Resources that connect sports and academia

(Image Credit: Alexander Schimmeck / Unsplash)

Call us coaches and you will see us on the court and on the track, training athletes for competition. Call us teachers and you will see how we teach in a room of high schools, we teach students in basic subjects. In any case, you will see how we use the experience of athletics to shape the learning experience at school.

The relationship between sport and academia can be critical. Studies show a a positive relationship between the student’s physical activity and academic achievement. And it really does matter because 57% of high school students participate in school sports. We strongly believe in the important role that athletics can play for a student. Athletics provides students with space to compete, develop healthy habits, and learn to count and rely on themselves while building skills that will take them further away from the court or field.

As we spent seasons in coaching and years in teaching, we found that healthy habits are not only good for students on the court, but also in the classroom. By developing thinking as an athlete, students in the classroom can establish passion, work hard on it, and overcome emerging challenges. Here are two of our favorite resources for connecting sports and academia.

Sports oriented virtual trip

As a coach, we look at our student-athletes with a specific lens, focusing on athletic improvement, goal setting and athletic mastery. But we needed a resource that could support athletic growth as well as educational growth. We found it Thinking of a virtual journey of a champion from TrueSport and Discovery Education, which helps our student athletes make that connection.

Athletes share their paths

The virtual tour is a format for a town hall meeting that interviews three Olympic athletes and shares their paths to becoming the best in their sport. The start of City Hall focuses on Abby Raymond, an Olympic weightlifter who overcomes harassment and negative physical problems to be her best self. Silver medalist Richard Thorez Jr. then shared how he learned from his father that the race is for clean fuel and help focus. Finally, Trey Jennifer, a Paralympic basketball champion, graduated from town hall by sharing his childhood story, his support system and how he overcomes obstacles to be successful. In addition, Trey offers strategies for setting small achievable goals.

Teacher’s guides support three key aspects of athletics: athleticism; character building and life skills; and clean and healthy performance. The guides can be used as stand-alone discussion points or as a whole series. In the classroom, we chose to use these guides for three days, delving into the ideas shared by each athlete.

Discussions reinforce the lessons

Each of the three guests at the town hall has a personal language and history that allows all students to connect with them and with each other. We erupted in small discussions where the students shared their thoughts on the experience. Several of the student-athletes resonated with Abby’s story of harassment and shame over her body. Faced with this challenge, Abby admitted that her athletic body was trained for her sport and used it for success. Therefore, some of our runners were able to recognize the value and beauty of training their bodies for success and realized that the words of their peers do not determine who they are on the track.

Other students connect with the emotions and actions of Trey’s story, where he overcomes obstacles by setting small achievable goals. During our discussions, the students noticed that Trey could not see failure as negative, but as a means of learning. Many students shared their personal stories of how they learned to view failure in the same way.

Additional guides for coaches, teachers and families have given us the opportunity to reach standard athletic coaching lines, affecting not only our athletes but all students.

Underdogs show a blur between life, sports

If you’re not familiar with The Ice Miracle, this is a classic story for outsiders. At the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union’s five-time men’s ice hockey team faced the young US team in what was to be an easy victory.

As this NBC 40th Anniversary Documentary, this victory story demonstrates athletic prowess and the power of sport to build character. In our classrooms we use the video as well as the comments section of the site as a discussion tool. In particular, our students are connected to the main quotes in the documentary, which allows this historic event to help them see the powerful athletics lessons in their own world and ultimately make connections between sport and academia.

Student discussions connect challenges with lessons

Using other people’s accounts, thoughts and reactions to the documentary, we divided the students into two groups to facilitate a discussion of the challenges by asking: How did your expectations differ from reality? What did the success and failure of this scenario look like? How do you develop mental resilience to challenges? Each of the students shared their reactions to hockey history, but also explained how the lessons they learned in the athletics field helped them in school and in life. For example, several students talked about how not winning a game helps them see the importance of teamwork and team morale. Applied in school, it helped to show that tests are not a competition with peers, but a way to test and develop your own skills.

A full circle is coming

Resources like the ones we have chosen can also be used with a club to build healthy sportsmanship and life skills. Many students love to play or watch sports, and touching on this common interest can highlight important skills that will help students in sports and academia. We have seen first hand how the traits we try to instill in our athletes – athleticism, performance, character – are now reflected when they are in the classroom.

Sixth-grade math teacher Jennifer Tatum and sixth-grade math and science teacher Emily Fagan of Cane Creek High School in North Carolina continue their careers with Discovery Education. Both coaching sports teams.


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