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Sports: Going for the Win in Life
Linda Mah
/ Categories: Communications

Sports: Going for the Win in Life

Sports Provide Opportunities for Students and the Schools

Some people think that playing high school sports is all about learning how to win, but I think there are many more important lessons to be learned.

In my own high school sports career, I remember signing up for football, because it seemed like football players got the girls. But, I can remember that cold, rainy night, when sitting on the bench with a cast on my leg due to an injury that resulted in knee surgery, I happened to look up into the stands to see other guys — non-football players — who were nicely dressed and talking to those girls that I’d been hoping to impress.

There is a perfect example of a life lesson delivered courtesy of sports.

But outside of my own high school experiences of playing football and wrestling, I’ve also watched sports as a father and grandfather. There was tremendous pride in watching my sons wrestle and of now seeing my grandson compete on the soccer field and wrestling mat. And, win or lose, I know they had and are having enriching experiences that affect them as much as some of their classroom lessons.

An NPR story from 2015 discussed a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, in which 76 percent of adults who have children in high school or middle school said they encourage their children to play sports. Those parents said playing sports wasn’t not just an important physical and social activity, but that it could help children build valuable life skills such as leadership and fellowship.

Parents in the poll said they thought sports helped teach their children discipline, dedication, and cooperation.

Michigan State University researcher Andy Driska, who was with the MSU Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, said parents were right in their belief that sports can help their children learn to develop physical confidence and the value of making a commitment to an activity. Students can also develop a sense of hopefulness from learning how to address problems and become creative problem solvers.

The National Federation of State High School Associations, an organization for high school sports and activities, cites its own benefits for extracurricular involvement, including playing high school sports in its study the Case for High School Activities. Among the benefits listed: better educational outcomes for students who are involved in extracurricular activities, enhanced school engagement and a sense of belonging, positive youth development, healthier lifestyle choices, better citizenship, and positive post-high school outcomes.

I highlight sports, because sometimes sports are viewed as lacking the enrichment value of some other extracurriculars, as though running, throwing, finetuning foot skills, or working on the perfect jumpshot somehow detract from a student’s ability to do well in school.

But, the NFSHSA website cites a study of nearly 140,000 Kansas high school students, examining data from the Kansas High School Athletic Association and the Kansas State Department of Education, revealed that “athletes earned higher grades, graduated at a higher rate, dropped out of school less frequently, and scored higher on state assessments than did non-athletes.” Not only did playing sports help improve graduation rates, but it also helped raise grade point averages.

But just as sports are not only about winning, neither are they only about improving test scores and grades. Sports help provide students with a way to connect to their school community and to develop a sense of belonging, according to the NFSHSA website.

KPS Board of Education President Patti Sholler-Barber spoke to this point in the summer, when Kalamazoo Central High School Alumni and former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter announced a $3.2 million gift to renovate the baseball and softball fields at the school.

Sholler-Barber said sports are important not just to the great athletes in our schools — but they can impact any student who is looking for a way to connect and to find an area where they might succeed if the classroom work is challenging. Every student deserves to have an opportunity to claim a special space within their school life. That space may be on stage in choir, building robots in the STEM club, making people laugh through improv, or arguing legal matters in mock trial.

And, for some of our students, that means finding enjoyment, fellowship, drive, focus — and may be success — in the area of sports.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch our student athletes in action, I encourage you to do so this winter, when students are participating in everything from hockey to basketball, and swimming to competitive cheer and wrestling.

While you’re there you might see our students win — you’ll definitely see them learn.

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