by Chris Hartley, director of athletics
I am a child of the 70s and 80s. For those of you who remember those decades, you might recall “The Ungame.” It is a non-competitive learning/communication board game that, as the box reads, “fosters listening skills as well as self-expression.” My two brothers and I were wickedly competitive, so you can imagine how this game went over in our home. And, you can likely understand why my parents wanted to foster more listening skills.
I grew up competing. My brothers and I created a mini-hockey game that we played on our knees in the TV room with carved pieces of wood and a hockey puck from an arcade game. Sore and scraped knees were just a nuisance in the pursuit of winning. In pick-up basketball, football, baseball, and a whole bunch of made-up games, my neighborhood friends and I kept score, and keeping score is what made it fun.
In athletics, winning matters. However, for any coach or program that values education-based athletics (which Lakeside does), winning cannot be the top priority. A common phrase you hear Lakeside coaches use is “process over product.” We want to prepare our student-athletes to compete at their best but we do not let the outcome of a competition be the ultimate gauge for success.
This, in essence, is what we mean by competitive success at Lakeside. It’s one of the core values of Lakeside Athletics. Coaches work with athletes to get them ready to compete. They push athletes to commit to the process: focus on being fit and healthy; invest in the process of being a great, selfless teammate; dedicate each minute at practice to improving. When teams and coaches make this the process, then the product is always successful.
We do recognize that winning is a motivating aspect of athletics at almost every level. Working hard each day to improve gives you the best chance to win. But competitive success is not solely about one win in one season. For us, competitive success includes building an athletics program that helps all athletes, at all levels, prepare for the next level. To ensure that happens, coaches for Middle School teams and Upper School sub-varsity teams rotate athletes in competition so that they all get meaningful minutes. If we don’t give everyone meaningful minutes, then we are not preparing all athletes for participation at the highest level Lakeside offers. Sometimes, students and parents/guardians become frustrated by this. We have to remind them that our focus is on player development, not just winning the competition. And that development cannot happen unless all athletes get to experience meaningful competition when it matters.
Competitive success looks a little different at the varsity level. Coaches do not have to play every athlete. While the perspective is never “win at all cost,” these teams are striving to place as well as they can in league play and ensure the best playoff outcome. I want to stress that the approach is still process over product. The difference is that coaches are going to make personnel decisions to put their teams in the best position to win.
Lakeside Athletics falls in just the right spot between “The Ungame” and a perspective of “winning is the only thing that matters.” We believe in competition and keeping score, but never at the cost of missing chances to help our athletes learn the value of teamwork, sportsmanship, and commitment to a long-term goal.
Here is to more continued success for our athletes and teams!
Chris Hartley is director of athletics at Lakeside School. Reach him at email@example.com. Read a recap of the fall sports season, including information about three teams that were in the running for state championships.