Succeeding on the Court and in the Classroom
When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for a career, I was a high school athlete—a very marginal high school athlete, but I really loved sports. That was part of what drew me into teaching, because I wanted to coach as well as teach in a classroom. To this day, I get a little defensive when people talk about a coach not being a good teacher, because it really is just a form of teaching, either on the playing field or on the court.
When I first started teaching, I was in a very small rural school in Nebraska. The first year I was there as the head varsity coach, we won three games. In a small school, you get to know the students very well; I was the only social studies teacher in the entire district. I taught social studies from seventh grade through twelfth grade. So as I was there for a five-year period, I had some of those students in class every year for five years, and I was maybe their head coach in basketball and assistant coach in football. I got to know my players very well, both as players and students, because I saw them continually. I always joked [that] sometimes I think I saw them more than their parents did during the school year.
We weren’t very good in basketball the first couple of years I was there. We had a heart-to-heart meeting after the second year and said, “Hey, if we’re going to do this and be successful, we’ve got to find a way to get better.” The students, for an entire spring and fall, came in at five o’clock in the morning, and I came in with them. We played basketball every day before school for an hour and a half. They did it continually.
Then they would go to school and they did all their [schoolwork]. Two years later, we won the conference championship, and we were picked to finish twelfth in the conference. To this day, when I think back to that team, the lessons that we learned together—we didn’t win every game, but we won enough games that it really kind of stuck with them.
I see some of those guys from time to time now. They tell me about some of the lessons that they learned [from] that experience of not giving up and trying harder. Those are the same types of lessons we’re trying to teach them in the classroom. In this particular case, it just extended on to the basketball court.
None of those players are playing in the NBA today; they’re playing pickup games or whatever. So it wasn’t necessarily about the end result of being the best basketball player in the country. They learned those lessons in a small town, playing basketball.
I know personally that it’s helped many of them in their lives as professionals, business people, things like that. I think sometimes the whole learning aspect of being a coach or being on a team gets thrown to the side. But it really does [play] an important part in a lot of our students’ lives. It really is an extension of the classroom.