From the Field of Play

Last week I wrote about developing character through athletic competition, and several of our Greenhill coaches shared the qualities of character that they emphasize in their programs. Today we hear reflections from the athletes. Two senior captains and a former athlete out in “the real world” think back to the lessons of character imparted by their participation in athletics.

Patience is a character trait that I’ve learned from competing in Greenhill sports. Several times in practice and in competition, I’ve felt frustrated about not running or swimming as fast as I expect of myself. When I have bad or sub-par performances, I can be so hard on myself so that it negatively affects the whole practice or the other events I have for the day. To pick myself up, I remind myself that I have to be patient and that success comes with time. One of my favorite analogies, told to me by a college coach, is that I have to be the itsy bitsy spider; every day I just keep climbing up that water spout.
-Chelsey Sveinsson ‘11, cross country and track and field, letter of intent signed with Stanford University

Playing sports for Greenhill has taught me more about character than any classroom lecture, class, teacher, speech, or book. In Middle School and freshman year, I was a three sport athlete. I played field hockey, soccer and lacrosse. Starting in my sophomore year, I chose to focus on soccer, and that was the best thing I could have done. In my four years playing varsity soccer, I learned some of the most valuable lessons ever. As a freshman, I was one of three very good goalkeepers. From playing and training with the other keepers, I learned how to push myself, prove myself, and to work my hardest in order to gain playing time. I truly looked up to the seniors that year and knew that I wanted to someday be like them and play college soccer. My sophomore year was the year we won SPC. That season truly tested me and taught me how to perform under pressure, a lesson that I still use today in soccer, school, and throughout my life. As a junior and senior, I truly learned how to lead. I would not be able to call myself a leader if not for the help of Coach Ashley, my team, and the examples of my older teammates. The memories, friends, lessons, trials, tears, laughs, and triumphs are the best part of my high school years. I truly appreciate all that my coaches did for me and all that I learned while playing Greenhill soccer. The intangible, priceless value of playing for my school will be with me for the rest of my life.
-Holly Reilly ‘11, soccer, letter of intent signed with Furman University

When I look back on my athletic career, I don’t remember the individual matches won or lost or the practices I pushed through. I do remember that athletics taught me focus and mental toughness. Learning these skills and reinforcing them at a young age will make you a better person, employee, and friend. Don’t dwell on the last point or play or race; instead, think about how you can be a better teammate or athlete or person by consistently doing what’s hard, and you will go a long way in the future.
-Carrie Palmer ’06, tennis, Washington College ’10

It is clear that the character building goals of our coaches and the lessons learned by the athletes are aligned. The ability to generalize those lessons to other endeavors outside athletics is also a skill. Opportunities for real world application are frequent. For those of you on the journey, it is gratifying to know that the payoff at the end is so profound.

In Addition to the Game

Earlier this week, Athletic Director Earl Dorber directed current sixth grade parents to “Be true to your school” when he spoke with them about upcoming opportunities for their children to represent Greenhill on the athletic field. Although Earl hoped that everyone in attendance would get the Beach Boys reference, he was confident that his message about the joys of interscholastic athletic competition would be heard.

As a parent and a perennial courtside cheerleader, I am sure that I had the final score in mind when I sat at all those years of tennis matches. You definitely want your kid and his/her team to win. But I’ve learned that it is really better to take the long view when considering middle and high school sports competition. Take time to reflect on the lessons of character that emerge from the competition, regardless of the final score.

Many of Greenhill’s coaches keep character front and center in their coaching plans. They are working with the whole child, and they know that sports routinely deliver lessons of character that will persist into adulthood. Varsity Football Coach Jeff Hollway names a performance principle and a theme for each week of the season. Qualities of friendship, loyalty, poise, confidence, respect, and excellence are all considered by Jeff to be important regardless of winning and losing. Jeff states that “special attention is given to the development of a lifetime value system applicable to every personal and professional endeavor.”

Head coaches from two different sports where repetitive practice of skills is required to compete, Greg Krauss and Heather Farlow both cite perseverance as a quality enhanced by athletic competition. Greg coaches Varsity Boys Soccer and Heather leads the Varsity Girls Field Hockey team. Greg notes that students at Greenhill are often superbly talented in academics, but it is in sports where they are pressed to persevere through struggles. Heather offers the following quotation: “Being challenged is inevitable … being defeated is optional.”

Jason Yaffe, Cross Country coach, prefers the term “grit.” Grit is the first cousin of determination, perseverance, and persistence. Only by steady development of these qualities can an athlete hope to get in that zone, where mental and physical effort join together to produce excellence of performance.

The concept of teamwork is cited by a number of our coaches. Keith Nannie, Head Boys Volleyball Coach, feels that “in order to find success, the group must find a way for all members to contribute. Knowing each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and levels of experience is a must.” Darryn Sandler, Girls Varsity Basketball Coach, states that respect for each other allows everyone to work “towards a common goal as you learn about commitment and dedication.”

Lisa Burton, Varsity Girls Softball Coach, values resilience. “Athletics are so unpredictable,” she states, “and so much can go wrong. Those athletes who can deal with adversity and be resilient seem to have so much emotional intelligence.” Jackie Ziegler, Chair of the Physical Education Department, names compassion and “learning how to win and lose with grace, caring, and humility.” And Paige Ashley, Varsity Girls Soccer Coach, also returns to one of Greenhill’s core values: “Those who have embraced respect as a key element of their character are more likely to demonstrate good sportsmanship – win or lose. Respect for teammates is also important. It requires athletes to make a commitment that often requires personal sacrifice but is important for the success of the team.”

Look at the list. These qualities are ones that all parents want for their children. They lead to productive work, fulfilling personal lives, and engaged citizenship. After you experience the ups and downs of the final outcome, stop to think about the long-term lessons of athletic competition. They transcend the competition itself.

In the next blog, Greenhill athletes themselves will speak.