Athletics Are Not Optional

Athletics Are Not Optional
Athletic programs are an integral part of private school life. They are not optional as they often are in public schools.

Athletic programs in private schools are an integral part of school life. They are not 'optional'. All students participate in some athletic activity weekly 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 also given over to sports. Throughout this article, I have quoted from private school websites so that you can get an idea of how private schools view competitive and recreational 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 lay off more teachers. It is a tough choice that 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 teamwork and competition. Athletics are part of most schools' education approach, namely, that they should include the whole child.

This video from Avon Old Farms offers a glimpse of their hockey program.

The physical exercise component is also an important ingredient because it teaches life lessons and habits. 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 sound a bit regimented, even militaristic to some parents. But it really isn't when considering most schools' wide range of options. Those athletic options change with the seasons. For example, fitness and conditioning are athletic activities. The basic concept here is that everybody participates in some athletic activity. Are exceptions from participating in the athletics programs a possibility? Of course, subject to a formal request for an exception and a 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 with their own golf courses, riding stables, crew facilities, hockey arenas, Olympic-size swimming pools, and 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 played within the school, 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 professional coaches for primary and specialty sports such as riding, football, swimming, etc. Schools also have qualified medical and para-medical staff available in case of inevitable accidents.

This video shows crew or rowing, a popular sport at boarding schools.

"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:

  • archery
  • badminton
  • baseball
  • basketball
  • crew
  • cross country
  • cycling
  • diving
  • field hockey
  • football
  • golf
  • hockey
  • lacrosse
  • riding
  • soccer
  • squash
  • swimming
  • tennis

"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, explore your options carefully and in-depth with schools before you draw up a short list of schools you plan to visit. Literally, there will be a private school that will have a program that 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. You will find intramural sports within the school 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 various ways, including sports.)

This video shows a field hockey game between two boarding schools with a friendly rivalry for years.

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 that doesn't offer play-by-play Tweets of its games and other athletic activities. I suggest that you follow schools on your shortlist on Twitter and Facebook. Experience the excitement and energy that their athletic programs stir up.

To sum up, you will find that athletics is integral to most private schools' educational programs. 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.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @privateschoolreview

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