The Lies of The ScoreboardErick Streelman
THE LIES OF THE SCOREBOARD
Ok, let me start by expressing what should be a common sentiment among all of us. I love to compete and I love to win. Winning is the point of competition. It’s why we work all week and plan all year. We want a chance to win. We want to give our kids a chance to win. The fact that there is a winner and a loser is what makes sports fun…otherwise we would just go out on the field throw the ball around and have a good time and go get ice cream. Some of us enjoy competition more than “screw around” “hangout” time. Some of us would rather compete than do anything else. Winning is the point of any game and if you aren’t trying to win, you should spend your time on something else.
I’m pretty sure we can all agree on that.
What is unique about America is that we have attached sports to educational institutions. Taking the lead from the founders of many of our great universities, the construct of compulsory education in America has prioritized competition as a piece of the educational experience.
It seems normal to us, but when you think about it, it’s actually kind of weird. No one else in the world attaches sport to education at the level that we do in America. Most kids on this planet play sports in clubs or private organizations that are completely separate from their academic institutions. To most kids in the world, the idea of a “high school game” is completely foreign.
Let’s examine the oddity of this construction by looking at one of the more unique American traditions…the Pep Rally.
We, the members of the American educational community, decide once a week to place academic learning on hold in favor of this most important festival. We suspend the reading of classics, the writing of great prose, and the proof of fundamental scientific principles in favor of cheers and songs and games and speeches contrived to celebrate a football game against our cross town rivals. We yell and scream and, frankly, embarrass ourselves in the hopes that our energies will somehow propel our team to victory. Because, after all, a victory on the field of play proves that our school is more prepared, more talented, more committed, and, overall, better than that other school across town, which, by the way, is at the same precise moment collectively wishing doom upon the very fabric of our school instead of reading the second chapter of Dickens.
Let’s stop and think about this scene for a moment. Most of the world would find this incredibly odd and wonder why this has any place in an institution of higher learning. Most people would have a very difficult time connecting the purpose of school to the purpose of sport. And, honestly, there are times when I question this as well. It seems odd that so many resources of time, talent, and treasure, are spent on silly games which seem, in the great scheme of things, completely trivial.
So why do we do it? Why have many of us given our lives to it? Why is sport so ingrained into our educational culture? Why do we spend so much energy, time, money, and effort on something so silly? Why do we take time out of class to play and celebrate sports?
Simply put, It is because America values the lessons learned in athletics. We value competition. We value physical work ethic. We value community and teamwork as important pieces of the educational process.
Without launching into a massive lecture on the history of American capitalism and the culture of individual achievement, our nation has collectively decided (or accepted) that sports belong in schools because the grit and determination it takes to compete in athletics is the same grit and determination that will help our kids become the future leaders in society.
In other words, sports are connected to school because they are supposed to be educational. Like math or science or English, athletics inform and transform our youth. The hope and the goal is that our kids are somehow better for having participated in athletics. They are smarter. They are better problem solvers. They are more able to work with others. They are more likely to push through adversity. They are better leaders. They are more because of sports. Athletics are intended to be a piece of the educational process.
It is time that we started treating them as such.
You see, we need to stop thinking of football in conventional ways. We need to build our programs as if we were building a lesson plan, a unit, or a curriculum. What are the short term and long term objectives of the lesson? What do we want students to learn? What methods of instruction will allow students to achieve the objective? How will we assess learning?
I am a history teacher. When I design my class, I have multiple goals and multiple objectives. I want the classroom to be student-centered. I want students to take control of their own education. I want students to learn to study and present and write and think critically. I want students to fall in love with, or at least appreciate the content. I want students to learn to empathize with people across the boundaries of time, religion, world view, and political ideology.
Learning is a process. Improvement is the goal. I want kids to be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.
Do I want students to pass my tests? Of course I do. But there is a big difference between viewing the test as a measurement of progress and using the test as a validation of learning.
I am confident that they will have a good chance to pass the assessment if they follow the procedures of the class, but I do not build my class by looking at the test and thinking backwards. The test is never the goal, the grade is never the goal. Learning is the goal.
In fact, I’ll take it one step further. After being in education for 12 years and working with some incredible colleagues, I am now of the opinion that the test itself should be part of the learning process.
In other words, the test is not where you prove you have learned, but where you show you can think. (Incidentally, this is the way the AP exams in history are moving…regurgitation is pointless in a world where kids have Google in their pocket).
So, instead of asking kids to recall a list of facts about the Civil War, I may give them a passage that they have never seen, ask them to identify the thesis, and compare or contrast it with the mission of Northern abolitionists. The test itself becomes a learning experience.
The converse of this is also true. If a student is really smart and aces my class but doesn’t leave with any empathy for those marginalized by tyranny, I have failed. If he gets 100% on his Civil War test, but still tells racist jokes when he leaves the classroom, I have failed. He passed the test, but I failed to achieve my goals.
What if we thought of football in these terms?
FOOTBALL AS AN EXTENSION OF THE CLASSROOM
If football is an extension of the classroom, our programs should be built like we build our classes. We should have a set of goals and objectives and everything we do should be geared toward the accomplishment of these goals.
Let me remind you…I love to win. But, using wins to measure success is no different than teaching to the test. We need to build our football programs based on a specific set of objectives and use Friday night as a measurement of progress and as a learning experience.
Before I share my goals with you, let me ask you to pause and ask yourself if you really believe this. I know we all say the right things. I know we all preach the right things. But, do you really believe that winning doesn’t matter as long as your kids are getting better? Do you really believe that you can accomplish all of your objectives and never win a single game? Do you really believe that you can win every game and still fail to achieve your goals? Are you willing to use the game as a learning experience even at the expense of racking up wins?
So, pause and ask yourself this question…do you really believe that football is an important piece of education or do you just want to win? Be honest!
GOALS, OBJECTIVES, AND METHODS
So, how do we do it? How do we structure football so that it emulates a class? How do we make sure that education is the priority?
Like I said, I think we have to think like educators. Set a goal and then come up with methods that actually help you achieve that goal.
Let me give you an example: If you want your classroom to be project-based, you probably shouldn’t plan to give 55 minute lectures 3 days a week. If you want your kids to learn to think critically as they evaluate primary sources, your homework should probably be deeper than a list definitions for memorization.
Similarly, if you want your kids to have a great time playing football, you probably shouldn’t spend 20 minutes a day on the Oklahoma drill. If you want to play fast and throw the ball all over the field, you probably shouldn’t spend 20 minutes a day on the stalk block.
You get the idea…make sure your methods match your goals.
Ok, so let me share mine with you. Disclaimer: My goals don’t have to be your goals and my methods don’t have to be your methods, but these may at least get your mind rolling in the direction.
A couple things I will point out. First, notice that I don’t mention wins or losses a single time in my goals or my methods. Honestly, they are insignificant to me. I believe that, if we work toward the accomplishment of these goals, we will have a chance to win on Friday nights, but sometimes we will play better opponents and we will lose. Sometimes we will fail at some of our goals and we will lose. Sometimes we will fail at some of our goals and we will win. Then, we will take that win or that loss and use it as a learning process and a measurement of progress.
Second, I started this post by reminding you all that I love to win. But, I also love to compete really hard and get beat by someone better. Look at the goals and objectives. How many them are served by a tough loss against a great opponent? Losing is a great learning experience. Think about that when you schedule and when you set your lineups in the preseason. (Remember objective #4…don’t schedule such tough opponents that kids are likely to get hurt. Also, remember objective #1. If you are always outmatched, its hard to love football. I suggest a healthy balance).
I entitled this post “The Lies of the Scoreboard” because numbers will never tell the full story. Wins and losses are as fickle as test scores. They don’t always measure success. They don’t always indicate whether you have accomplished your goals and objectives. They don’t tell anything more than who won and who lost.
For some, that is enough. But I hope that if you are reading this, you believe that we have a greater calling. We need to be reminded that high school football is not really about our X’s and O’s, our ego, our career goals, our hope that someday we get a college job, or our desire to beat the guy on the other sideline. High school football is all about student experience. Every decision we make should run through the matrix of our program’s goals and objectives. These objectives should be inherent in the way you practice, communicate, train in the off season, ride the bus, stretch…everything you do. Your primary goal as an educator is to teach a certain mindset and way of being. Football is an important piece of that educational experience. Let’s start treating it that way!
Thanks again for reading. Keep Chucking It!