Can Sports Teach Better Than We Think?

Posted May 18, 2015

Sports don’t get enough respect.

I know that seems like a crazy statement considering a few of my last posts, the amount of money that athletes get paid, how much the media discusses sports, and how much time the average American spends watching sports, but I stand by it. Sure, sports get respect as an ideal form of entertainment, but that’s all. When sports get discussed as anything other than a fun game to watch or play, it’s quickly dismissed as inconsequential.

You’re missing class for a game? You’re going to miss information essential to passing classes.

You spent your vacations at a training center instead of on the beach? You missed out on your childhood.

You have a tendency to get hurt? Sports can’t possibly be worth the risk.

I’ve been mocked a few times by friends for looking at situations “as an athlete,” and, admittedly, sometimes their insults are warranted, but I do occasionally find myself in conversations where I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language, so others in the conversation get angry with me or just smile and nod like I’m an idiot.

I had a moment like that recently, when I found myself in an argument that confused and frustrated me to the point where I had to do everything in my power to not turn into Will Ferrell

While I work it out, therapy style, in the paragraph below, it’s important to quickly say that I like and care about the people I was debating with, and while I cannot understand their opinions on this matter, it doesn’t change the way I feel about them as people… much.

The argument revolved around an experimental educational philosophy being used by my old high school in which 10th grade mid-terms were abandoned and lumped into an evaluative experience that encompasses a mandatory 10th grade trip outside of the country (this year it was Valencia). I want to highlight the word “mandatory” since that’s what caused the stir.

This trip didn’t take place during a break, but in the middle of the winter months of school. In fact, when I went back to my high school for a basketball game, the head coach of the varsity girls team told me that his team had been struggling because some of his best players are sophomores and were gone for two weeks in the middle of the season.

I commented to my friends that I wouldn’t have missed two weeks of the season to go on the trip, which prompted a few of them to look at me like I was crazy. If the trip had not been mandatory, they said, the players who stayed would have missed their “once in a lifetime opportunity to travel.” When I responded that remaining with your teammates was arguably more valuable, it was dismissed rather quickly as being foolish and not in keeping with the academic requirements of the excursion.

Just like that, a field trip was placed about sports because it seemed to have more value given its loose connection to academics. Which makes me wonder why people consistently dismiss what young men and women can learn through playing sports.

Athletics help teach students the value of commitment and accountability at a young age. When you decide to play for a team, you are committing to being a part of a larger group. You have essentially told them that you are dedicated to ensuring not only your own success, but the success of the team, and you are agreeing to be held accountable for your efforts to that effect. If you play selfishly or skip practices, your coaches and teammates remind you of the promise you made and make you accountable for getting your shit together.

When I played at that same high school, that level of commitment wasn’t even a question. We were a team full of private school kids, all under 6’4,” who were never going to make a living playing basketball, but the four months from November to February were basketball season, and it was very clear what was the priority.  I find it hard to believe anybody on that team would have missed two months of the season and gone on that trip. Nobody would have wanted to leave their teammates short-handed.

And you know what, they should be rewarded for that, not punished. With athletics, a kid is learning to be somebody that other people can depend on; he/she is learning that you make a promise to somebody and you keep it. If somebody is relying on you, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to reward their trust and faith.

Believe me, I’m in a classroom with high school students every day, and I can tell you that this is a mindset that is vanishing into thin air with the younger generations.

 

Sports helps kids learn that the world is about more than just them. One of the common retorts in this conversation was, “They’re only sophomores; they have two more years of sports.” While that may be true, these years are vital for kids that are trying to play in college. What’s more, what about the kids who don’t have more years?

If a sophomore, who happens to be the team’s best player, misses two weeks and the team loses games and misses the playoffs (as happened at this school), is he/she supposed to look at the seniors and say, “I know you just played your last competitive games ever, but I have two years left”? What does that teach this sophomore about valuing what’s important to his/her teammates?

Yes, kids should be trying to make lasting memories during their childhood, and this trip would have done that. But so would have being part of a playoff team with your teammates. Only one of those choices tells the people around you that you care more about what you want then what they want.

 

Sports teach you how to make difficult choices in life. If you make a commitment to anything in life, it will often come with the consequences of sacrificing something from another area of your life. That’s just the way it works.

Want to go to get drinks for a friend’s birthday? You’re probably telling another friend you can’t go out with them. Want to enroll in a summer program?  Your friends are probably going to tell you about the fun you missed while you were gone. Not seeing a future in the relationship you’re in? Parting ways is going to leave somebody hurt.

Making decisions is a natural part of life, and the idea that we’re trying to limit a student’s exposure to this is crazy. Kids are already more entitled now then they were decades ago. They avoid tough choices or find ways to make them as impersonal as possible, so why are we trying to take away more things that might be difficult?

If you want to be good at a sport, you have to dedicate yourself to it. If you don’t want to put in that much time, you don’t do it. The logic is simple, it’s the decision-making that’s difficult. But it’s also essential in life. Life is filled with tough decisions, and it only helps students to give them some exposure to it at a young age.

 

Many of my closest friends were heavily influenced to become the people they are today because of the values they learned from playing sports. Some of them were great students, and some slept through more than one class, but I’ve always found that their academic success said very little about who they grew into as people.

It’s time we begin putting the younger generation to the test to see what type of adults they’re going to grow into, and there’s still no better testing ground than sports.