The power of sports: two lessons

A few years ago my son’s basketball team won the Swiss national championship. There was much celebration, social media posts, pride and joy. How much does victory teach us though?

The next season was a different affair: the team got to the semi-finals and the match was a palpitating affair, hanging on a knife edge with one point in it. It came right down to the wire as the expression goes, literally the last fraction of a second as the final buzzer went off, my son, who is a point guard (so his job is to take the 3-point shots) received the ball. His team was two points behind, and as he released the three pointer and the ball soared through the air, time seemed to stand still. I remember watching the mighty parabola carve out space as the ball spun high up and then hurtled towards the hoop, only to bounce off both sides of the rim and then down to the ground. The shot was missed, the match was lost.

Lesson 1: camaraderie

My son was in tears and so were his team mates, but they quickly huddled around and owned the defeat together. Later, as we made our way back from the match, they laughed about it and commiserated with one another. That was the first lesson: camaraderie. I’m not sure which academic subjects or formal assessment protocols teach this, but team sports does, and the deep lesson of solidarity, support, followership and leadership, empathy and friendship that is brought about is extremely powerful and much needed in a world where we must come together to face the planet’s problems.

Lesson 2: learning from the past 

After mourning the loss – and it did take some time, my son picked himself up and drew conclusions from the loss. He had to work on his shot more and so he went outside to the village basketball hoop and practised every day over the holidays. This ability to pick yourself up, to show resilience in the face of challenge, to learn from an event and turn whatever disappointment there may have been into a lesson, is another powerful lesson that  sports can teach you. That comes down to coaching, the moral messages that sports coaches give their students, the emphasis on the long game, on looking past temporary failures to the ultimate objective  – ideating an objective till it becomes a reality.

Coaches: the unsung heroes of education

Both of my children are top performing athletes. It is less the physical prowess that is important in what they have developed than the competences. So much of this comes down to the wonderful sports coaching they received at school, something for which I am forever grateful. To this day, years later, they still speak about their coaches.  Sports teaches you important values: self discipline, self knowledge, collaboration, stress management. But this does not happen by itself, it is communicated by coaches who show a dogged commitment and investment that is heroic. The idea that physical education is seen as less important than traditional academic subjects is not only wrong, it is ridiculous in a world where it’s increasingly clear how important all the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that sports give you are for human flourishing. 

With reforms to transcripts , like the Ecolint Learner Passport and the work done by the Coalition to Honour all Learning, we must continue to broaden assessment and to recognise athletic disciplines for their extraordinary life-worthiness. And next time you walk past the physical education department or your school or university’s sports coaches, thank them for the profound gift they give to their students.

One thought on “The power of sports: two lessons”

  1. Sport gave me self-confidence, and aided my personal development, not only physically, but emotionally, socially and culturally. It inspired me to want to do better and be better. To be the change that I wanted to see, to change and the narrative of my destiny. It gave me hope that my impoverished circumstances didn’t define me. Sport has given me the power to inspire

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