Sports Is Education, Too

Published December 1, 2004

Is sports education? The newly formed Sports Is Education Foundation answered that question with a ringing “Yes!” at a recent one-day symposium, “Sports Is Education, Too,” held at Loyola University’s Water Tower Campus in Chicago.

Panelists maintained participation in sports has many benefits for young people, not the least of which are learning about competition, working as a team, and having to work hard and practice to improve skills.

“I would certainly encourage young people to participate in sports for the values, the determination, the dedication, the pride, and the teamwork,” said DePaul University Athletics Director Jean Ponsetto. Sports helps young people develop their own character and builds their confidence and self-esteem, she added.

“The greater level of confidence [sports participants] have in decision-making puts them in a good position to be good leaders, whether they go into corporate America, education, health care, or computer science–wherever it is that they decide to go,” said Ponsetto.

John Elder, executive secretary of the Illinois Coaches Association, suggested there are a lot of things academics can learn from sports–such as the need for practice to improve achievement, and how self-esteem stems from pride in improved skills. Also, young people in sports are taught there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.

“The most valuable lesson from sports is how to compete in a controlled environment,” argued Fox Sports host Jim Blaney, marketing director for the Bulls/White Sox Training Academy. “Learning to deal with competition” is what sports participants will take with them into the real world, he said, where the reality is perhaps 20 people competing for one job, and only one who gets it.

Bob Sakamoto, high school sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, stressed the value of learning how to cooperate and work together to accomplish a goal. Learning about teamwork also was emphasized by Jeff Long, athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh.

“There’s an education to be gained on the playing field as well as in the classroom,” said Long.

Part of that education is being in a sports “melting pot,” said Eldon Ham, symposium co-host and professor of sports law at Chicago-Kent School of Law. There’s sports history to be learned, too, he said, such as how Jackie Robinson overcame racial discrimination and integrated baseball, and how Robinson’s hero was Hank Greenberg, a white ballplayer who was discriminated against because he was Jewish.

The October 18, 2004 symposium, aimed at school administrators, principals, athletic directors, and coaches, was sponsored by the Sports Is Education Foundation, an Illinois not-for-profit organization. Principals of the foundation are Ham and Terry Poulos, a Chicago-area sports media producer and NFL instant replay official. Ham and Poulos co-hosted the symposium together with John Planek, athletic director at Loyola University.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.