As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a habitual reader of Tim Elmore’s work, including his blog. His post titled “New App Poses a Big Question” discussed a new app that solves math equations by simply taking a picture of the problem with your smartphone. Dr. Elmore spends some time discussing the merits of such an app and compares this advancement to that of the calculator. Much like with the calculator, we could spend all day debating the merit of using technology to its fullest vs. teaching kids how to manually solve problems, but I want to focus on the last part of his post regarding character traits as life skills.
Elmore describes how the function and availability of the calculator has largely made memorizing basic math skills irrelevant (to some extent – we can discuss this some other time!). He theorizes that an app like this could largely make the calculator an irrelevant technology. Using that example, he poses the question about which skills are the important skills that should be taught to kids regardless of new technology that’s available or could potentially become available. To illustrate his point, he lists empathy, discipline, listening, and work ethic as timeless skills.
…and in that statement is the beauty of youth sports done correctly.
Pretty much everything about our daily lives has either improved, become easier, or both as a result of technology. Building on Elmore’s math example in education, we also have spell and grammar check on all devices, the need to memorize trivia (now trivial?) facts like state capitals and animal kingdom classifications has been replaced by knowing effective search engine techniques, and on and on. Many of those skills that were taught in school previously are no longer needed, or at least aren’t needed to that extent.
The skills taught by athletics, however, haven’t changed. Sure, most of the games have changed/evolved over time, but the original purpose of including athletics to high school programming is still intact. Extracurricular activities were added in order to help develop good citizenship and sportsmanship, promote healthy lifestyles, and teach positive relationship building. In a well run educational based athletics program, all of those attributes are still present.
Rather than listing a ton of examples, I’ll just use some examples from a baseball double header I recently worked.
Empathy? I watched two kids in the same inning strike out looking at the same curve ball. The first teammate to give a pat on the back to the second kid who struck out was the first kid who had just struck out.
Discipline? I watched an outfielder throw way over the head of his cut-off man in one inning in an attempt to throw out a kid trying to score, allowing other runners to advance another a base. The next time that outfielder had a single hit out to him, he scooped it up and fired it back to his cut-off.
Listening? From learning how to perform skills to taking signs from the coach to coordinating base coverage or fielding balls, baseball players are in a constant state of communication.
Work ethic? In between games, I watched one kid taking ground balls from his coach and another hitting off the tee while his coach made small swing corrections.
Respect? I watched a kid get pulled out of the game for throwing his bat after a strikeout.
Sportsmanship? I watched the kids from one team go out of their way to collect a home run ball to return to a kid on the other team as a souvenir. I also witnessed multiple occasions of kids from the opposite team congratulating their opponents on good hits, nice defensive plays, and excellent pitches.
And, of course, I could go on and on with other positive character traits. When character driven, educational based athletics are done the right way, our kids have an opportunity to learn all of those transferable skills. Of course, all of these skills can only be learned by those kids who take the time to go out for a sport (or two!).
Want kids to learn those life long skills? Find them a sport (or two, or three!) early in life, get them involved, and watch their progress. Many things about childhood will change in the next 10-20+ years, but athletics will still be a great place to learn how to be an adult.
As always, comment here or send me an email with your comments, thoughts, questions, etc.