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High-school experience enriched by sports
Seattle Times staff reporter
Q: What do you consider to be the benefits of playing a high-school sport?
A: Pull up a chair. This is a pet subject and I'm full of free wisdom.
Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology each have more than 40 varsity teams, which means these two elite colleges obviously think there is value in athletics. I think sports are even more important for high-school kids, whose self-images and confidence constantly are under construction.
At this moment, some parent who has read the preceding paragraph is sarcastically saying, "Wonderful, I'm sure my kid who is too uncoordinated to tie his shoes can be point guard at Garfield next year." Hey, let me just remind you that every school offers "no cut" sports such as track, cross-country, wrestling and, at most schools where it is offered, swimming. Athletic opportunities are out there for everyone, not just the physically gifted or the children of soccer parents who pay $6,000 a year so Suzy can play on a select team.
One of the primary things interscholastic sports do is connect a kid to his or her school. This can be especially good for kids who aren't good students and thus may not enjoy academics, or have trouble making friends. It also is good for any kid to be part of something bigger than himself or herself.
Sports offer benefits in learning to deal with teammates and that authority figure called the coach. Both skills can be useful later in the land of bosses and paychecks.
Playing fields are one of the few places where kids from broken homes are held accountable. For a lot of those kids, the coach is the only authority figure who must be obeyed.
Sports teach time management, discipline, sportsmanship and goal-setting. Also, studies have shown that students involved in sports are less likely to commit crimes, use drugs or become teen parents.
John Schindele, retired football coach at Bellevue, Sammamish and Interlake high schools, once told me, "Sports is the only place other than music and debate where students have perfection as the goal. The rest of the time their goal is getting by."
It's a truism, but sports teach kids a lot about winning and losing. Most parents go out of their way to make sure their kids don't experience failure, but sports is about as safe a place as there is to fail. You just hope the lesson learned is how to bounce back.
Often, I have seen more parental involvement in kids' lives who play sports. The parents enjoy going to games and kids like having them there. Of course, there are Sports Parents from Hell, but I've found 90 percent of sports parents to be the kind of people I enjoy being around.
Studies have shown that kids who played sports have more pride in their communities and stronger social bonds with people and institutions. They also tend to express greater satisfaction with their overall high-school experience.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I obviously consider sports to be part of a good education. Like any human endeavor, though, including religion and government, there are pitfalls.
To me, where high-school sports most go astray are where kids fall into a "jock culture" where being tough and cool become priorities instead of being good people and good students. We all know high-school football players whose heads got bigger than their helmets. Thanks to coaches with strong personalities and sharp tongues, there aren't more of them.
Q: Does it bother you that when the WIAA stripped Chief Sealth of its 2005 and 2006 Class 3A girls basketball titles this summer for illegal recruiting, it decided not to award the championships to runner-ups River Ridge of Lacey and Issaquah?
A: No. I like the decision. The titles would have had an artificial flavor.
Have a question about high-school sports? Craig Smith will find the answer every Tuesday in The Times. Ask your question in one of the following ways: Voice mail (206-464-8279), snail mail (Craig Smith, Seattle Times Sports, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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