“It’s the quintessential team game. So it teaches you, at a certain point, to get outside yourself and be a part of something bigger,” reflected President Obama to CBS basketball analyst Clark Kellogg during Final Four coverage last Saturday.
The president, who surprisingly beat Kellogg in a shooting contest aptly named P-O-T-U-S, (President of the United States) has in the past credited basketball as a formative part of his competitive character. On this occasion he connected basketball to life lessons of teamwork, self-sacrifice, and determination to achieve collective goals. In the conversation’s context it seemed clear the president’s message concerned the importance of sport to teach life lessons. By no means is it new for a prominent public figure to credit sports with major contributions to later success.
For 35 years I listened to stories of a lone coach who inspired my grandfather and his brothers to set high personal standards, show determination in the face of adversity, and achieve difficult goals. During the 1930s many graduates of Kerman High School (CA) felt as though leadership was taught so well they attributed their post-war success to “Coach”. The class’s lone survivor, my grandfather, still feels as though he must keep Coach Johnson’s lessons alive.
Knute Rockne, John Wooden, Pat Summitt and thousands of unknown coaches, teachers, and advisors shaped the confidence and competence of Americans for the last 100 years. So why do the lessons only serve a select few in the narrow realm of sports? Why should athletes like my great uncles or President Obama, be the beneficiaries of these formative experiences?
Since athletes often have fame enough to have their stories told, we know the results. Drama teachers, debate coaches, choir directors, and countless others impart powerful lessons to young students. They emphasize skills that strengthen character and empower future risk-takers. These gifted educators use a different vocabulary and develop singular conversations that reach students in their greatest moments of need. These students care deeply about their development and success in these activities. In that moment they are ready to hear and understand life lessons on the deepest level. So it should surprise no one that the most transformative president since Reagan can articulate exactly where self-sacrifice was powerfully learned.
Why do we relegate the lessons to the narrow world of sports? If the lessons are powerful enough for leaders of our nation and its families, then should we not expose our young students in as many endeavors as we can? In an atmosphere of high accountability and focused instructional strategies, doesn’t it seem fitting to incorporate new teaching techniques to speak to our children in a language and context they individually choose? Isn’t there tremendous opportunity in this moment in our republic’s educational history?
These are not meant to be rhetorical questions. Our schools teach thousands of lessons to each student from K to 12 and only a fraction speak directly to students’ hopes, fears, and goals as they near graduation. We know they will listen when the time, place, and message is right. So then, we must question why these moments are not strategically created. We must question why these lessons are only for the privileged few, and to often learned by chance or by the innovative design of a lone educator who believes life lessons are best taught when students feel most alive – in moment when they know they’re part of something bigger. – Todd Lile
Filed under: Attributes, Dreams, Edge-Ucation, Education, High School, Learning, Reform, School, Sports, Teens | Tagged: Basketball, Clark Kellogg, Coaches, Edge-Ucation, Education, Life lessons, Obama | Leave a Comment »