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Has Interscholastic Sports Participation Abandoned Its Fundamental Purpose?

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By Dr. Matthew Williams |

The fundamental purpose of interscholastic sports is to teach achievement to adolescent boys and girls outside the classroom. Educators believed that using interscholastic sports as an educational tool would be an effective way to develop adolescent boys and girls into successful students. It was thought that combining interscholastic sports with education would be a winning combination.

An underlying purpose in interscholastic sports was that through participation, adolescent boys and girls would also learn character, healthy lifestyle, social responsibility, and commitment; it was hoped that these traits would provide them with a life-long tool for personal success. There also existed a strong and immediate component to their student development, a behavioral responsibility. Participation in interscholastic sports has always used a “dangling carrot” method as a means to keep adolescent boys and girls on track in the classroom and to be socially appropriate students in the school. It was a simple, but effective, lesson: you must stay out of trouble and pass all your classes in order to be eligible to participate in interscholastic sports.

It was incumbent on the school administrators and coaches to be the educators of the character and social lessons and to enforce the basic requirements for participation in interscholastic sports. Unfortunately, these same parties that were responsible for the supervision of the participants, and more importantly providing the instruction on character and social behavior, have been remiss in their duties.

   Recently we have witnessed an abdication by the coaches in stressing character and appropriate social behavior in interscholastic sports. In the last few years there has been a significant increase in violence and degrading language towards the opposing teams, and more alarmingly, a systematic hazing of their teammates. Also, there has occurred an escalation with coaches getting involved in more violent and extreme altercations and the use of degrading language toward the opposing teams’ coaches and game officials.

    These types of actions have severe legal ramification matters for the students and coaches. Society does not allow this type of behavior on or off the athletic playing field. These episodes of troubling social action by the coaches or student-athletes will launch a review of not only the particular events, but also the interscholastic sports program.

   It is essential, now more than ever, that the coaches recommit to the primary purpose of the interscholastic sports, as an educational tool… first. We still need the coaches and players to be competitive on the playing field, but it is imperative that the coaches return to the foundations of interscholastic sports; as an instrument to develop character, social responsibility, commitment and preparedness for life’s experiences.

Dr. Matthew Williams is an Associate Professor of Sports Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and is an avid NASCAR fan.

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