An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Chris Hartley, director of athletics

I grew up at a time when club sports did not exist. My after-school programming consisted of me meeting my neighborhood friends at the field behind the church at the end of the street for football or at the pond that froze over for hockey. There were no adults. Teams varied day to day depending on who was present. We did not keep track of wins and losses. We were there to simply have fun. We were fiercely competitive, but when the game ended, we were friends. Reflecting on those times, I remember walking home, laughter filling the streets, tired and hungry, feeling that we were all living a really good life.

That is what playing sports is supposed to be all about: fun, competition, connection. Sadly, youth sports today do not always focus on these outcomes. Student-athletes feel pressure to be the best and to win championships. That pressure can be crippling and can make participating in sports a chore. As a coach, I remind my athletes regularly that the top priority for them should be having fun. I know that they struggle to find joy and connection when they feel pressure to win.

We lost almost a full year of sports at Lakeside due to the pandemic. For anyone associated with athletics here, it was a brutal time. So, when sports were reintroduced last spring, we celebrated. The sentiment that many felt can be best summed up from the 1980s hair band Cinderella’s ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (Until It’s Gone).” We never imagined school without sports, so when it came back, we embraced the joy of playing and competing. And I was ecstatic to see coaches and players set their sights on the true purpose of sports. Fun, competition, and connection were priorities; wins and losses mattered far less.

While it was odd to watch a cross-country meet in early March, I was struck by how different that meet felt compared with meets I was used to seeing at the high school level. Anxiety levels of our top runners were visibly lower. I could almost sense the smiles beneath the face masks. A few days after that meet, I talked with running program head and head cross-country coach Sally Revere about my observations. We agreed that there had been a change. With no post-season to worry about, our top runners wanted two things. First, they were focusing on setting goals for themselves and striving to reach them. With post-season pressure absent, missing a goal created an opportunity to reset and train differently rather than being seen as a missed opportunity. Second, these top runners focused time and energy on helping the younger and less experienced runners understand strategy, invest in goal-setting, and learn to love running.

I had lots of conversations with athletes and coaches who are part of team sports such as baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, and volleyball. We all agreed that last year felt different. While winning always felt good, losing did not hurt so much. With shortened seasons and no playoffs, each day was about connection, fostering an inclusive team culture, and bringing out the best in each person. Learning skills and being as competitive as possible was important, but it also felt okay to set that stuff aside and enjoy simply being physical and playing a game. The pressure was off, and the joy that sports can bring was present much more regularly.

I am hopeful that the 2021-2022 school year will be a return to three full sports seasons, complete with post-season play. I am more hopeful that this office, Lakeside coaches, our athletes, parents, guardians, alumni, faculty, and staff can continue to remember that sports are, first and foremost, meant to be a place and time where there is joy, healthy competition, and connection.

My office will be working closely with Lakeside’s Medical Advisory Board and the leaders of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), the Metro League, and the WIAA to ensure that the highest safety measures are met for our student-athletes and coaches. Please look for emails from me over the course of the next several weeks that will provide the most accurate information regarding COVID-19 protocols and any changes to published schedules.

Go Lions!

Chris Hartley is director of athletics at Lakeside School. Reach him at athleticsdept@lakesideschool.org.