For years, sports have been associated with numerous positive benefits for kids. Studies have shown that athletics can improve grades, build confidence, engrain a work ethic and help kids develop social skills.
A few years ago when school budgets across the state took major hits sports came under the magnifying glass. The majority of them maintained school funding because of their ability to add value to kids’ lives and overall development. On top of that, community members, whose own lives had been shaped by their youth sport experiences, developed booster clubs to ensure athletics continued to survive and thrive.
Yet, there seems to be a growing concern that sports are trending away from the principles that make them so valuable to the school system.
We sat down with South St. Paul High School boys hockey head coach Scott Macho to take a closer look at a few potential warning signs. As a parent of young kids and the Mentor Program Coordinator for Rosemount High School, Macho has a unique perspective on the issue.
The Same Team
Macho, who grew up playing hockey in New Ulm, knows what role hockey plays in the lives of many families in Minnesota and cares deeply about continuing that tradition. However, he wastes no time indicating that we are at a point where parents, coaches and educators need to work together to re-evaluate how we are preparing the next generation.
“I value education very strongly because I am an educator,” said Macho. “There’s some coaches in youth sports that don’t place the value on education that it should be. If a kid has to go to some after school activity for reading or choir practice, people get mad because they’re missing practice. Those things add value to kids’ lives.”
Unfortunately, many of those other activities are getting squeezed out as youth sports have increased in intensity and time commitment.
“What is going to be more important for this kid five or ten years from now,” said Macho. “Is missing a one hour practice going to impact the long term results of the team? Or will that other event bring more value to the kid in the long run? There has to be a balance, and we’re leaning in the wrong direction.”
For parents and coaches alike, the end goal needs to be developing the best all around person. Sports like hockey can and should play a key role in that, but participation shouldn’t consistently come at the expense of other extra-curricular activities, performance at school or family time.
Our Biggest Obstacles
When asked what he views as the biggest challenges we face in re-establishing a healthy culture for student-athletes, Macho points to two areas. We need to put the focus on process instead of results and quality work rather than quantity. Why does he point to those areas? His students give him perfect examples:
“The start of every trimester I like to ask how the kids think they would do on their previous final. The one they took just a week ago. 95% say they would bomb it. They would fail it. The only thing they’re doing is cramming for those final exams. It’s not about what they’re learning. It’s about the grade.”
Sadly, we don’t see the real impact of this approach until the kids reach college or even after that. One of Macho’s main roles is interacting with a variety of professionals in the working world, and they repeatedly tell him, “good grades are great, but these kids’ social and processing skills are really lacking”.
You don’t have to look far to find examples of this result-oriented view in the world of sports either. The American Development Model has initiated several principles to counteract that view, but it’s still prevalent in many areas.
When it comes to kids being overextended, Macho only has to look at his own kids to see the toll the cumulative effect homework, sports and other activities have on them throughout the year. Many times homework is what takes the biggest hit because it isn’t as fun as playing hockey or another activity.
“Each teacher tacks on homework of their own every single day,” said Macho. “That’s a lot of information for kids to process and go through. How are they getting it all done at a quality level on top of extra-curricular activities?”
Finding that healthy balance isn’t easy but it’s a critical part of parenting today. It’s human nature to constantly engage in pursuits we enjoy or will help us reach our goals. Like many of us are reminded each year at the State Fair though, too much of a good thing often produces the opposite result.
Training Kids to Learn
Another obstacle for parents is helping kids realize the importance of education because not all learning can occur during school.
“School only has your child for a very short amount of time,” said Macho. “Each teacher only has your kid for 50 minutes out of the day. There has to be something that’s done outside of those 50 minutes per day. As a parent, let your kid know that there’s value in reading and show it by reading yourself.”
While most kids have homework to do in the evening, that shouldn’t be the only example of reinforcing education. If parents can help kids discover that learning or reading can be fun just like getting better at stick handling or shooting is fun, then their child is more likely to pursue those activities on their own.
“Allow kids to explore the areas that they have a passion for,” said Macho. “As kids go through the [school] system, we have so many required courses that kids have to complete. We really limit the options our kids have to explore areas they have passion for.”
For instance, encouraging kids to read books that relate to their other interests can be effective. One hockey related book that was recently profiled by the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois is Breakaway by Michael Betcherman. Books such as Breakaway provide many benefits for kids because on top of increasing their interest in reading the books they help reinforce critical lessons such as sportsmanship, teamwork and working to achieve goals.
As the school year and hockey season start up over the next few weeks, it’s important that we work together to create an environment that encourages success in all of these areas.