The Silver Lining of the New Athletic Normal

Last May I sat reading an article titled, I Already Miss Watching My Kids Play. Prior to COVID, our family spring and summer plans were slammed with soccer, volleyball and basketball tournaments. With heavy hearts we crossed all those events off the calendar and talked about our renewed hope for sports returning in the fall. Knowing how much I was missing watching my kids play was nothing compared to how much my kids and their teammates were missing sports. And I know the same was true for all of our students who missed out on Term 3 sports last year.

As we approached the fall with so many uncertainties and unanswered questions about what our athletic programs could look like, I knew for certain that more than ever our children needed that daily physical release, and the connection and community that sport provides. Daily activity is vital to a student’s health and it’s something we value deeply in the SMUS community.

The tricky piece was determining what form this new athletic program would take? Every activity would need to be cohort-based, co-ed and inclusive to all levels and abilities. This was something we had never seen or done before.

On September 14, we began at the Middle School by launching our cross-country and soccer programs with our new Grade 6s. I truly had no idea what to expect with numbers. As I stepped out on the field on that gorgeous, sunny day and saw 45 students waiting to run and play, my heart soared. That first week, and every week since, we have seen record numbers of participants in all of our programs, in all of our grades. The students have been incredible during this year, adapting not only to new sports and routines but to their new “athletic normal.” Listening to those excited voices, hearing our “Vivat!” cheer, and seeing those smiling, sweaty faces has been a joyous part of my day, every day.

The Bright Side

In a year when school sports have taken a big hit, I refuse to think of this year as a loss. Despite missing that sense of pride I have watching our students compete and represent the Blue Jags every week against other schools, I feel that we will take away much this year; specifically, a strong focus on enhancing and refining our student’s skill and sport knowledge bases.

In Canada’s Long-Term Athlete Development model (pdf), between the ages of 10-13 the focus is on “learning to train” and “training to train.” This is a critical age period for developing strength and endurance through game play, as well as a period of accelerated development of coordination and fine motor control. It is also a time when children enjoy practising skills they learn and seeing their own improvement. Competitions are focused on skill development and retention of skills. This year has allowed us, as coaches, to really help students develop and retain those sports skills without the pressures of inter-school competition. The instructional time and dedication to excellence given to each student by our incredibly talented coaching staff is unparalleled, and seeing the proficiency (and at times mastery) of skills gained by each student over the course of the year has been impressive.

During the last seven months your children have battled one another in training, created great chemistry and camaraderie with their teammates, and learned the tactical and technical aspects of their sport. If you have been missing watching your kids play, I would encourage you to ask your child to show you a skill they have learned. If you are feeling really brave, ask them to play with you.

I look forward to a time in the near future when I can stand on the sidelines with you (and all of our parents), cheering on our students as they showcase what they’ve learned this year.

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