I'm often receiving links to stories about the power of sports. Recently, I saw a story of a high school football team in Michigan who made a secret pact that they would forfeit every scoring opportunity when they got to their opponent’s one-yard line. They wanted to set up one of their teammates—a child who was labeled as “not cool” because he suffered from a developmental disability—to be in a position where he could successfully carry the football into the end zone and score his first touchdown. By the end of that game, his teammates had succeeded. They blocked the opposing team and cleared the way for this “uncool” kid to score a touchdown and be cheered on by the entire community. Afterwards, one of the other high school football players said in tears that he learned lessons from the whole experience that he would take with him for the rest of his life. He explained that up until that moment he had never thought of anyone but himself. But that touchdown helped him to realize that life is really not about “you,” it’s about the actions you take for others.
This story about the power of sports led me to ponder…what if every child in this country learned this lesson at a young enough age to guide their entire future? What kind of impact would that have on our schools, communities, businesses and governments? Then, I pondered an even more fundamental question…where do children go to even learn these kinds of lessons today? Unfortunately, the answer to the last question is fewer and fewer places.
Too many children grow up in homes with parents who are overly focused on their own economic and personal problems to worry about their kids. And too many of our schools are so focused on the test score that the concept of teaching values and ethics is almost nonexistent.
That leaves after-school activities like sports. Sports programs, like that football program in Michigan, remain the one arena where kids learn to work together with values like teamwork, leadership and compassion. When they are led in accordance with the Up2Us standards of sports-based youth development, sports impart on young people a sense of community and belonging that does shape their futures.
Which leads me to warn communities, parks, schools and other government officials as they create their 2014 budgets. The elimination of sports programs is the elimination of values. And these are budget cuts which none of us can afford.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director