On Intermural Sports At All Levels
Posted by L. Swilley
on the on the Teacher Chatboardhttp://www.teachers.net/chatboard
Every good teacher - coach and otherwise - should consider that he/she has a healthful effect on the student. The chief causes of this are the instructor's belief, obvious to the student, that the subject is eminently worthy of the student's dedication, and the instructor's intense concern, also apparent to the student, that the student perform as well as possible in his subject.
After those, the effectiveness of any instruction is dependent on the interests of the students. And it is here that good coaches usually have the signal advantage over the teachers of academic subjects, not only because they address a population that is young, and one for whom the physical dimensions of their lives are paramount, but because the success in that kind of performance the coaches offer is more immediate and more apparent to the student than his success in any other endeavor. The student-athlete can see - and physically feel - his improvement (or lack of it) in sports; on the other hand, the student of an academic subject must wait, sometimes for years, before his mind becomes practiced and confident in the articulation of the wisdom of the subject.
The consequences of such differences should make those responsible for the education of the young act to check radically the rush to sports, a frenzy everywhere evident, particularly in the middle and high-school students, and in their parents, and, notoriously and ridiculously apparent in small rural towns where the populace reacts to local high school sports as Holy Rollers to a tent meeting. Not to check such frenzy is the equivalent of releasing gasoline on an existing fire, while saving the needed water for further inundating the drowning.
We must ask ourselves whether there is some other proper educational-responsible response to youth's interest in sports, a response other than the present distortions in favor of sports that we see all about us in every school, distortions that, for the students and whether or not intended, relegate academics and matters of the mind (to which every school by the very nature of schooling must principally be dedicated) to a realm of virtual indifference. We must ask: what are the beneficial effects of a sports (or exercise) program at the school, and how can these be achieved without sacrificing attention to the more important academic program, and without absorbing the extraordinary amount of time and enormous amounts of the budget that now distract so seriously from intellectual pursuits?
And what are those benefits? They are: healthful exercise, learning the complications of game, teamwork, fair-play and, above all, courage. How might these benefits and virtues be pursued and instilled in a program of physical activity other than the present intermural sports that steal so very much from the more important aspects of school?
More than a hundred years ago, schools in England found an answer: INTRA-mural sports. Teams were formed with students from upper and lower classes, each team formed with students fairly selected from the several age groups; there were regular games played within the walls of the school. On a special day each semester, the best of these were selected to play a neighboring school team. The teachers acted as coaches - a very healthy situation now lost to the supposed need for coaching expertise - which had the effect of unifying the physical with the intellectual pursuits. And, of course, the monetary expense was very small indeed.
(I pause here to report that, at my own school, we tried this one year with a Sports Day program. The prinicpal was pleasantly amazed, the students delighted. But, unfortunately, the need for money from sports-interested alumni provided it but a short shrift.)
But if not this, something, something is certainly needed to shake schools awake to their chief duty - which is the pursuit of intellectual excellence before and beyond the physical. Under the present dispensation, under the present extraordinary attention given to intermural sports, teachers of academic subjects are given yet another impossible hurdle to leap, while students in sports are given the strong but false impression that their future depends not on the growing mind but on the decaying body.
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