Lascelve Graham, Guest Columnist
The business of recruiting students into high schools in order to boost the school's chances of winning at sports, especially when these students do not qualify on academic grounds, is an atrocity that can find its way into the system through many routes.
The desire to win is a strong motivator to all who are involved in sports at any level, and it can creep into and dominate the actions of even our best high-school administrators, where there are no clear guidelines that seek to protect against the potential harm involved in recruiting at this level.
The following quotation by the president of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body of high-school sports in the USA (similar to ISSA in Jamaica), summarises well the philosophy that should underpin high-school sports: "Winning on the professional level is required. Winning on the collegiate level has become an expectation. Winning at the high-school level should be a pleasant outcome to fulfilling the true purpose of sport in school, which is to serve the complete educational needs of those who choose to participate."
Coaches are a primary source of influence on the students who are involved in high-school sports. One of the reasons high schools are so infested with the recruiting/importation bug is that coaches of professional and semi-professional teams at club and national levels are accustomed to recruiting to win. When some of these also coach at the high-school level, they transfer the same recruiting-to-win mentality to the school.
Legendary former US football coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant, in recognising the influence of coaches, once said, "When the cheating starts ... look to the coach. He's the chairman of the board." Former football coach Don Faurot, a member of the USA College Football Hall of Fame, observed that "most of the evils of sports are brought about by the coaches themselves. The alumni are merely tools in the coaches' hands and never recruit a boy that ... coaches do not want".
These coaches and their acolytes pressure/entice principals to import/recruit sporting talent in an attempt to influence the outcome of sporting events. Unfortunately, too many of our principals have yielded to temptation. If high schools do not train coaches in the mission and purpose of interscholastic sports, and do not provide strategies to enable high-school teacher/coaches to effectively fulfil this role, we will lose entirely the educational purpose of sports in our high schools.
When high schools fill coaching vacancies, they should seek to hire individuals who not only have a background in the particular sport, but also an understanding of the educational mission of high-school sports. There is an ever-increasing need to train individuals for all facets of the coaching profession in high schools, including the teaching of lifelong skills to student athletes to help them become productive citizens.
Just as is the case with any profession, the expected outcomes will not occur without proper training of our coaches.
The story is told of John Wooden, a legendary basketball coach, who in giving a clinic to high-school coaches, spent the first half of the clinic not mentioning anything specifically to do with basketball but, instead, focusing on what he termed the principles of his 'Pyramid of Success', which had to do with traits like selfcontrol, loyalty, enthusiasm, intentness, confidence, delaying of gratification, conflict resolution, etc. - skills and attitudes that will help youngsters for the rest of their lives.
Coaches in high-school sports should not be judged, assessed and rewarded only on their winning percentages but on other equally important accomplishments and contributions.
The model for success at the high-school level must remain different from that at the professional and college levels. While winning as many games as possible is a goal for all high-school coaches, the final outcome of a contest - in the long run - is not the all-determining factor for judging success.
Success has more to do with preparing students for their lives after sports than the number of victories or championships. Their sports experiences are intended to complement, to support and add to the learning they are experiencing in their academic programmes. Sport helps to shape these young people, contributing to what they know and the character they must develop in order to fulfil the vision of our country to graduate able students who are good people.
To promote sportsmanship and foster the development of good character, school sport programmes must be conducted in a manner that enhances the academic, emotional, social, physical and ethical development of student athletes and teaches them positive life skills that will help them become personally successful and socially responsible. Youngsters must be taught how to transfer skills they have learnt through sports to other areas of their lives, including the academic and social.
High-school sports provide many students with a reason for being, or an identity. They can be somebody and be a part of a team without necessarily being the star of the team. Hence, coaches have a glorious opportunity to use sports to capture the imagination of youngsters, often a difficult task in the classroom, since the youngsters have a greater interest in sports and the coach, thus, has their attention.
Secondary-school coaches must develop the players they have to reach their potential - both in the classroom and on the field. Sports is a microcosm of life and presents many teachable moments, both on and off the field, for all our students, whatever their talent level. Hence, coaches and their supporters must stop going outside their schools to bring in talent in an attempt to win.
Successful coaches at the high-school level are those who have a student-centred focus, rather than a focus on winning at any price. Principals and school boards should assess and reward high-school coaches based on the successful implementation of certain educational outcomes related to citizenship, life skills, learning, sportsmanship, etc. The emphasis should be on helping students recognise the proper attitude toward competition and winning which are in line with the educational mission of competitive high-school sports - helping students to get set, get ready and to go for life.
Alumni also play a key role in the approach to sports in our high schools. They oftentimes play a major role in the funding of high-school activities, including sports, and hence play a significant part in influencing principals and school boards on many decisions.
Alumni, especially of our boys' schools, are perhaps the main driving force behind the heavy importation of sporting talent into our high schools. Pressure from them frequently pushes principals to acquiesce to the wishes of the coach.
Our alumni need to be less tribal and be more inclusive. They need to change their belief systems and start thinking more strategically with respect to the best interest of all our children and Jamaica. Remember, we compete as Jamaicans with the rest of the world, not just as individuals or as individual schools. Strengthening Jamaica is in the best interest of all Jamaicans.
Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham, a former STGC, All-Manning, All-Schools and Jamaica football captain, is a leading activist against the exploitation of student athletes. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.