exams were the most stressful activities that we have ever seen.

However, there is one thing better than watching the game and that is being on the field, or in the trails, being surrounded by our teammates playing the game. Athletes feel they are a part of a much bigger picture when they join a team because their individual effort is an important part to the team as a whole. As we get older and further away from our high school and college experiences, we still remember those individuals who were on the team with us. We remember the hours on the bus going to competition, where there were times when the ride lasted longer than the game.

Whether it’s football, hockey, lacrosse or cross country, there are many benefits of joining a team. The greatest benefit is having a good coach. Sweeney, Underwood and Mulson were my coaches as I went from cross country to track in high school and college. As much as they cared about winning, they cared more about preparing their athletes for the future, and they were not intimidated to tell the whole team when they thought we were out of line or disrespectful. One particular night we learned not to swear when Underwood called us “sewer mouths,” and I remember being embarrassed that he had to have the conversation in the ack of the bus. I never wanted to disappoint him that way again.

Teamwork and Life
Coaches teach life lessons that athletes can bring with them through adulthood. Athletes who play a sport often listen to their coaches as much as (or more than) they will listen to their teachers or even their parents. A good coach is a gift, and many athletes look up to them with respect.

In addition, coaches teach their athletes life skills that they will long remember after they leave high school or college. Teamwork, determination, failure, winning and respect are just a few of the qualities a good team possesses. The following looks at how those qualities affect students.

Teamwork - In these times of high stakes demands in education, there is no better way to negotiate your way through changes than being a part of a team. Win or lose the team works together. High quality teams we can get through anything when they do it together.

Determination - when the chips are down and the other side is ahead, good teams work together to find the determination to get through any hardship. Determination teaches kids to not give up, even when they are losing or after they lost. Determination is what kids need to learn in order to achieve a college education or find a job in a terrible job market.

Failure - Everyone, adults and children, fail at some point in their life. Teaching kids that failing is an opportunity that can be turned into success, is an important part of the experience. Teams lose games; some even lose the whole season but teaching kids to get up every day and work harder day in and day out to overcome those failures is a life lesson. Adults could learn that lesson as well.

Winning - learning how to win is as important as learning how to lose. Good sportsmanship is another life lesson that kids need to learn and it teaches them how to interact with peers who are different than they are. So much of life is about working with people who are different than you. Good sportsmanship can teach students how to be humble.

Respect - We were always taught to be respectful to our elders. Some students, and adults, seem to have missed that lesson. Being a part of a team teaches students to respect the coach and their teammates. Everyone, no matter their income or educational level deserves to be respected. Students who play sports have the opportunity to learn to respect their teammates who are more athletically gifted than them as well as their teammates who are not as gifted.

Time Management - Students who play sports have the opportunity to learn about time management. Parents need to make sure that school work is not set aside for practice. Students need to learn how to manage both.

Struggling Learners - sometimes being a part of a team is the best part of a student’s day, especially if that student is a struggling learner. Teams and coaches can help build the self-esteem that gets lost when a student is struggling. In addition, it may help create an incentive for a struggling learner to work harder in the classroom so they can perform out on the field.

Students who join a team have the opportunity to learn many life lessons that can carry them into adulthood. We all know that being young does not last for a long time, although when you’re young it feels like it does. Sometimes a good college football game on a Saturday provides us with the opportunity to reflect on those days of being on a team and about the things that we learned from our coaches that helped us get to where we are today.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.