This year, students in OACS schools took part in a wide range of athletic activities. Facebook pages abounded with pictures from badminton tournaments, volleyball practices, and basketball games. Photos from the many track and field events that took place this spring show students leaping over triple jump pits, running around outdoor tracks, and hurtling over high jump bars. These are exciting moments to celebrate!
Jason Schouten, Principal at St. Thomas Community Christian School, says he views physical activity as an essential part of Christian education. Not only do sports encourage students to lead healthy lifestyles, they can teach us some powerful life lessons—about what it means to risk failure and bravely rise to the challenge. During his years as coach and gym teacher in different communities across Canada, he’s seen athletes display remarkable courage and determination in difficult moments.
One incident that stands out in his memory happened while he was coaching a U14 Provincial Basketball team from British Columbia. “It was the first time most of our players were playing in the USA against real tough American competitors,” he recalls. “Our boys were very nervous and we played that way. After about seven minutes, we were down by about twenty points. One of the Americans, a fourteen year old boy, hammered down a dunk on us and it looked like our players were ready to get back in the van and go home. It was getting that ugly.”
The mood began to change when Schouten called a time out and reminded his players that he still expected them to compete. “Losing happens” he said to his players. “Being afraid cannot.”
“Most of the players couldn’t make eye contact with me, but one boy was looking directly into my eyes,” remembers Schouten. “He wasn’t necessarily our best player, but he was listening and he was ready to play. I substituted him into the game immediately. The first time he touched the basketball, he drove into the lane and tried to dunk it on the player who had just dunked the ball on us. He missed the dunk, but our bench went wild. His one act of courage inspired our entire team to compete. We didn’t win that game, but we competed in every game we played after that.”
As it turns out, the boy who missed the dunk became one of the strongest leaders on the team.
“He accepted a challenge and, even though he didn’t succeed in that moment, I knew he wasn’t going to live his life afraid of failure and paralyzed by challenges,” says Schouten. “He took on adversity bravely and it was inspiring. I believe he demonstrated exactly the kind of leadership that our world needs.”
Schouten understands that some of the best lessons learned through sport don’t come wrapped in victory—and that there is much to gain through what others might perceive as failure.
“When you lose, you have to ask yourself why you lost,” he says. “Answering that question is the first step towards growth as an athlete, but also as a person. Losing in sports, followed by the battle to grow and become better, often prepares us to face other challenges in life.”
His attitude is one that resonates with other physical education teachers within the OACS membership.
“The most memorable experiences are those where you see athletes shine. It doesn’t always end in a victory or a win,” says Fred Breukelman, Athletics Director at Smithville Christian High School.
Whether or not wins outnumber their losses, Breukelman describes the growth of an athlete from the beginning of high school to their graduation as “a beautiful story and picture”.
“Sometimes that story, which carries on for generations, can be a hit in volleyball that captures an OFSAA championship, or a raw talent that comes in grade 9 and is mentored and coached into a leadership position on a team in their senior year. Or, it can even be a pep talk or inspiring word from a coach during a game that the athlete will remember from that point on!”
Breukelman believes that sports can also teach us a thing or two about playfulness and creativity. “Sometimes we forget to play, or how to play!” he says. “We’re guided by the rules and regulations of games set up for us by Playstation, Minecraft … etcetera.”
Keeping that in mind, Breukelman urges gym teachers to make room for a spirit of creativity in their classes. Kids can come up with great rules and modifications to the sports they play in class, he notes. Teachers also have the opportunity to think outside their box of go-to activities and make room to play a little more.
Both Breukelman and Schouten challenge educators to embrace a wider view of what happens in physical education. They believe that risking failure, taking on new challenges, and moving forward creatively can offer rich rewards—on the basketball court, in the classroom, and in our communities!