As the first academic quarter of school ends and the Winter Sports Season begins I find myself having conversations with students and parents on the topic of their academic performance, participation in athletics, and whether or not the two can have a “peaceful coexistence” in their household.  You may relate that phrase to philosophies of foreign relations and diplomacy, as several speeches mentioned the need for countries to have “peaceful coexistence”.  However, this is not far from the situation at many schools. Activities or athletics and Academics often are at odds and might as well be opposing “nations” with different governing bodies – that often clash.

When they do clash, educators might be best served to remember the old Principles of Peaceful Coexistence

  1. Mutual respect
  2. Mutual non-aggression,
  3. Mutual non-interference in each others' internal affairs,
  4. Equality and mutual benefit

While in many schools the student is often a first-generation college student, in our situation we are often dealing with “first-generation sports-parents”. I’m not confident that all parents or educators approach academics and athletics with mutual respect, lack of aggression towards the other, with minimal interference, or with an understanding of equality and mutual benefit. The same might be said for educators and administrators at different schools.

When having these discussions with those who have no first-hand experience of how the two go hand-in-hand, the benefits are often lost. The term used by many for participation in, not only sports but student government, drama, debate, cheerleading, dance, band, choir, and the like - is “Extra-Curricular”.

“Extra-Curricular” implies that it is something additional, but not necessary to a student’s development.  While neither extra-credit, extra-strength, extra-sensory, or extra-ordinary are mandatory they are still all, at least, viewed as “better”. That is not always the case with extra-curricular activities. Some view it as a hindrance to academic achievement, rather than something that makes it better. Nearly a year ago  I made the challenge here to "Dare To Be Your Best" and it is worth reading again. It can, and will make it better.

I recently made a visit to Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, Ca to conduct a number of focus group discussions, with administrators, coaches, athletes, and parents as a consultant while they engaged in a self-study of their athletic department.

Pacific Ridge School is a unique environment in Southern California, from classroom management style to the manner in which they choose to conduct athletic business. It is clear the leaders at Pacific Ridge aspire to provide the best educational and athletic experience for everyone involved, within the guidelines of their schools mission. In a small private school it is tempting to be all things to all people, and Pacific Ridge really does come as close to that as is reasonably possible.

When talking with parents, they were able to rapidly cite the numerous life-lessons their student-athletes learn through sports. In a matter of a couple minutes, the 20 parents in the room mentioned: confidence, health, discipline, teamwork, time management, social skills, dealing with defeat, knowing how to win, fun, follow rules, meet expectations, competitiveness, improved self-image, sportsmanship, school spirit, belonging, grace under pressure, finding a niche, making friends, joy, rigor, achievement, balance, setting goals, college resume, mentoring, leadership, role models, lifelong sports, dealing with injuries, patience, humbling, pattern of self-care, healthy choices, positive peer pressure, decision making, prioritize, strategy and commitment. I’m certain we could have gone had they had time to do so, but the point was made. It should be noted that when polled, uniquely, each of the parents had some experience as an athlete at either the high school varsity level or even some in college. I’m not sure the response would have been similar had they been parents with no sports background at all.

When speaking with some thoughtful Student-Athletes, they were well aware of all the potential benefits of participation and felt that learning teamwork helped them develop the skills to cooperate and collaborate with others outside of sports. The necessity to encourage others during sport develops a habit that carries over outside of competition. They believe that sports is a great place to learn ethics and responsibility and feel when they compete in the community that is part of their Global Outreach.

Contrary to what many people think, they unanimously agreed that they perform better in the classroom during their season of sport when they need to manage their time, than in the offseason when they “feel” like they have more free time. This is counter-intuitive to what many who have not been involved might think, and the essence to the conversations I mentioned at the top.

It is this misconception that activities are “extra” that is at the heart of this sentiment. If you do anything “extra’ it must conflict with the things you are doing that are “necessary”. For that reason I have been on a three decade crusade to have those I’m involved with view activities as CO-curricular, not extra-curricular

These co-curricular activities do not only include athletics, but all those mentioned before like student government, drama, debate, cheerleading, dance, band, choir, clubs, journalism and many more. CO-curricular activities offer many of the same benefits as mentioned above when discussing athletics, but I would also say they may add to any benefits gained thru athletics.

Co-curricular activities are also, as a function of being voluntary,  things that students enjoy. When I was a high school Activities Director I often referred to myself as the "cruise-director" that helped provide enough opportunities to experience this joy, that when balanced with the rigor of academics is what makes the high-school experience most fulfilling and prepares them for college and a purposeful life.

These activities assist in developing the whole student and could bring out additional qualities that may not have surfaced otherwise. A student-athlete may discover an artistic side, develop leadership skills, or unearth some talents that otherwise may not have appeared. Working with a variety of groups on campus gives student-athletes a different perspective and helps them understand other points of view. There is plenty of research that shows the relationship between music and math, while participating in the arts helps the whole “left-brain/right-brain” thing.

Even activities that are available which on the surface seem mainly social in nature, provide opportunities for students to engage with their classmates, develop social skills, and even exercise in some decision-making and/or refusal skills that will serve them later in life.

While academic performance is of utmost importance, it is in these co-curricular activities that students often find their sense of belonging, purpose and answer those important questions like: Who am I? What are my values? Do I have a mission in life? What kind of person do I want to be? What impact do I want to have on the world?

Answering those questions is not something “extra” young people need to do…it is necessary and must be part of the curriculum. Hence, CO-curricular.




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