If getting that better job is the main educational focus of some students, they should be aware that the current business model is geared around teamwork and being able to function successfully in that context. More importantly, there is a global atmosphere present today where cooperation and working toward defined goals are crucial to the organizations involved. As one of my former players explained to me recently regarding his own position as an Executive Vice President of a major international corporation, “A typical project of mine may span eighteen time zones and involve five or more native languages. There may be different advantages or disadvantages to the local persons involved, but the corporate goal is what is most important.” He also added, “What an athlete knows is that some sacrifice now on his/her part will aid the team and making such sacrifices now may benefit him/her more than others who do not cooperate when the next project is handed out.” In this global economy and because of changes in communication technologies future employees will likely be working in virtual teams that will be racially, ethnically and culturally diverse. Given these realities, I can’t find a better reason for considering athletic participation as a genuine and crucial aspect of the total educational process in preparing students for this new business paradigm. Given these examples, it’s hard to ignore or deny the numerous educational lessons and values that are inherent in the athletic process just for career preparation alone.
There are numerous traits, learned through athletics that will serve them well. Individual responsibility is inherent in the process, and so is civility. Players can’t just act out their frustrations when things aren’t going their way. They need to control themselves and behave within the rules of the game. Rules bring up another important value to be learned- fairness. Rules are made to make the games fair, and this should be understood. Sometimes there are grey areas, and rules can be exploited. This leads to another area of values-ethics. What they do may be legal under the rules, but is it ethical? Players need to know and can be taught the difference between what is legal and what is ethical in this forum unlike any hypothetical situation they may ever face in a classroom. Questionable personal habits/traits can also be addressed on the court or field which may escape the classroom teacher. Our approach here has always been- we want character not characters, and we address problem issues very early in the process. Unfortunately, we aren’t always successful there and usually for reasons beyond our control, but there’s an amazingly high correlation between problem athletes and future problem workers. At the least we can alert counselors to such problems that may not be so obvious to or reported by classroom teachers.
Coaches may not always do things better in the athletic arena than they are done in the classroom, but we do see a different side of the students in this venue, and that is important to understand. The valuable learning experiences that occur in the athletic arena cannot be dismissed as merely something outside of school. They are closely connected to the basic learning objectives that occur inside the regular curriculum and school day. When budget cuts are considered, spending on athletics quickly comes under scrutiny with criticism often outweighing support from the media and the public in many communities. The standard argument is usually that “schools should be about education and not athletics.” It’s time some cogent arguments are made and some influential voices are heard that athletics can and often do provide a very necessary component of the total educational process that may not be available elsewhere. If you’re doing a genuine cost/benefit analysis, you will find a very large return in demonstrated educational outcomes from the rather small portion of the total school budget spent on athletics.
Given the proper perspectives, athletics can provide a lifetime of learning as team sports played when we are younger merge into more social physical activities as we age. Along the way like-minded people learn to live and work together for more productive and satisfying lives.
This article was published with permission from the author, Mr. Duane Ford.