May 26, 2018
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High school athletics should teach life lessons, life skills

By Bob Cimbollek, Special to the BDN

I was going to write about the Maine Principals’ Association’s sports season policy today, but a timely article in the BDN Sports section on Thanksgiving Day, “Penn State’s illustrates the influence of sports,” really caught my attention, so I changed my mind.

With this being the second week of the high school preseason, all athletes and their parents have signed their athlete, parent, coach and school contracts.

This is a good time to ask fans, athletes, parents, superintendents, school boards, school administrators and coaches: Why were high school athletics included as part of the educational process?

It was done to teach the life lessons and life skills that cannot be taught or learned in the academic classrooms.

This was the way high school athletics were run until about the early 1970s. Most coaches were high school teachers, but today because of the “soft Charmin” approach to education, which has made its way into high school athletics, many high school coaches are from outside the educational environment. Teachers have left the coaching profession in droves because of the parental influence and lack of administrative backing in dealing with parents.

I became interested in teaching physical education and coaching in 1952 because of Frank Charbonneau, my physical education teacher and coach at Garland Street Junior High School in Bangor.

He was a great influence and left a big impression. First, he was a great role model and strong disciplinarian but was very fair, treating everyone equally. He was a very caring person, a great listener, and he took the time to teach those life lessons and life skills of hard work, loyalty, teamwork and coping.

He taught how to follow and commit to team rules and policies, how to accept your role on a team, that athletics were a privilege and not a right and about sacrificing oneself for the good of the whole. He emphasized good sportsmanship, not blaming others for your shortcomings, getting immediately back on the horse when you got knocked off, that life is not fair and that winning isn’t the most important thing, but wanting to is.

He taught life lessons and life skills first and then he used the game of basketball to implement those lessons and skills in his students and players.

Teaching life lessons and life skills are what drew me into coaching, not the game, not the wins and losses and not championships. The game was a means to an end for me.

Today, many parents are complaining about their children’s playing time because administrations and school boards do not have “rules for dealing with parents’ expectations” in their athlete school contracts. Topics should include playing time, squad selections, team strategy and other players on the team. Without these rules in the contract, undue influence and pressure is placed on coaches. These contracts should be signed by parents and should not allow them to break the rules, agreeing not to contact coaches at anytime concerning the terms.

How many public or private schools have such rules for athletic contracts?

Check your local high school athletic contracts to see if they list life lessons and life skills. If they don’t then they just have high-priced intramurals, featuring recreation, exercise and entertainment with the bonus of equal participation time.

High school athletics should not be in the recreation and entertainment business, shouldn’t be building programs for colleges and shouldn’t put wins and losses ahead of teaching life lessons and life skills.

To judge how successful your local high school coaches are in teaching life lessons and life skills, evaluate them on:

• The number of players who go on to coach,

• How many sportsmanship awards their teams have won,

• How many players made all-academic teams and school honor rolls,

• How well the team does when they are outmatched by another team,

• How many of their players come back to see them and thank them, and

• How much athletics helped them in their personal and professional lives.

High school athletic mission statements, objectives and school contracts are great, but if they don’t have “teaching life lessons and life skills” as their No. 1 goal then they are just high-priced intramurals.

That means administrators and school boards must back their coaches who try to enforce the school contract as a foundation for teaching life lessons and life skills.

High school interscholastic athletics should be a positive influence to help offset the negative influences of big-time Division I college and professional sports.

If you would like to recommend a subject for this column please email

Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and is a basketball official.

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