If you don't know Dr. Ratey's work…well you should. He's a cutting-edge Harvard researcher who is exploring why sports and physical activity have such positive impacts on childhood development. He was intrigued by the subject upon studying one mid-western school district with some of the highest performing students, the highest attendance rates, and the highest graduation rates in the nation—despite being nothing special in terms of per-student spending relative to other school districts. But, what the school district did have was the most physically active students. Observing this, Dr. Ratey began to research what impact exercise through activities like sports and physical education have on the developing brain. What he found is fascinating.
Regular participation in sports causes a specific part of the brain to produce cells at a much more accelerated rate. This is the same part of the brain responsible for executive functions—behavior that enables a child to focus on school work, to exercise self-control and to engage in decision-making such as doing homework. The more fit a child is, the better learner (s)he is.
So now let's turn to school reform.
Dr. Ratey's research suggests that perhaps one of the greatest assets for influencing the academic performance of children in our public schools is the sports coach. The coach is the one person in each school who, in essence, “prepares the brains” of the young student-athletes to function maximally in the classroom. But in all these decades-long discussions about school reform, do we ever hear anything about how coaches fit into the mix?
I say that it's time we take another look at the requirements, training and support for coaches who work in our public schools. They know their sports already but let's train them on how a child’s brain works and the critical role they play in developing it. Let's provide them with new tools, methodologies and resources so that they can maximize their impact on the academic readiness of their youth. Of course, some coaches are already familiar with this subject matter, but many coaches are not. In fact, some of the lowest performing schools have NO coaches to play this critical role in turning academic results around. Dr. Ratey would probably agree with me: no wonder those schools continue to fail our youth.
That’s why I also suggest we put more resources into studying the impact of Dr. Ratey’s work. Let’s create “sports empowerment zones” within our failing public schools. Let’s see if we can increase physical activity in these schools through trained coaches, which can also increase attendance, grades and test scores. Up2Us can help by providing coaches to these schools through the Up2Us COACH Across America workforce. We can also develop unique partnerships with these schools to ensure that every child participates in “academic-sports readiness” through the nearly 700 organizations that are part of the Up2Us coalition.
That’s school reform…
And it doesn't cost a whole lot of money either.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director