Originally published Aug. 1, 2018 in the Cleveland Jewish News.

By Becky Raspe

For young students, after-school holds many possibilities. Too young to get jobs, students opt for extracurricular activities, like sports.

According to Kelli Pastor, physical education teacher at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, and William Jones, director of physical education (K-8) at University School in Shaker Heights, students can learn important life lessons from sports involvement.

academic benefits of physical activity“Students can benefit by being involved in sports in many ways,” Pastor said. “A sports team creates a feeling of being part of something and contributing, helping one develop a strong self-concept. Sports involvement can offer further growth for social-emotional skills such as collaboration, problem solving and communication.”

Jones said sports help students learn to work in a team and bounce ideas off of each other.

“You learn to communicate and be responsible with your teammates, coach and school,” he said. “You make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a great environment to be in to learn and grow from that. We want our athletes to learn to be responsible and communicate.”

When students take part in sports, Pastor said it presents other opportunities.

“Sports involvement, working hard and excelling can prepare a student for success in high school and college,” she said. “Experience in sports can offer financial opportunities and scholarships, too.”

Jones noted emotional development occurs in sports as well.

“Competitiveness is a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing,” he said. “We teach our young athletes to communicate respectfully not only with their teammates but also their opponents. You have to remember, you don’t get to play unless the other team shows up. So, they learn to respect that. There are amazing athletic feats that happen on both teams and (sports) teach students to respect that.”

At Mandel JDS, Pastor said athletic students are involved in building a community as well as character.

“We assist students in that and it’s one of the things we do best at Mandel,” she said. “We set the tone where respect and kindness towards others is a priority and being a mensch is a way of life. We teach and embrace Jewish values. Teachers and coaches should be role models for their students.”

When students take part in sports activities, the benefits also translate to the classroom.

“Research shows that when students are active, there is brain development as well as better focus,” Jones said. “That translates to a better focus on homework and tests. I know personally, that has gotten me through high school and college. The physical activity got me through, as I had to be more organized and come up with a plan to finish the work required of me.”

Pastor said sports and education go hand-in-hand.

“Having success in the classroom allows students the opportunity to participate in a sport,” she said. “Students need to exhibit drive and apply themselves to achieve good grades. The same goes for the performance on the field or court. Active participation in both the classroom and on a team can help a student feel successful. A sense of success has a direct influence on building a good self-concept.”

In doing this, Pastor said teachers and coaches have a responsibility to provide a positive environment.

“This is where creativity comes into play for full participation within a physical education program,” she said. “Some students are stronger than others, not all students are athletes and students learn in different ways; all these points should be honored and the curriculum should be differentiated for all students to feel successful.”

Jones said, “What we do at University School is have our boys participate in at least one sport but they have the option to do more. And if kids are into it, we give them the opportunity to get better at the sport so they can later specialize. Sports is all about making students feel supported and loved. Many people achieve things because they were supported by someone.”

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