In sports, hard work is the answer

Being an athlete is a constant reminder that plain hard work is essential to learning and improving.

A Snohomish High School athlete, senior Emily Harrington, e-mailed this reminder: " … the necessity of year-round training … (is) the only way for us to stay competitive, to do the same (as other athletes)."

Emily is a trackster. As a child, she was also involved in and enjoyed soccer and basketball. She says, "To objectively evaluate the pros and cons of year-round sports, one must examine the individual desire and maturity of the child in question."

Yes, Emily, coaching and good teaching require plain hard work. Detailed organization, together with ways to allow for individual differences, motivate each learner and instill that competitive spirit. Yesterday’s lesson is an accumulation of today’s skills and achievement. Successful athletes challenge coaches to work even harder. Both coach and player practice skills.

Time management is a huge factor to athletes. And to coaches. Put in more time and skills improve. Put in too much or too little time, skills can peak, plateau and deteriorate. From mid-season on we hear: "They peaked too early." Or, "They always peak for the playoffs." Or, "We were flat (plateaued)."

It’s not putting the shot put or the time spent running the hurdles that will decide career success. It’s that which we learned and esteem about ourselves while we improved. The challenges are met or avoided. It’s the accumulation of experiences. The more experiences we have, the more we improve. Too many "same ol’ experiences" and we improve less.

Still, it’s an old educational fact that mastery is related directly to the time spent learning. So Emily is right, evaluating the pros and cons in relation to each individual child’s desire and maturity is certainly best. The question is, when is it too early to master a sport? Or maybe why is one sport being chosen over another? Or have enough differences been experienced to know who, when and why?

In learning theory, the impact of "taking away" is greater than the impact of extra time spent.

For example, the learning of a foreign language, measured in equal time, the "loss ratio" is greater than the "gain ratio."

Another one of those laws of learning states we cannot expect students to master geography if they haven’t been taught geography. Even in college, declaring a major (specializing) is usually delayed until at least the second year. And even topography majors and map-makers have to take some of that other stuff until graduate school. Same thing on a job.

So are all sports teaching the same skills? Probably the important ones like sportsmanship, dedication, effort, loyalty, teamwork, and respect. Those things are taught differently in different sports. And by different coaches.

Teachers know students can’t master academic skills that aren’t in the curriculum. Coaches know expectations are a fundamental of teaching and learning. We all seem to agree that what young athletes gain from participation is in direct proportion to the effort they are able to give.

The obvious reminders that kids and teams can work toward a limited number of goals at a given time should be accepted. The score of the last game doesn’t count in the next competition.

My guess is, Emily, you will face decisions for and with children in the not too distant future. The great experiences you are having today will influence the advice you will give in the future. You and I make 5,000 decisions each day and at least five of them will influence at least one life (ours or someone else’s).

A third grade teacher once made one of those five decisions. As a tall, skinny, big-eared child, I left the playground in tears over the jokes and remarks fellow third grade children said about my outstanding physical features. Miss Markim caught up to me, held my hand, squeezed it and said, "Keep your head up, they are no taller because they are trying to knock you down."

Until that moment I wasn’t good enough. Every child should be good enough for every sport they want to try. Sooner or later they will specialize. For most of us that comes later than middle school.

I suspect Emily is already a winner whether she has finished first or last. Beside that, she’s a Panther!

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