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Resources that connect sports and academics

Educational resources can help lessons from the sports field -- practice, perseverance and integrity -- carry over into the classroom. 

6 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

sports and academics

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Call us coaches, and you will see us on the court and at the track, training athletes for competition. Call us educators, and you will see us teaching a room of middle-schoolers, training students in core subjects. Either way, you will see us using the experiences of athletics to shape learning experiences at school.  

The connection between sports and academics can be critical. Studies show a positive connection between student’s physical activity and academic achievement. And that really matters because 57% of high-school students participate in school sports. We strongly believe in the important role athletics can play for a student. Athletics provides a space for students to engage in competition, develop healthy habits, and learn to rely and be relied upon while building skills that will carry them further than the court or field.  

As we have spent seasons coaching and years teaching, we have found that healthy habits don’t just benefit students on the court, but in the classroom as well. By developing a mindset like an athlete, students in the classroom can establish a passion, work hard at it and push through challenges that emerge. Here are two of our favorite resources for connecting sports and academics.

Sports-minded virtual field trip

As a coach, we view our student-athletes with a particular lens, focusing on athletic improvement, goal-setting and sportsmanship. But we needed a resource that could support athletic growth as well as educational growth. We found the Mindset of a Champion virtual field trip from TrueSport and Discovery Education, which helps our student-athletes make that connection.

Athletes share their paths

The virtual field trip is a town hall meeting format that interviews three Olympic athletes and shares their pathways to becoming the best in their sport. The start of the town hall focuses on Abby Raymond, an Olympic weightlifter, overcoming bullying and negative body issues to be her best self. Next, silver medalist Richard Torrez Jr., shares how he learned from his dad that clean fuel and focus aid competition. Finally, Trey Jenifer, a paralympic basketball champion, ends the town hall by sharing his childhood story, his support system and how he’s overcome obstacles to be successful. In addition, Trey offers strategies on setting small attainable goals. 

Educator guides support three key aspects of athletics: sportsmanship; character building and life skills; and clean and healthy performance. The guides can be used as standalone discussion points or as a whole series. In the classroom, we chose to use these guides over three days, digging deep into the ideas shared by each athlete. 

Discussions reinforce lessons

Each of the three guests in the town hall has a personal language and story that allows all students to connect with them and each other. We broke out into small discussions, where students shared their thoughts on the experience. Several of the student-athletes resonated with Abby’s story about bullying and body shaming. Facing this challenge, Abby recognized that her athletic body was trained for her sport and used it for success. Consequently, some of our runners were able to recognize the value and beauty of training their bodies for success, and they realized that their peers’ words did not define who they were on the track.  

Other students connected with the emotions and actions of Trey’s story, where he overcame obstacles by setting small attainable goals. Throughout our discussions, students noticed that Trey did not see failure as negative but as a learning tool. Many of the students shared their personal stories of learning to view failure the same way.  

Additional guides for coaches, teachers and families gave us an opportunity to reach across standard athletic coaching lines, influencing not only our athletes but all students.  

Underdogs show blur between life, sports

If you’re not familiar with “Miracle on Ice,” it’s a classic underdog story. The 1980 Winter Olympics saw the five-time gold medal-winning Soviet Union men’s ice hockey team pitted against the young US team in what was supposed to be an easy win. 

As this 40th anniversary NBC documentary details, this victory story showcased sportsmanship and the power of sports to build character. In our classrooms we use the video, as well as the site’s comments section, as a discussion tool. Specifically, our students related to the primary quotes in the documentary, allowing this historical event to help them see the powerful lessons of athletics in their own world and ultimately make connections between sports and academics. 

Student discussions link challenges to lessons

Using others’ firsthand accounts, thoughts and reactions to the documentary, we divided students into two groups to facilitate a discussion about challenges, asking: How did your expectations differ from reality? What did success, and failure, look like in this scenario? How do you develop mental toughness in the face of challenges? Each of the students shared reactions to the hockey story but also explained how lessons they’ve learned on the athletic field helped them in school and life. For example, several students talked about how not winning a game helped them see the importance of teamwork and team morale. Applied to school, it helped show that tests are not a competition with peers, but a way to test and grow your own skills.

Coming full circle

Resources like the ones we’ve chosen also can be used with a club to build healthy sportsmanship and life skills. Many students enjoy playing or watching sports, and tapping this common interest can highlight important skills that will help students in sports and academics. We’ve seen firsthand how the traits we try to instill in our athletes  — sportsmanship, performance, character — are now mirrored when they’re in the classroom. 

Sixth-grade math teacher Jennifer Tatum and sixth-grade math and science teacher Emily Fagan of Cane Creek Middle School in North Carolina continue their professional growth with Discovery Education. Both coach sports teams as well. 


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