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Michele’s Musings – Reflections of a Christian Homeschooler – The Educational Merit of Sports: Recognizing the Value of Competitive Team Sports
by Michele Hastings
 
My name is Michele and I'm the mother of two young sports addicts, Asher and Tymon. Can't you just imagine me, hanging my head in shame, while making this confession at the front of a smoke-filled room? I say this jokingly, but who hasn't chuckled when they've heard the old cliché about gym class being a child's favorite subject at school? I have no idea how this phenomenon transpired in our family, as neither my husband nor myself are into sports.

Early in our homeschooling journey we heard warnings about how team sports can take over your lives, disrupting family meal times and church attendance. As the boys began to grow and develop their own personalities and interests, we were relieved that neither child seemed to care much about team sports. We watched other families who ran from one sports event to another, with pity, as the parents tended to appear frazzled and worn out.

So this addiction to competitive team sports seemed to gradually sneak up on us. About two years ago the boys both expressed an interest in learning about football. They'd attended a local CFL game with their Grandpa and were puzzled by the rules and formations that unfolded before them. Thus began a self-directed crash course on football. They read library books, got a subscription to Sports Illustrated for Kids, discovered sports web sites like NFL.com and SIKIDS.com, began a sports card collection, participated in a Learn To Play Touch Football class, bought and played computer and Sega Dreamcast games, and watched football whenever possible. The next step was joining a touch football league and this year they begged to play tackle.

Their father and I hummed and hawed, concerned about the heavy commitment this request involved. After finally consenting, five or six days a week were spent carting the boys to and from a practice or game and enduring extremes of temperature and hordes of mosquitoes. Although we'd not planned on staying to watch their practices initially, Asher's broken arm changed all that. The poor kid put out his arm to break a fall during a tackling drill and his arm broke instead! This happened during the second last practice before the first game! Still Asher made it to every practice and game, along with his older brother Tymon. The coaches mercifully helped to soothe his broken heart by involving him in the coaching staff.

At first, my reason for attending the rest of the practices was solely to be there in case any more accidents befell our kids, but soon I found myself enjoying watching them and visiting with the other parents. I even booked off of work early at times to attend a couple of their games! I admit that we had to skip out of our weekly church home group for awhile, but seeing that the season was only two months long, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Once football season ended, basketball took its place. The duration of this sport is much longer, seeing us through the fall, winter and into spring, but the schedule is much less intense with only one practice and one game per week.

I have to admit that sports weren't part of my vision for our family life. When the boys were younger they took swimming lessons and did gymnastics along with the other homeschoolers in our local support group. But these athletic pursuits seem to be considered more educational in nature. Some parents even consider swimming to be a necessary life skill rather than a sport. But I had to endure the shame of my kids quitting both of these acceptable activities and replacing them with the dreaded competitive team sports. Much of society is obsessed with sports and it's made apparent by the jam-packed schedules so many families endure from week to week and season to season. But we were determined as parents to not let anything take over our family life and although we do try to keep a balance and only allow the boys to participate in one activity per season, sports have definitely captured our children's hearts.

So, being a homeschool Mom, I tend to search for the educational value of all of our day-to-day activities. We take a fairly non-traditional approach to home-based education. Our boys have a lot of time to pursue their interests. In doing so, we've found that much learning is accomplished and many subject areas are delved into. I've already mentioned the routes our children took to teach themselves about football, but now I want to share some other learning opportunities we've had through their passion for sports.

We've seen our boys work hard and endure rigorous discipline while playing football. They were taught that it takes an entire team to score a touchdown and players were dealt with for thinking it was solely due to their efforts alone. When bad attitudes or laziness surfaced, the coaches didn't slack off but worked them harder, making them run hills. If kids were late for practice they had to run the required route three to five times. If they were struggling with an aspect of the game, they did it over and over until they got it right. There was no swearing allowed and no talking while the coach was talking. There was no lipping off either. This team, which was made up of mostly inexperienced players, went from the bottom of the division to C-Champions. It was a real underdog story leaving many people amazed with the progress this young team made.

One season of Tackle Football taught our boys about perseverance, endurance, self-discipline, time management, organization, respect, co-operation, teamwork, the importance of a good attitude, courage and humility. Both of our kids improved in these areas even though one had to miss the entire season of games due to his injury. In fact we were extremely blessed by Asher's maturity in the way he responded to his misfortune. They grew up a lot this summer and because of that, we're finding them to be responsible and capable enough to start staying home alone for short periods of time this fall. I've even seen more perseverance in their schoolwork . . . sticking to a new concept until they have it beat.

Concerning basketball, I think I'm the one getting the education. I'm discovering differences in coaching styles and I'm recognizing my own pitfalls in parenting in the process. Although their football coaches were strict and demanding, they were also encouraging and optimistic. Some were even downright playful! There was a lot of good-natured banter going on amongst the team and the coaching staff and spirits were high despite the fact that they lost all of their games up until the finals. Their basketball coach however, tends to demonstrate a more heavy-handed approach. He is very serious and works the kids hard. This in itself is fine except for one thing: He seems to find himself so frustrated by the kids' lack of skills and quirky personalities that he gets mad and yells at them. The boys can't ask questions but are expected to just do what he says no questions asked. He's dealing with mostly first year players, but seems to expect more from them than what they are capable of delivering.

Not to judge him too harshly, I admit that I have much the same disposition as he does. I'm quite serious and intense and I could definitely learn to lighten up a bit. I'm not very patient and I'm easily annoyed. So, recognizing myself in this coach has been an education in itself. I see how an authoritarian style of leadership may command respect, but it also instills fear and prohibits performance. I don't believe that people flourish under such harsh conditions. I now see how my own heavy handedness at times may be robbing me of the results I'm actually trying to achieve. How often, out of frustration do I yell at my kids? How often do I not look at how far they've come but where I think they should be? How often do I intimidate my kids to get their attention? Too often I'm afraid.

As a parent, I pray for a softening of this coach's approach and a softening of my own, as well. Even though we sit down to only a short, table time each day, sometimes my attitude resembles that of an army sergeant rather than a facilitator. I believe that the kids would be a lot more receptive if we both used encouragement instead of fear of punishment as a motivator.

So I've realized that sports can be considered educational and be a valuable asset in our children's lives. I don't have to be ashamed of the fact that our boys' favorite subject isn't Language Arts or Science -- but Gym. I can stand on a platform with my head held high and proclaim that my name is Michele, and I'm the mother of two, wonderful, energetic, enthusiastic, determined sports nuts. And I love it!

Michele and her husband, Ted, are the homeschooling parents of two bright and creative boys, ages 10 and 11. They live in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and have been leading a lifestyle of learning since the children were born. Ted is a Developmental Assistant in a school and Michele works part-time as a hairstylist. She loves to read and write in her spare time.