In my 35 years serving as an educator, the role of athletics in the lives of children has certainly changed. Many of us can remember when school athletic teams were limited to boys only, and girls were expected to watch from the sideline. Lacrosse was slowly taking shape at a few independent schools, mostly in the mid-Atlantic, and the number of children under the age of 10 playing soccer on Saturday mornings was nearly non-existent. Schools, therefore, could establish priorities without regard to the market pressures of athletics guiding school selection, after-school activities, and college admission.
As is often the case, the changing face of athletics has brought significant improvement to the lives of children. Girls’ athletics is now on par with boys’ athletics. Children of all abilities are now more actively engaged because of town sports leagues. And most children at some point in their elementary education life have the experience of serving on a team and playing for a coach, leading to lifelong lessons in cooperation, collaboration, strategy, and managing disappointment.
I fear that we have gone too far, however. The days of kids jumping on their bikes and riding through the neighborhood after school are long gone — not to mention lying around after school with a good book, or sitting at the dinner table at a reasonable hour predictably every night. By the age of 10 children and their parents are thinking about travel teams, academies, and even, sadly, school choice based not on an academic and community fit, but rather the coach of a particular team, or the perceived strength of athletics in a particular school. Teenagers are being prohibited by soccer academies from playing for their school team, lest they get distracted from the intense training regimen prescribed by that team. Students, parents, and sometimes schools can make decisions and choices that are driven by athletics, rather than by academic priorities and what is best for the student.
GFA’s mission statement refers to our globally minded community in which students and teachers partner to prepare for a life of purpose. Where does travel soccer fit into this? Well, there is nothing better than being on a team to learn what “partner” means, and surely seeing the entire Upper School on the sidelines of our recent boys varsity soccer FAA finals games (in which we were awarded best sportsmanship award, as well as the Class C WNEPSSA Champions award) is a perfect representation of community.
GFA encourages students to play more than one sport, but to also participate in a variety of other extracurricular activities, like the school play, chorus, orchestra or band, and a wide range of clubs like robotics or student diversity leadership. We think this helps athletes of all abilities, from the Division 1 basketball player to the third-string soccer player, to understand and value their contribution and commitment to the GFA community, and to celebrate all of our scholar athletes. I am proud that GFA walks the talk around sportsmanship and integrity, and encourages our students day in and day out to maintain the culture of kindness and commitment in their athletic, academic and school life.