It likely would not surprise you to learn that in middle and high school, I did not identify as an athlete. Perhaps it was because my three older brothers played college sports, or perhaps it was because my high school counted among its alumni countless division one athletes–a few who even went on to play professionally. However, I knew that it would be the classroom, not the rink, the gym, or the field, that would be the arena wherein I would perform with the most confidence.
Despite my limitations, however, I dove headfirst into after-school sports. Between seventh and twelfth grade, I enjoyed stints on the benches (or bottom rungs of the ladder) of the soccer, cross country, basketball, wrestling, squash, track, lacrosse, and baseball teams. I was average to terrible at all of these sports, but I seemed to know intuitively that enjoying air and exercise, being part of and understanding my role on a team, and pushing myself beyond my perceived limitations are just a few of the benefits of playing sports–even for, perhaps especially for–those of us who will not likely enjoy the spotlight that accompanies athletic glory.
Here at Falmouth Academy, we are currently between seasons, a period sometimes referred to as “window week” or “mud week.” It is a fitting time to reflect on the many benefits that participation in athletics and other extracurricular programs have for our students.
In an article in the New York Times entitled, “High School Athletes Gain Lifetime Benefits,” Cornell University Professor Kevin Kniffin cites research that suggests that people who played high-school sports tend to get better jobs, with better pay, and that those benefits last a lifetime. In a similar vein, Paige Madsen suggests, in “The Social and Academic Benefits of Team Sports,” that “team sports . . . bolster the five C’s: competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring. At the heart of this is self-esteem – an increased sense of self as a result of better social interactions, stronger relationships, and higher academic performance.” (And if you’d like to read more about the many benefits of school activities, read “The Case for High School Activities.”)
What I love most about school sports is the venue they provide to demonstrate measurable improvement. Last Thursday, I was presented with a choice. Door #1, the Girls Varsity 2nd Round playoff game, was certainly tempting. After all, this team had overcome the graduation of several starters, integrated a host of underclassmen, and under the direction of a new coach, exceeded expectations. By all accounts, this team was unified and unselfish and can be rightfully proud of the many victories they earned along the way.
But I picked Door #2, traveling to Yarmouth to watch the Middle School Boys, who after compiling a season record of zero wins against eight losses, had, on the strength of two upset victories, secured a berth in the post-season tournament finals! And they very nearly won, but for a late hot streak from an opposing player who suddenly started draining three-pointers. I was so proud of these boys for having saved their best for last, for working hard and getting better, which really is what education is all about. (On a related note, the Girls Junior Varsity also counted their last game as their first and only win!)
In extolling the many virtues of my faculty, I often say, “They measure success not only by the places their kids go but by the distance each has traveled.” Nowhere was this more apparent than on the hardcourt this winter.
And so I was pleased to hear that 50+ boys are planning to play lacrosse this spring, and I am hopeful that the girls’ program will be blessed with similar numbers Parents, even if you have a reluctant athlete as I was, I urge you to encourage them to try it out this spring, or more broadly, try anything out. 29 students have been cast for the spring play, nearly a third of the student body performed at the mid-winter concert, some 15 students are currently working in Woods Hole labs, we’ve got kids in after-school photography, after-school art, and after-school Mandarin. 50+ kids played dodgeball on Friday afternoon and a 100+ at the dance later that night. Did I mention that we are only a school of 213 students?
Engagement, participation, being a part of something - a community, a group effort, a cause - these are the endeavors that build confidence and resilience in our kids that last well beyond the bell rings, the whistle blows, or the curtain falls. Thank you parents for the part you play in supporting your kids in the many parts they play.