By Kevin Cook
Sometime during 1994, in the middle of a t-ball game on a dusty Florida field, the importance and immense value of athletics began to take root with me. My son Spencer, barely 40 pounds soaking wet, was at bat. The oversized baseball pants and cap were straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. I had been “coaching” him in the days before his debut to the plate in a real game, and I hoped the coaching stuck. My words of wisdom were, “When you stand at the plate and look at the ball, just say to yourself over and over these words: I can, I can, I can, I can.”
Twenty-five years later, I saw him smile as he read the poster I was proudly hoisting over my head when he crested a hill running the final leg of his first Ironman Triathlon in Madison, Wisconsin. The sign only had two words (“I can”), but they were repeated about 30 times.
It is a privilege to share this story and to comment on the way the pursuit of “I Can” through athletics helped shape a young man’s life. The lessons and takeaways are universal.
The athletic field plays a critical role in the development, growth, and molding of our kids. That’s why your recreation ministry is so important. Here are five aspects to consider:
- Athletic pursuits teach players to know themselves and to work hard to achieve their best.
Competing as a solo player or filling a position on a team, the player is always keenly aware that winning requires constant and consistent improvement. This improvement comes from work, and work is the vehicle by which we understand ourselves, push ourselves and make ourselves better.
The quest to trim a tenth of a second off a lap, lift an extra five pounds or improve a batting average all represent a desire and an investment in personal growth and betterment. The reward of athletics is self-confidence and the satisfaction of doing something positive.
- Athletic competition also encourages understanding others and appreciation for the skills and talents of others.
Athletics, especially team sports, provide a platform for helping players see themselves within the context of a group, a society, and in the process understand their own role and the role of others to function as a cohesive unit. These teamwork lessons become life lessons as players become parents, professionals in the workplace and community members and leaders.
- Athletic challenges foster the development of problem-solving skills that are much needed in real world settings.
Questions that appear simple — such as “What is keeping us from scoring” or “How can I jump two inches higher” — are the foundation upon which much larger questions and answers are worked on and resolved.
Larger questions like “How can I help encourage peace” or “How can I teach my student the importance of patience” are more readily managed and more effectively resolved when approached with the problem-solving foundations learned through athletics.
Athletics help foster the ability to think through tough challenges, develop a variety of solutions, implement a reasoned course of action and follow through to completion. These skills reinforced multiple times on the field of play are then transferred to off-field scenarios leading to positive outcomes.
- Athletic activity makes for better bodies.
The Isaac Newton principal “A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force” is certainly true for those engaged in almost any athletic endeavor. Movement makes for more movement. Players, young and old alike, appreciate health and wellness in a way a couch-potato simply does not understand.
While most of us enjoy a lazy morning or afternoon of sloth-like inactivity from time to time, most of us also realize and enjoy the benefits of activity. Make a visit to a beach, a park, an empty parking lot, or almost any setting and you will find pick-up games of stickball, soccer, football, tag or more. It is natural and feels good to stretch our bodies, compelling our hearts to speed up a bit and fill our lungs with deep breaths of air. Athletic activity encourages all of this and then encourages more.
- Athletic participation is fun.
If the game is one of achieving personal best, it brings a smile of satisfaction. If the game is one of scoring more than an opponent, it is sure to be met with high fives and fist bumps. If the game is a couple of friends racing down a beach barefoot or down a mountain on an off-road bicycle, at the end there are always stories, laughter and knowing looks of enjoyment. Simply stated, athletic participation is fun.
The long-term and developmental benefits of investing in infrastructure that promotes athletic activity and play cannot be overstated. Institutions that make the investment promote the development of the whole person, mind, body, and soul. These institutions, no matter how big or how small, host a platform that is learning ground for individuals, families, and communities.
Athletics brings people together. Some play, some cheer, some come for the friendship, but all come together.
Kevin Cook is the vice president for business development with Americana Outdoor. Through its brands LA Steelcraft and PW Sport & Site, Americana Outdoors encourages all types of athletic pursuits, www.Americana.com.