Sports as Counterculture

On Wednesday, both cross country teams performed well in the finals, capping off a great season filled with personal bests and camaraderie. The boys soccer team won its championship game last night in a hard-fought match against a very good side from Newman School. The girls soccer team plays for the championship this afternoon at the British International School of Boston; our team is hoping for a three-peat, and fan buses are ready to get the community there to support them.

The athletic success this fall is a great testament to the kids’ hard work and a lot of fun for the whole community. But what I’m proudest of is the way our sports program is countercultural. We don’t measure the success of our program in wins and trophies. We look at the number of students who are participating. We are proud that many athletes are trying a sport for the first time right alongside others who have been playing at the club level for years – and are embraced. We celebrate what they learn about teamwork and the friendships they form. We love the fact that they are getting exercise, which will hopefully become a lifelong habit. We are thrilled with the number of students who participate in multiple seasons, pushing back against the drive toward specialization. We admire the grace our students show when an opposing player commits a hard foul or says something mean spirited – how they respond to a bad call or a heartbreaking loss. Plus, they have fun!

What’s happening more broadly in American society around youth athletics is deeply troubling. Seeing sports as a path to elite college admissions, parents too often feel the pressure to push very young kids to train, compete, and specialize. We have professionalized youth sports in a way that is producing repetitive-stress injuries and anxiety rather than healthy habits and joy. The incentives that colleges create in this area make it hard for families to opt out of a toxic environment. At BUA we have opted out and resisted the pressure I see other schools succumbing to. And I am deeply proud of that.

View all posts