For coaches using sport as education, remember to create opportunities for service-learning. It is one of the most powerful ways connect your team to the community.
Vanderbilt University defines service learning as a “form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.” It asks coaches and educators to go the extra mile in order to ensure that lessons learned through service actually stick.
For example, raising funds for Habitat for Humanity is a noble pursuit. Many teams will engage in teambuilding fundraisers of this sort. But if you really want to bring the lesson home (pun intended), organize a trip to the building site, have them participate in the effort, of meet one of the beneficiaries.
Service-Learning Case Study
The New Trier Powerlifting Team has been active for more than a decade. From the beginning, they have held tight to an important mission: “Human development through the pursuit of competitive excellence and commitment to community.” The group is in its second year as a varsity sport, competing primarily in the Illinois High School Powerlifting Association.
Powerlifting can be a hyper-individualized sport. The push for individual improvement is an essential component of the experience. When a lifter hyper-focuses on oneself, it can lead to self-obsession, obsessive compulsions, and narcissism. When it goes well, however, it can be one of the most powerful learning opportunities in all of sport.
Coaches should remind athletes that it is good to optimize their abilities, especially in service of something larger than themselves. They have the opportunity to create cultures and set expectations to unite a group of individuals around a shared purpose. The Trevians continually return to core values of hard work, healthy communication, and respect for each other and their shared efforts. “Take care of your teammates” and “spot your teammate” can be heard regularly in their weight room. In a sport dominated by individuals, this is a true team.
For years, the Trevians have adopted families through the Angel Harvey Infant Welfare Society of Chicago. The hospital has been serving communities in Chicago for more than 100 years, with special focus on those who would not otherwise be able to afford care.
In fall of 2022, the Trevians won the USA Weightlifting HS Throwdown championship (their 4th such victory). They celebrated their efforts with a merchandise sale – the proceeds were collected to support the hospital. Before purchasing the gifts, the Trevians worked alongside Michelle DiBenedetto and Dr. Cynthia Labella at the hospital to collect a different kind of toy… Educational Insights sells children’s’ toys that are both fun and educational. The gifts would be going to young people at the hospital with an assortment of developmental needs and delays, including autism. With this in mind, educational toys were selected based on the specific needs of their recipients.
Then, the final layer: the drop-off. Seeing the hospital and meeting doctors, patients, and families gave the Trevians a direct and resonant connection to their cause. They took a tour of the facility, learned about IWS services, and got to spend some time with the families the gifts were going to. Santa Clause even made an appearance!
Importantly, before and after the drop-off, the team and coaches reflect and take time to name exactly what was accomplished and why it was important. This firmly roots the need for service in the minds of the athletes.
Service-learning requires a collaborative partnership, the application of critical thinking skills, and reflection – if all three boxes are checked, the participants are sure to have experienced something meaningful. This year, the Trevians did just that.
The culture of New Trier Powerlifting has been intentionally constructed over the past decade. They articulated their mission almost a decade ago and do their best to bring that mission to life: “Human development through the pursuit of competitive excellence and commitment to community.”
Alongside that mission, the Trevians routinely create service-learning opportunities to run alongside their competition schedule.
Being one’s best includes care for others. Coaches, it may seem obvious but it doesn’t happen automatically. Be sure to go Beyond Strength and teach lessons which last a lifetime.
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There are many teams out there doing similar work. Coaches and athletes, if you have stories to share that will shine a light on good work and inspire others to do the same, TELL US YOUR STORY to be featured on BeyondStrength.net