Keeping the “I” Out of Team by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
In the run up to the Super Bowl, there have been the usual plethora of articles about trivial aspects of players lives—but one article caught my eye. The article was about Tom Brady and his time as a multi-sport high school athlete in California. One might think that someone as famous and successful as Tom Brady would not remain connected to his high school and his high school’s sports program. Yet he can be found signing footballs for hours at his high school to raise money for student efforts. He stays in touch with his high school coaches and can be found texting today’s football team: “I am so proud of (you) and how you represent our school. This will be the last game many of you will ever play. You will remember it for the rest of your lives.”
Brady’s fond reminiscences of his high school experiences resonate with me given what we try to accomplish at Nobles with our teams—especially in the context of the increased specialization that is taking place in youth sports. Nobles teams provide a unique experience in the lives of our student athletes for many reasons. First, Nobles teams operate in a context for which more than simply the team members and their parents care about the team. At Nobles (as in any good high school) the fact that classmates, teachers and graduates are interested in the team is a unique experience and something that lends import, accountability and context to one’s commitment to team. Being part of an athletic program that underscores effort, sportsmanship and team before self highlights the process of being on a team as much or more than it stresses final results. Those broader contexts place particular emphasis on an individual’s responsibilities within the team and provide opportunities for young people to develop valuable roles in that environment by getting feedback and support not just around athletic performance but around leadership, hard work, attitude and approach.
At Nobles, we continue to place emphasis on the relationships built between Nobles teachers and students outside of the classroom. This decision to adhere to the model of "teacher/coach" (with the broadest definition of coach—from the athletic fields to Vinik Theatre to community service) distinguishes Nobles from peer schools—and especially day schools around the country. Every day, faculty members share with me and with each other theirs insights gained about a young person from working collaboratively with him or her outside of the classroom. When we have concerns about a student, we bring not only their classroom teachers into the discussion but also their coaches, directors and service mentors.
Over the last 20 years there has been a proliferation of "club" sports—and many Nobles teams have been the beneficiaries of the training our student-athletes get in those contexts. When our daughter played club soccer, our primary criteria for choosing a team had everything to do with the kind of person who would be her coach—and the life lessons we felt she would learn. Too often those who are full-time coaches become more concerned with the development of a young person as an athlete rather than her or his development as a person. College recruiting has pushed down into the younger grades, and the emphasis on specialization, individual accomplishment and college outcome often supersedes the broader lessons learned in the context of school sports teams.
In a recent conversation with a Nobles graduate who is currently a professional athlete, he said, “My time playing at Nobles was by far the most fun, satisfying and meaningful athletic experience I’ve ever had.”
I think Tom Brady has it right when, even on the eve of the Super Bowl, he recognizes the enduring value of high school sports.