Why we have sports in schools | Ott Observation

gh school girls volleyball coach. The lawsuit claims the coach subjected the team to demoralizing and degrading activities. 

I’m not unfamiliar with the behaviors and practices of volleyball coaches, having supported my step-daughter through club, high school and college volleyball.

The claims of the player in this suit made me take a step back and think about why we have sports in schools. I don’t think I fully appreciated the educational value of sports until my step-daughter entered the job market.  

Hiring managers see a lot of skills and valuable attributes that aren’t otherwise obvious. Playing for a team teaches kids how to prioritize a team’s goals over their own. Learning a sport teaches self-discipline, dedicating yourself to work on getting better at something.  

Sports teach you how to compete within a values framework of rules. You also learn how to recover from failure. Sports requires performance under pressure, fire-tempering young people to stand up to adversity in any aspect of their lives. 

Sports also provide lessons in leadership, personally experiencing what effective leadership is … and isn’t.

Very few of these life skills and personal growth experiences can come from a classroom. Recognizing this, it’s no wonder schools have sports teams and many parents want their children to play a sport.  

Correspondingly, it is clear the primary job of a school sports coach is to be a teacher. Yet, how many schools and parents put a coach’s win-loss record ahead of what kind of teaching performance they provide?

Even worse, some attribute a coach’s demoralizing and degrading actions as a necessary method to achieve team success. Because they win a lot, we let them treat our children in a manner we would find totally unacceptable in a classroom.

I’m reminded of legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes punching players. Or Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight choking players. 

I’m also reminded of John Wooden of UCLA being the most successful college basketball coach of all time while always demonstrating and expecting the highest standards of human behavior … all toward teaching players how to be men.

It’s hard for me to see how making girls flop on the floor and bark like seals teaches teamwork lessons. It’s hard for me to see how making girls kick themselves and bray like jackasses teaches them self-discipline lessons. And it pains me to think that the leadership lesson is that someone in power can humiliate others.

If it’s OK for coaches to belittle and humiliate our children toward getting them to grow and perform, then why not adopt the same tactics as parents?  After all, parents and coaches are trying to do the same thing, teaching children how to be better equipped to be successful in their adult lives.  

I actually had a related personal epiphany about parenting. 

I became a stepfather and learned right away how arrogant, disrespectful and hard-to-instruct teenagers can be. Then I started thinking about when I had ever responded positively to being yelled at. And the answer was never. 

I wanted my children to listen to me and that wasn’t going to happen based on fear of punishments. I was going to have to earn it through approach, tone, courageous conversations, sensible words and ongoing forgiveness. From that day of realization on, I think I became a better parent.

We should expect nothing less from any teacher of our children, even their sports coaches. Yes, we expect you to get the maximum performance from a sports team. But we also expect you to be a teacher and exemplify adult behavior to the highest standard.  

If you can’t do both, find a different job.      

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Bill Ott

HTC web