John Hourihan, a coach and writer, passes on lessons from two decades of coaching youth sports in his book, Play Fair And Win. Many children spend almost as much time with coaches as they do with teachers, and they can complement one another. Included: Tips for using this book in the classroom.
John Hourihan, an award-winning opinion columnist and an editor for the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, Connecticut, also has found time to coach youth sports teams over the past 20 years.
He shares some of what he's he learned about coaching young people and gives easy-to-follow directions for teaching youngsters to play baseball in his book Play Fair And Win. Hourihan also writes about the lessons coaches should pass on to their players and how they can apply those lessons to life off the ball field.
Hourihan recently talked with Education World about how teachers might use his book and how the work of teachers and coaches can complement each other.
Education World: How can teachers use your book?
John Hourihan: There are three ways I believe teachers can use Play Fair And Win.
EW: What can teachers learn from coaches?
Hourihan: Teachers interact with children for six hours a day, five days a week. Kids used to spend the rest of their time with parents or with other kids. Now, with the over-organization of sports, the coaches have become a huge part of non-school time. And coaches deal with children in full view and under intricate scrutiny of the parents who are just a few feet off the field watching every move.
Coaches also do it without having to cut through the "in-school" face of a young person. Like it or not, to young people, the playing field is more reality than the schoolroom. By talking to coaches and really listening, schools can better understand the true importance of sports.
EW: What do you think are some of the reasons conflicts between youths on teams -- and in other venues -- seem more often to turn violent?
Hourihan: Across the decades I taught and coached, I found that violence erupts mainly from two sources in sports.
From the players and from the adults (including but not limited to the coach.) And it erupts mainly for two reasons: fear and disrespect.
In sports, there is the fear of physical injury and the fear of being inadequate. The first responsibility of any coach is to take away the fear of physical injury by teaching and drilling the basics so every team member is skilled enough to protect himself or herself on the field during the action.
Next is the complex problem of how to prevent a kid from showing his inadequacies on the field in full view of parents, friends and even worse, enemies. [I address that in the book.]
EW: What are the lessons a good coach should instill in youngsters?
Hourihan: Among a million other things, I consciously tried to do the following for all players, every year.
EW: How can lessons learned on the playing field help children in the classroom?
Hourihan: [For everyone], it is important to learn and practice the basics of your craft, to work as a team toward a common goal, to make good decisions, to respect the other guy and the rules, and know what is truly important in your life. It doesn't matter if you are on a Little League team or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [if you learn these skills], you are going to be ahead of most other people.
EW: How, if at all, has the definition of sportsmanship changed?
Hourihan: Sportsmanship used to be a spontaneous act on the field of play that showed you respected the other guy and the rules of the game and knew what was important on and off the field.
Now sportsmanship has become the outward display of a system of adult-devised rituals that are supposed to prove that someone is a good sport to everyone watching. The real deal goes totally unnoticed and kids know it.
Coaches and parents espouse the virtue of "it doesn't matter if you win or lose," but parents and coaches were brought up to try to win, and this contradiction gives rise to all manners of tricks and cheating and getting an edge that, in turn, give rise to tension and violence.
We tell children sportsmanship is good, but then we reward winning above all else. In every game on every field, acts of true sportsmanship go unnoticed by those who espouse shaking hands after the game as the true meaning of the ideal.
This e-interview with John Hourihan is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2005 Education World