Big wins — prep sports help cope with real life | PostIndependent.com

Big wins — prep sports help cope with real life

Coal Ridge boys basketball head coach Paul Harvey explains the Pyramid of Success to his players during the start of practice and a new basketball season.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

“Sports are just a vehicle to train us for the ups and downs of life.”

Coal Ridge High School boys basketball head coach Paul Harvey uttered those words last week after teaching history and two straight basketball practices with high school and sixth-grade girls.

Sports are often viewed through wins and losses, whether they’re team or individual sports. But there’s so much more to the games than the results. That lesson isn’t limited to sports, either. It can be debate club, band or any other school activity.

Sports teach athletes of any level how to mature and become better members of society through hard work, discipline, dedication and adversity.

That’s often a more prominent goal at the grassroots level than wins and hardware to fill the school’s trophy case.

“Ultimately, we want them to grow as men,” said Harvey, who bases his program around legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s pyramid for success. “Most of these kids aren’t going to go on to play in college, and we’re not going to see any NBA kids come out of this valley. But we want them to grow and learn how to handle defeat, how to push yourself, come together as a team, win graciously and handle all the microcosms of what life is going to be like.”

Those microcosms of life largely involve timeliness, reliability, work ethic and discipline, especially outside of sports. Once sports are done for most of these student-athletes, it’s time to become a parent, a spouse and a co-worker. Sports help prepare those young men and women for larger stages in life.

While much of that shaping is based on home lives and family upbringing, a coach, a teacher, classmates and teammates also have influence. That’s especially true considering how much time student-athletes spend in school and sports.

Take, for instance, the Glenwood Springs football team’s spring and summer work and its on-field success during the early portion of the season. The hard work paid off early on as the Demons won four of their first seven games. But then the team had to forfeit those wins due to an administrative error outside of the players’ control. That teaches a couple more lessons: Control what you can control, and life isn’t always fair.

“I would hope what those kids took away from that situation was that they don’t want to be in a situation like that again and be the reason that it happened,” said Bryan Whiting, a Post Independent columnist, personal responsibility advocate and 40-year teacher at Glenwood Springs.

Hours after learning their season had been turned on its head, the team dropped Summit by a score of 24-7.

The players easily could have given up, but that’s not how they responded to adversity.

“You have to teach the kids that what happens is up to them,” Whiting said. “I think it’s really important that kids face adversity early on in life. They have to learn that it’s on themselves to figure it out and get through it. Parents, teachers and coaches can show them the way and point them in the right direction, but it’s up to the kids to work through those tough times and learn about themselves. These kids have to learn to fail so that they know how to deal with it the next time it comes up. They do that through personal experience, not by talking about it, and sports certainly helps in that fashion.”

Sports can also be a vehicle for escapism. They help people cope, as well as recover.

Former Glenwood Springs standout girls basketball player Cassandra Irving has seen the impact sports can have on young people. Locally, she’s witnessed it through her Game On basketball camps and her Hoop D’ville tournament at Sayre Park, and she’s seen it around the world, as well.

Through her Game On camps in India and Ukraine, Irving helps bring joy to orphans in Ukraine and young girls in India who were rescued from sex-trafficking slums.

“It is life-changing,” Irving said. “Sports give kids a team around them, a coach behind them and the courage, confidence and competitive mindset inside them to dream bigger, dig deeper and work harder to overcome the challenges that they face in life, both on and off the court. We find that by getting these young kids who have gone through something very traumatic and difficult, giving them sports becomes a tool to have fun again and allows them to develop a competitive spirit.

“It helps them to not let what happened to them early in life beat them. There’s that competitive edge that rises up in them and says ‘I’m not going to let this define me; I’m going to beat this,’ and sports is a good tool for that.”