Athletic programs in private schools are an integral part of school life. They are not 'optional'. All students participate in some kind of athletic activity every week while school is in session. Most private schools set aside a weekday afternoon - generally Wednesday - for athletics. There are no classes. Everybody is involved in some athletic activity somewhere on campus. In boarding schools part of each Saturday is given over to sports as well. Throughout this article I have quoted from private school web sites so that you can get an idea of how private schools view competitive and recreatioal sports.
"Competitive or recreational sports at Putney are valued for fostering individual skills and strengths. Sports do not conflict with art activities, so there is no need to choose between one or the other."...The Putney School, Vermont
This is also a fundamental difference between private and public schools. I am not saying that sports in public schools are not important. It's simply that when money has to be trimmed from a public school budget it is often trimmed from the athletics budget. Why? Because the board would rather trim that expense than to lay off more teachers. It is a tough choice which most private schools don't have to make and will not make in most cases.
"The Gunnery's sports program cultivates competition and cooperation in the context of organized athletics. This is a tradition that stretches back, unbroken, to Mr. Gunn's era. A staunch advocate of physical fitness, he created the school's first athletic teams."...The Gunnery, Connecticut
So, why the emphasis on athletics? And what's the point of making every student participate? Most private schools athletic programs teach students invaluable lessons about team work and competition. AThletics are part of most school's approach to education, namely, that they should the whole child.
The physical exercise component is an important ingredient as well because it teaches lessons and habits for life. Private schools teach their students to enjoy exercise and to excel in an athletic activity of their choice. That is important to understand. Perhaps your son is not a football player but he loves squash. He has options. He doesn't have to play football. The school will cycle through various sports according to the season. That way there is always something in which to participate.
"The Pingry Athletics program is designed to provide wholesome opportunities and experiences that will enable our students to develop physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally."...The Pingry School, New Jersey
Compulsory sports may sounded a bit regimented, even militaristic to some parents. But it really isn't when you consider the wide range of options most schools offer. Those athletic options change with the seasons. For example, fitness and conditioning are a athletic activities. The basic concept here is that everybody participates in some kind of athletic activity. Are exceptions from participatng in the athletics programs a possibility? Of course, subject to a formal request for an exception and review of that request. In other words, your child cannot simply decide that she doesn't want to play ball. There has to be a compelling reason for that exception to be granted.
"Episcopal believes that physical exercise and conditioning are crucial to the health of every teenage boy and girl and that beginning the habits and routines of exercise at a young age is important to lifelong health. Physical activity is a key component in the Episcopal curriculum."...Episcopal High School, Virginia
The result is that most private schools have simply amazing sports facilities and athletic programs. You will find schools which have their own golf courses, riding stables, crew facilities, hockey arenas, olympic sized swimming pools, as well as the more common football, baseball and soccer fields.
"Our extensive athletic facilities include two indoor ice arenas, an 18-hole golf course, soccer fields, a domed indoor field house with a full size turf soccer field, six tennis courts, two gymnasiums, outdoor turf soccer field and a spacious weight training facility."...Shattuck-St. Mary's, Minnesota
Besides the intramural sports which are played within the school itself, many schools offer varsity programs in which teams compete with other private schools in well-established leagues. The more popular sports will offer many sections so that everyone who wants to participate can do so.
Private school teachers are expected to 'coach' a sport or an activity. Consequently you will find the Latin teacher showing students the fine points of archery. In addition most schools hire a professional coaches for the primary and speciality sports such as riding, football, swimming and so on. Schools also have qualified medical and para-medical staff available in case of the inevitable accidents.
"Our coaches are teachers, and our teachers are coaches. Our students learn from the same mentors on the fields as they do in the classrooms. In the classroom or on the field, the goals are related. Through this special teacher-coach relationship model, students learn important values while representing McCallie with honor. Most importantly, our coaches want to prepare our students to be leaders and champions in life."...McCallie School, Tennessee
Sports in private schools are part of an integrated, balanced approach to teaching students. That approach balances academics with exercise and personal growth. It follows the old classical philosophy of mens sana in corpore sano.
Some of the sports offered at private schools include:
- cross country
- field hockey
"Our athletic facilities include a cardio center, weight room, full court gym, full size football/soccer field, baseball field, and softball field. We also have miles of cross country trails that will take you through our very scenic 27,000 acre ranch. On top of all of this we also have an outdoor pool and five tennis courts."...The Orme School, Arizona
Individual private schools have earned well-deserved reputations for attainments and focus in various sports. Some schools have superb hockey programs. Others have nationally known equestrian programs. And so on. If playing a sport at an advanced level is important to you and your child, make a point of exploring your options carefully and in depth with schools before you draw up a short list of schools which you plan to visit. Literally, there will be a private school which will have a program which fits your requirements. Indeed, there might even be two or three schools to choose from, depending on the sport in which your child is interested.
"We recognize that our athletic program is an integral part of the Harvard-Westlake community and complements the academic mission which is central to the life of our school."...Harvard-Westlake School, California
Many schools offer these sports at several levels. Within the school you will find intramural sports where one house plays another. (Many private schools organize their students into multi-age groups called houses. These houses compete and/or work together in a variety of ways including sports.)
Many schools will also field varsity teams which compete with teams from other schools. In New England, for example, the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council
has been organizing varsity sports since 1942. NEPSAC has fall, winter and spring sports on its roster. Interscholastic sports enjoy a huge following via Twitter and Facebook. There is hardly a private school out there which doesn't offer play by play Tweets of its games and other athletic activities. I suggest that you follow schools on your short list on Twitter and Facebook. Experience the excitement and energy which their athletic programs stir up.
To sum up you will find that athletics are an integral part of most private schools educational program. Athletics are not an add-on or a frill. They have been a part of most schools' programs since they were established. Private schools view athletics as part of their philosophy and approach to educating the whole child.