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Sports & Student Development

In light of March Madness and college basketball dominating our screens, Justin Claybrook offers some reflections on how sports can augment student development.

Sports & Student Development

By The TFA Editorial Team

March 23, 2017

Student development must continue outside of the classroom. Have you ever heard the quote from Tom Bodett, “The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” Sports are a real-life example of this philosophy.

I have played sports my entire life and can see how they serve as a catalyst for student development. In the classroom, you learn about a particular subject and take a test. While this is a component of student development, in sports the learning is more of a personal growth process. Sports help development in players mentally and emotionally.  Athletes are pushed physically, but that expands their mental toughness. There were multiple times in practice where I wanted to stop and thought I couldn’t finish that last sprint, but my teammates encouraged me so I did.  These experiences developed my mental toughness and endurance that then allowed me to study harder and longer. When I didn’t do well on a test or couldn’t understand a concept in class, I would think of those times in practice where I wanted to quit. I would hear my teammates and coaches saying, “Finish,” or “You can do this; it’s all in your head”.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the tools and development I received through my coaches and peers. I have always done well in my classes, but lessons learned on the court/field have been just as important. Sports can help develop skills that are integral in navigating life outside of school such as communication, conflict resolution, teamwork, and adaptability. Students can achieve at a high level in the classroom, but not finding an avenue to develop these skills is a disservice. Sports are not the only way to develop these skills, but it is the way I did in school, and the way hundreds of thousands of kids do every year.

 My experiences inspired me to serve as the freshman boys’ basketball coach at my alma mater, Hume-Fogg Academic High School. Although I teach X’s and O’s of how to move as a basketball player; I aim to instill certain qualities in these young men. Instead of making them run laps when they yell at each other, I talk with them about how as teammates they have to communicate with each other constructively. I want them to understand that communication skills and being able to express your emotions in a healthy way not only will help us win on the court, but it will help you win in life.

I take great pride in the work I do in the development of these young men. I can see myself in a number of my players, and I want them to have these skills earlier in life than I did. Student development can take place in many situations outside the classroom, and I believe sports are an amazing tool to impact lives in a positive way.


Editor’s note: Many of our corps members and alumni get involved outside the classrooms in their schools. Each year, dozens opt to coach sports at the middle and high school level and continue to develop relationships with their school communities. We constantly admire the way our teacher community goes above and beyond!

Justin Claybrook is the Specialist, Corps Operations and Experience on the Professional Learning and Experience team of our TFA-Nashville staff. He grew up in Nashville and attended the University of Tennessee.