Lessons in Sport Psychology for Educators

        Part of my love for sport psychology is rooted in its easy applications to everyday life.  Some of my favorite feedback I get about the blog is in a random Facebook message from a friend I haven't spoken with in some time or a comment from a respected colleague.  With that, I often think about how sport psyc relates to different fields.  Some of you know I do not work in sport psyc full time yet.  I am actually in my eighth year teaching high school social studies in South Carolina.  The eight years have been filled with ups and downs, but I really enjoy the great possibility involved in teaching high school students.  They're at a point in life where they are figuring out who they are, and the lifelong learner in me really relishes that.  Sport psychology has helped me to improve my role as a teacher far more than anything else I've done since entering a classroom.  Because of that, I thought I'd change things up for this blog post.  By far the most popularly viewed piece thus far has been the Lessons for Incoming Freshmen.  Well, here are my Lessons in Sport Psyc for Educators Today.  They're lessons I've learned along the way.  My hope is they help you in whatever it is you do.

1. Be You:  Entering your classroom for the first time is similar to the feeling you get as you coach for the first time as well.  You enter with preconceived ideas about how a teacher should and shouldn't be.  Some of the ideas stem from your college courses, and others come from your own experiences.  You want to be like some of the teachers you had and dread the idea of ever being like the ones you didn't.  Rather than either, just be yourself.  You'll find out what you think is the best way of doing things.  That way will be a product of experiences, research, conversations, and hopefully what your students tell you through their time in your class.  Your way of doing things will likely change here and there and continue to evolve.  Authenticity, in my opinion, trumps any silly book about how to behave on the first day of school (You were wrong, Harry).  Be yourself.  If we aren't ourselves, after all, how can we then tell our students they should be?  Be you.

2. Student behavior has to be handled rationally:  DON'T TAKE BEHAVIORS PERSONALLY!  Sometimes you and a student won't get along.  That is okay.  Every once in a while, it may be some sort of issue with you.  The overwhelming majority of the time there is some other kind of reason for a student to behave poorly.  I can't tell you how exactly to handle discipline, and I don't think I should.  Again, I think everyone finds what works best for them.  I would caution you from making discipline personal.  Focus on the behaviors themselves instead of the kid.  I've made a great effort to do that more and more and find students handle it much better overall when they are in trouble.  There are few grudges held and more students actually able to get in trouble and still have a productive day in the class.  Rational.

3. Don't assume:  This is one I still have difficulty with.  As people we all make assumptions about what we see and hear.  The really tough part about this one, for me, is my assumptions as a teacher are often right.  I've joked around with people that I feel like teaching high school has equipped me to interrogate suspects.  Most students are very easy to read.  What I have found though is that even being right is hardly worth it.  Even when I have been able to press a kid for an answer I am left with kind of an empty feeling like, "Okay..now what?"  Now, I am okay sometimes with knowing something without having to follow up on it.  In other words, I'm okay with not knowing everything as long as I don't feel like I am being taken advantage of.  I try not to assume.

4. Control what you can control:  This is old reliable in the sport psyc world.  It's a simple mantra but one not followed enough by teachers.  So much time is spent worrying about things ranging from perception, to administration, to what your neighbor is or isn't doing.  In other words, time is spent worrying about things we have no control of.  I've certainly had my struggles throughout the years with this, but I have improved in concerning myself with whats important: The Classes and Students I Teach.  My job is to teach and help those I encounter have a great experience at our school and beyond.  That's what I try to do to the best of my ability.

5. Don't give in to irrational thinking (HSL):  There is something I like to call High School Logic.  The way it works is an isolated event somehow becomes much more than that whether people were even there for the event or not.  For example:  Teacher A shows a film in class.  Student A is in the class and watches the film.  Student A then goes to another class and says, "All we do in Teacher A's class is watch movies."  Students B-Z and Teacher B for some reason accept this as fact and spread the information as such.  There we have High School Logic.  I can't tell you how many times, both good and bad, I've had teachers tell me something about what I do in the classroom.  Although it's nice to hear good things, it's odd when coming from someone who's never seen me teach.  High School Logic.

6. Judge less.  Observe more:  This is another one I really struggled with my first few years of teaching.  "That kid did this.  He/she is a bad kid."  "They aren't quiet when I am talking.  They are bad kids."  Who are we to label kids as good or bad?  The analogy I have used before is, "Labeling high school kids as bad kids is like calling a half cooked pizza gross.  They aren't finished products yet."  So many times, however, we label them in the classroom and on the field.  Whether consciously or not, it affects how we treat them.  It's hardly fair of us.  We are all humans who have undoubtedly made mistakes in our lives.  I'm not saying not to address issues.  Far from it.  What I'm saying is to address those issues directly without judging a kid as a result of choices they've made.  They aren't done...that's why they are there.

7. Choose Positivity:  High School can be a tough environment to be positive.  Just because it's easy doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't do it.  I'm not even going to tell you to stay out of the Teacher's Lounge.  You can if you want, but you can be positive in there as well.  Some say it comes down to making a choice.  I'd say it comes down to a never ending series of choices.  You don't always make the right ones, but choosing positivity as often as you can is the way to go.  School doesn't have to be a place where we wish away the days.  It shouldn't be.  You can be Positive and even enjoy it most of the time if you want.  Choose Positivity.

8. Consistency wins: Consistent behavior gets consistent results.  There are different ways of doing your thing in the classroom, but being You means doing so daily.  Every year the beginning of the school year brings great promise.  People are excited after a summer away.  I like to see what happens to that excitement as the school year progresses.  How long before the countdowns to vacations start?  All too early in my opinion.  The schools are kind of like a little kid eating a bunch of sugar, going wild for a short period of time, and then crashing into a sugar coma.  Rather than going all out for a couple of incredibly short time periods, how about a little bit of candy more often?  Consistency wins.

9. You're not going to be perfect, and that is okay:  In the classroom, as in sports and life in general, it's impossible to be perfect.  When teachers are just getting started especially, I think the tendency is to think everything has to go perfectly.  My lesson plans have to be airtight, and I have to make every single decision my college professors told me to make.  There are various reasons why this is not ideal.  An environment where you are afraid to make mistakes limits your growth so much.  Many teachers will tell you some of their best lessons have come from trying something different and failing.  You're able to see what went wrong and how it could go better next time.  It's also okay to tell your students you were wrong as well.  I think they appreciate the honest and authenticity that comes with the admittance.  They realize you're human too which is a good thing.  How can we expect them to take risks and try different things for the sake of becoming a better students if we don't do the same as a teacher?

10. Focus on a process, and the results will take care of themselves:  Statistics.  Education loves them.  Percentages of passing test scores, my GPA, visits with checklists to create more statistics based on five minutes of a certain number of teachers' classes.  While I'm not saying some of these statistics aren't important, I think we spend all too much time worrying about them at the expense of what matters or makes them happen.  The process is what makes the results happens.  As teachers, what can we do on a daily basis to help our students have the best experience possible?  I can actually remember being told multiple times about how some group would be coming to observe and how important it would be that the blinds were all on the same level.  How asinine is that?  Eyewash is the term we'd use in sports.  "Great teaching" has nothing to do with superficial environmental factors.  I cringe when I hear sophomores obsess about their GPA's and focus so much on what their grade is.  Build skills, learn content, and work hard.  Come up with your process as a student.  Learn what works for you when you study.  Understand how to adjust based on the inevitable differences in styles your teachers will have.  Learb your process.  LEARN.

11. Being a "good" student isn't a fixed trait:  Growth mindset is a concept that is "growing" more and more in popularity in sports and in the classroom.  If you haven't heard of it, the basic concept is that many of our traits previously thought of as fixed are actually be developed over time.  Among those is intelligence.  Rather than "just being smart" or "not good at math," you work over time to improve.  I've seen this work negatively with all sorts of levels of students.  Students who have had a bad educational experience can allow one tough year in math to ruin it for them for the next four.  It's sad to see.  Likewise, we are guilty of saying things like, "Wow.  You're so smart," when a student does well on a test.  Well, are they then dumb when they do poorly?  That is the message we are accidentally sending when we attribute performance to concepts like smart/dumb rather than preparation and effort.  It actually cheapens the rewarding experience for the kid.  There is a plethora of information out there, but at it's core Growth is why we are teaching in my opinion.  If we don't believe that students can improve and that we can help them, what is the point of it all?  Help them Grow.

Those are just a few of the lessons I've learned in sport psychology that I think transfer really well to the classroom.  This list could easily be 25 or more.  Hopefully you found something in the lessons that will help you improve the educational experience for your students and yourself.  Do you have others you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear from you.  Questions about how sport psychology could help your students?  I'd love to answer them.  If we are all looking for better ways to do things and applying what we learn, school can be a great place to be.  Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great rest of your school year.


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