JEFF BEEDY ED.D LIFESPORT COACH
Life sports such as skiing and hiking bring us closer to nature and our soul. Life sports provide us a time to reflect. We can go for a hike and experience the beauty of nature. We can feel the wind caress our face as we cruise down the slope. Life sports can provide us with an opportunity to heal after suffering an illness or loss. When we feel lost, emotionally, economically, or spiritually we can return to nature and find our center.
For the past 40 years I have combined sports and human development. In the seventies, I skied in the freestyle tour and played baseball in the Cape Cod League. At Harvard, I received a doctorate in human development and studied with renowned child psychologists Carol Gilligan, Lawrence Kohlberg, Robert Selman, and Sesame Street founder Gerald Lesser. Later I taught Social Reflections of Literature for Pulitzer Prize winner (1973) Dr. Robert Coles. I am the author of Total Human Development (THD) and Positive Learning Using Sports (PLUS) models of education and child development used in South Korea, China, Cyprus, Africa, and throughout the United States. I have led international, Montessori, and day schools around the world. In the 1980s, Jeff worked at Milton Academy and founded the innovative Positive Learning Using Sports camp that combines sports with learning and literature. After Milton Academy, I led New Hampton School to be the only private boarding high school in the U.S. to win the coveted National Character Award in 2002. We raised more than $20 million and built five new buildings at New Hampton School. In 2006, I was invited by the Olympic Doves Movement to bridge peace between the Greek and Turkish children on the island of Cyprus. In 2010, I became the founding head of Korea International School, one of the first boarding schools in South Korea’s two billion dollar Global Education City on Jeju Island, South Korea. In less than a year, we helped created the curriculum, hired 60 international faculty, and enrolled 375 students.
The LifeSport Learning Experience for Children
Introduction: Remember the Pine Tree
My parents taught me to love the outdoors. I remember how the wind felt on my face. From an early age I learned to fly-fish, hike and ski all the while appreciating nature and simply being outdoors. Until this day I recall the smells of spring and feeling of the winter coming as I hike the trails and ski the mountains. But there is more. In addition to the love of nature, I remember learning a lot about life. I grew up in western mountains of Maine and my parents were skiers. My older sister was also a skier and we enjoyed the sport together as a family. Luckily, our parents helped start a small local ski area where my sister and I learned to ski at a very early age. In the beginning we didn’t use the rope tow or poma lift (an early form of uphill transportation) to get up the hill. We were taught to “side step”. The one lesson I remember to this day is to set a goal and never give up. We did not call it perseverance or even know what perseverance meant for that matter. The goal was to get to sidestep up to “The Pine Tree” which was a third of the way up the hill and ski down to the lodge at the bottom of the hill. As a four-year-old it seemed almost impossible. The pine tree looked so far away. I did not make it the first few attempts. I do not remember how many times it took or how many times I fell down. Since I did not know how to stop I just fell before slamming into the lodge at the bottom. I do remember my parents urging me on to “keep on trying” “Don’t give up” “you will get there soon”. Well as it turns I did make it to “The Pine Tree” by the end of the ski season. To this day my sister and I use the phrase “Remember the Pine Tree” whenever we are faced with a challenge that seems insurmountable. The “concept” of perseverance was set in our minds through the experience. We did not use the word perseverance but we emotionally understood the experience. We later connected the concept of never giving up and perseverance to real life experiences.
As parents we have an ideal opportunity to uses these life experiences to teach what we call life skills to our children. We do not have to hope that some coach will impart these lessons—we are empowered to teach.
What are Life Sports?
Activities such as hiking, walking, biking, kayaking, golf, skiing, bowling, yoga, fly-fishing are examples of sports that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Life sports can be enjoyed as an individual or with a group. Life long sports can provide us with the opportunity to be alone with nature just to think and reflect or with friends, colleagues, and family. Life sports do not require an organized team, umpire or league in order to participate. Life long sports provide families with time together. This type of time is different than standing on the sidelines cheering. Life long sports can provide our children with a powerful friend through the school years and later in the workplace. Life sports are for a lifetime. Skiing and hiking have provided me with an opportunity to heal after suffering an illness. During my life when I was lost, emotionally, economically, or spiritually I would always return to skiing and find my center. If we can get our children to enjoy an activity such as skiing or hiking at an early age they will have a friend for life. Something that they can take where ever they go in life. When their college roommates want to take a ski or hiking trip they will be able to participate and be a member of the group. Later, they can pass the love of skiing or hiking on to their children.
What are Life Lessons?
We hear a lot today about the importance of teaching character and socio-emotional learning. In addition to learning math and science we want our children to develop skills of resilience, mindfulness, perseverance, respect, and responsibility. According to the Kathleen Port-Magee “social and emotional learning (SEL) is crucial to driving long-term, life-changing outcomes for students.” (American Enterprise Institute May 2020).
The fundamental challenge with SEL is we cannot form student character or teach important values through didactic instruction or programs alone. That’s because shaping student character requires more than simply telling students what to do; it requires modeling for them what that looks like in action.
Most schools do not have the time to teach our children these important life skills. Organized sports often can teach the opposite. As parents we have the opportunity to engage in these lifelong activities with our children. Children need adults to help make sense of experiences they face while growing up. For example, the Pandemic of 2020 was scary for children and it is an experience that will last a lifetime in their hearts and minds. Parents can help shape what the pandemic is and talk with their children about how it makes them feel. The following is a story of how my daughter used “a walk in the woods” to talk about what the Pandemic means and how it will impact their lives and the life of their family.
Walking in the Woods
“We had seen the news and heard the growing fears but it felt as though our lives had changed over night… We as parents thought “how do we protect our children in this time while also being honest with them about what our new lives might look like?” Our family loves the outdoors and our weekends often consist of hour upon hour outside in all of the beauty Maine has to offer. The first few days of quarantine looked like Pjs all day, family movie marathons, and lots of baking experiments, some amazing and some from which we may never recover. After those first few lazy days we tried to bring back a “routine” so our children had some sort of normal in their lives. In our routine we slotted a 1hr window in the morning to enjoy a walk in the woods, where we live there are hundreds of acres of wooded trails to explore. On one of our first walks, maybe day 5–7 but who really knows anymore, we set out with a backpack full of snacks that we would enjoy halfway through our walk at the picnic table located in the middle of the woods, we call it the “hide out”.
I love our walks in the woods because it allows my kids to be one with nature and see what beauty we have in our backyard, I also love it because this is when the questions flow…”why is this metal jug just out here in the middle of the woods momma?” I answer with a “how do you imagine it got here?” I love to watch the mind take off with exciting theories, this also leads to arguments because there is no possible way it could have arrived here by more than one reason, there is only ever one right answer in a youngsters mind. This makes me smile inside because their minds are running away with what could have possibly brought this jug here, and I love that they look to me for all the answers even though I have no idea about that jug. After these questions started flying on this walk my husband and I realized we should probably have a talk with our young minds about where these next few days, weeks, months might take us. I like to be as honest with my kids as much as possible and I have a wide age range, 6,8 &14, so the answers need to be fair and appropriate for all ages. My kids are amazingly resilient, thoughtful, and kind. We had just had our week long Disney vacation canceled due to the pandemic and while they were sad they didn’t get to go, they understood; I was so grateful for their ability to go with the flow during this difficult time. I was upset I didn’t get my vacation, I couldn’t even imagine how they felt, but those little loves didn’t let it keep them down. As we walked I posed a question to them “how have these last few days of quarantine felt for you guys?” After I explained what quarantine meant I was greeted by a few great responses, “it has been fun to hang out in Pjs all day!” “I have liked our movie marathons!” and “cooking new things has been fun!” Then my husband and I both shared what we have enjoyed most about these past few days “slowing down and enjoying family time”. I went on to say to them that I wasn’t sure how long this would last; they don’t get it when we don’t have the answers for everything. I told them that we would not be going “into town” anymore and there would be no more play dates or school for a while, I said that when one of us went to the store they couldn’t go with us anymore, each child thought about that for a moment asked a few questions about it “are my friends doing this too” “seriously no more school!” and “how long are we going to have to do this?” We talked about finding fun ways to fill our time together and we spun it in a way that yes, this is hard but lets look at this as a blessing that we get to spend some much needed down time together. In the coming days we started Spanish lessons, guitar lessons, made bath bombs, slime, cooked a lot, recorded songs together, watched more movies then I could even count, and of course took our daily “walk in the woods” together where in the days ahead we floated around many questions/complaints about this virus that was taking over our freedom. With that, the two “littles” were off ahead of the gang to check out a “knotty tree”, my teenager hung back and asked a few questions about what was really changing and how it affected him. We answer him, as we would hope to be answered when we were a teenager wanting to know what is going on in life. After this talk we went on to explore the woods, letting this new information set in, we broke ice that had formed on gullies, we searched for animal footprints in the mud, and we ended up making it to the “hide out” for a much needed snack. The walk home was a quiet one with questions they knew the answers to but wanted to hear us say it “so I can’t see any of my friends?” “Can we still go to the ice cream place?” “is Margarita’s closed too?” We answered each question with honesty and compassion, these were the things they worried about and we wanted them to feel validated in their worries. As our days ran into weeks and months we always kept our kids in the loop, the News turned into the “Corona Channel” and we had worked out a pretty good “school” schedule for them to follow on the weekdays. While this has disrupted our life in more ways than one, we have gained nothing but understanding and gratefulness from this time at home. We start each meal together around the table saying grace, being grateful for our uninterrupted family time together, praying for those not with us and those affected by the virus. This is not to say it has been all roses and rainbows but in my house but I have never felt more proud of my family than I do during this time. We have managed to find what works for us and we have shown our weaknesses and asked for help from others when it is not working for us.
This time has brought us closer together and has made us human to our children because they see and respect that we are learning this new normal along side of them. We are all in this new crazy world together and I think that is a humbling experience for everyone to gain. Still on day 100000 we get questions “will we go back to school after summer?” “Do I still have a birthday in quarantine?” “Will I really not have a graduation?” With each question we answer with what we know and we ask them how that really makes them feel. As a team we will get through this, we will persevere and see this through until the end; we will come out stronger on the other side because of it. Kids are resilient, as long as we meet these new changes with openness and honesty we can make it through these times with kids who have a new understanding about change and the willingness to meet new challenges with an open mind and an open heart.”
In addition to teaching our children how to ski or play golf we also have the opportunity to teach and coach life lessons such as respect and responsibility. Trying to teach these lessons around the house can be difficult. Having them evolve naturally over a long hike or weekend ski trip provides a richer context for learning. The life sport experience provides a natural and powerful medium to teach about life experiences. The “concept of responsibility” is connected to something real that occurs naturally on a hike with the family.
But it is not easy to teach our own children. We have all heard stories from parents about the difficulty of coaching their children. It is good to have our children taught and coached by others. There is less tension. We tend to see our children in a certain way and treat them that way. Our children also have come to view us in a certain way and know how to push all the right buttons. Parents-as-educators requires “a shift in the way we view each other”. The idea of teaching our children life lessons challenges parents to move into a different role. In many cases this is difficult but it also has its benefits. This new role is a different than being a parent. It is difficult. But the potential reward is beautiful and meaningful. The gift is not only the life lessons we impart to our children but also the shared experience with a sport we can enjoy with our child for a lifetime.
The gift of a lifetime
Helping our children discover an activity such as hiking, horseback riding, or skiing is giving them a gift for their lifetime. They do not need a team or umpire to go fly-fishing. Skiing provides an opportunity for friends and family to naturally connect over the course of a lifetime. My best times with my grandson are fly-fishing and skiing.
What is the LifeSport Learning Experience?
The LifeSport Learning Experience combines sports for life and life learning. We can teach our children about many of techniques of hiking and why hiking boots are helpful and how to pace oneself on a mountain hike. Hiking is a physical workout and builds the body in positive ways. Our children can learn to record their own heart rate. Hiking also provides parents with the opportunity to “teach and model” to our children how to persevere when the going gets tough. If we are on a family hike we can teach responsibility and leadership to our older children when we ask them to wait up and support their younger siblings. The idea behind “LifeSport Learning Experience” is that is combines physical workout like hiking with the life lessons of respect and leadership. This approach also provides us with a new way to connect with our children and develop a life long connection through a mutually shared activity. The same can be said about biking, bowling, fly-fishing, and skiing.
A Parents Guide to LifeSports and Learning: Seven Steps
The LifeSport Learning Experience is supported by research on child development as well as personal stories to create a seven-step template for parents to engage in life long sports with their kids. School is not the only place children learn. We can develop authentic relationships with our children and teach important life lessons. There is a sense of empowerment to know that as parents we can develop stronger relationships with our kids and make a positive difference in their lives. A humbling experience for sure. But an experience that just might strengthen our relationship with our children. The following seven steps provide parents with a guide
- Think of yourself less as a parent and more as a coach
- Set goal for the activity
- Conduct Warm-up and Cool-down Meetings
- Connect to literature
- Leadership Ladder
- Keep a Journal
- Connect lessons to life at home and school