Having Faith in Sports
From the Winter 2015 issue of HaYidion, on Athletics; reprinted by permission of RAVSAK
At the end of a long workday, I dragged my heels up the staircase to the cafeteria of my children’s day school for the JV basketball team parent orientation. Expecting a review of schedule and logistics, I wasn’t totally present as Coach D began addressing the parents, although I tucked my phone away out of respect. To my surprise, Coach didn’t start with practice hours or attendance expectations. He started with character; basketball was just the medium.
“The sport itself is an extension of who they will be in life,” he began. The game is not just about skill, competition, or play, he explained. The game is about developing as a whole human being, as a member of a team, and as a learner who is coachable and committed.
So this is the difference between playing for your day school team and playing at the local park’s rec center: the hidden curriculum. Within a moment, I realized I was in the presence of an intentional and capable educator. Coach D’s framing of the ethos and objectives of the basketball program caught my attention, and I took out my phone again—to take notes.
“Their success in the game is not determined by what they do on the court,” Coach explained. The character they demonstrate throughout the school day determines their ability to play and the quality of their game. The players’ teachers regularly sign off on permission charts that their academic performance and their character in class are of a high enough standard to participate on the team. They are expected to be mentsches in their relationships on and off the court.
Dr. Miriam Heller Stern is Dean of American Jewish University’s (AJU) Graduate Center for Jewish Education in Los Angeles, where she has trained and mentored Jewish educators since 2005. She is also the Founding Director of Dream Lab, a think tank and pedagogy test kitchen at AJU for artists and educators dedicated to infusing the field of Jewish education with creativity through the arts. Miriam serves on the advisory boards of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s Community Teen Initiative, the Jewish Montessori Society, the Jewish Lens, the Beacon School for Boys and education committees of the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy. She is also a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Jewish Education and the Network for Research in Jewish Education Awards Committee. Miriam earned her PhD in education and MA in history from Stanford University as a Wexner Graduate Fellow (Class 13). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.