One of the Best Investments We Could Make!

One of the biggest mistakes we made in this country was when we cut school sports programs – especially elementary school sports programs. When I was in elementary school, starting in fourth grade, we had after-school team sports – baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer. Now-a-days kids don’t know how to play games – and I don’t mean just the rules – I mean they don’t know how to win, lose, pick teams, use game strategies – nothing. Try to get a game of kickball going at the last 3 schools where I’ve taught with sixth graders? Forget it. Maybe 5 kids know basically how to play out of 30.

I read a book about the greatest pitchers in baseball with a reading group last year. Not one of the 8 students in the group had heard of even one of the pitchers – Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, – that was bad enough (but certainly not the end of the world), but the students could not relate AT ALL to the stories because they didn’t have any idea how hard it is to strike out 10 or 15 batters in a game – or pitch a game where no-one gets a hit – or a perfect game or even how to play baseball. So the stories were drudgery for them to read – totally boring. Now certainly you can get through life successfully without knowing how to play baseball or know its history (I guess) – but how much harder is it to get excited about reading if you have no sports experience of any kind?

If all you ever played was volleyball – you still get a sense of winning or losing a close game – or just the fun of playing, getting sweaty and tired – so tired you can hardly stand-up but you keep going. You have a feel for what a good play looks like and feels like – so you have a tendency to recognize them in other sports.

When I played sports in elementary school it worked something like this. After school I didn’t rush home so I could speed through my homework, toss down dinner, have a parent drive me across town to practice – then come back and get me later – putting more cars on the road, pollution in the air, more chances of being in an accident. Instead I … stayed after school. The coach (usually a teacher getting paid a small stipend) met us and ran practice until 4:30 or so. Those that didn’t have their homework done that day in class – stayed in class and got it done before they could practice – and if it happened twice they couldn’t play in the game that week – still had to practice though. Kids that had a hard time getting homework done … suddenly didn’t. We have a soccer program for a few kids at my school – and almost every kid that is on the team does better in school during the season.

Elementary schools tend to be located in the neighborhood – most kids can walk home after practice, or it’s a quick ride home later in the day when parents are more likely to be home from work. You get home before 5:00 – in time for dinner, homework, and family time. No rushing around. We use facilities that are already there but aren’t being used after school. Kids have something in common with other kids in their neighborhood. Of course kids don’t need the exercise … they’re already in great shape … right?

All that and research shows that students that are involved in sports or other extra-curricular programs (art, dancing, scouting, music, etc.) do better in school – Is that something we should promote? The best investment this country could make would be to provide extra-curricular activities for ALL elementary school children – and get more use out of facilities that are already there and waiting.

Playing and doing are messy learning!

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4 thoughts on “One of the Best Investments We Could Make!

  1. Yes, extracurricular programs have been found to be beneficial.
    Benefits Associated with Participation in School Sports and Other Extracurricular Activities in Adolescence.

    An unresearched assertion is that multiplayer computer games could have the same sort of benefits on social functioning as team sports. Arguably a MMORPG such as World of Warcraft would be better than sport because higher levels of social functioning are required

  2. While I am not a big sports fan, I agree with you completely in this post. We wonder why kids seem to be getting fatter and more socially isolated – well, duh.

    I’ve always argued as well that high school sports more than pay for themselves with the number of kids (and state funding) they KEEP in school.

    Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind says that “play” will be one of the right brain senses critical to success in a global economy too. How are schools addressing these skils?

    I am enjoying your blog. Thanks!


  3. Thanks Doug and “Learning is Messy”
    About a year ago, I wrote on my website a justification for computer games programming in schools. My justifications were affective, metacognitive benefits and a list of transferrable cognitive skills which ends with “New unidentified skills for a digital age”

    Thanks to Doug’s “Conceptual Age Skills” and Clark Aldrich’s “Big Skills”
    for putting some form to these new unidentified skills.