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The Value of Sport Doesn’t Stop With the Whistle

The Value of Sport Doesn’t Stop With the Whistle
Mike White, Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness

One of the many reasons that I love athletics, especially as an educator, is the ability that sport and competition have to highlight the larger lessons that can be learned from both positive and negative outcomes, and the heightened social interactions that come with this type of shared experience. Sport is the sandbox where our students get to showcase their talents, toughness, grit, vulnerability, and resilience, side by side with their teammates and opponents. It provides a tangible experience that allows for the great joy of success and the humility that comes with defeat, all while reminding us that there is always another opportunity to come.

As a teacher, I would always try to find ways to encourage positive failure: the experience of getting something wrong and knowing that it was ok, as failure is ultimately what leads to growth. As a coach, I hope those failures come in the safe confines of practice when the lights don’t shine quite so brightly and players are surrounded by encouraging words of teammates and not the roar of a crowd. While in reality, I know that those moments will also come at times of competition, and the true value of sport is in those succeeding moments and how our athletes respond to them. It is these moments that make sport so compelling to watch, and even more rewarding to participate in.  

Students, coaches, and families alike love sports, and it can be easy to get caught up in a game and become focused on winning. Winning feels good, it brings us joy, it bonds us together. Winning when faced with greater challenge only serves to heighten this. That challenge comes from the possibility of failure and the ability to come together and confidently know that we can all accomplish difficult things when we believe in ourselves and our team. For me, the goal is always to highlight the challenge and our ability to overcome it.  

In recent seasons, for the team that I coach, I have adopted the mantra of “Better Every Day.” Partly because I felt like using “Believe” as a team mantra would be infringing on Ted Lasso, and even more so because that is really what repetitive activities like sport all boil down to; striving for improvement.

I like to measure the success of a season by the arc of growth of the individuals as well as our efforts collectively. That growth may come from getting your first serve over the net, or it may come from taking the confidence you carried from a recent victory into a science test, or from finding the strength to lift a teammate, or opponent, when they are down. Getting better as athletes runs parallel with getting better as students and adolescents and young adults.  

In this way, I truly believe that our fields and courts are our classrooms and that the value of the lessons learned in those spaces extends far beyond the boundary lines or the final whistle.