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Minnesota’s WHY WE PLAY Initiative Teaches Purpose of Educational Sports

By Cody Porter on February 08, 2016 hst Print

The continuation of an athletic career after high school is something that less than three percent of student-athletes will ever experience.

For the other 97 percent left to explore other interests, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) and Associate Director Jody Redman have developed the WHY WE PLAY initiative to promote the educational purpose of sports. These valuable life lessons are defined by the words “Courage,” “Confidence,” “Failure,” “Belonging” and “Growth.”

Research conducted during past decades shows that sports participation grants student-athletes opportunities to develop skills that are not limited to physical development, according to the MSHSL. Such examples include overcoming adversity and failure, discovering the courage to acquire a new skill, and growing one’s confidence.

“One of the main purposes of WHY WE PLAY is to become much more intentional about what we’re providing and how we’re providing opportunities for kids to grow in their sports experience,” Redman said.

WHY WE PLAY was conceived in 2012 after several Minnesota athletic administrators met for a series of discussions on Joe Ehrmann’s InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives. “Everybody had a fire lit in them,” Redman said. Redman authored a curriculum based on Ehrmann’s book to teach coaches about the educational component of sports.

“What we found after a year is that we were setting coaches up for failure,” Redman said. “We were setting them up for failure because there wasn’t anybody in their own school community that was talking the same language around the purpose of high school sports and activities.”

Once the MSHSL realized this limitation, it began training school communities around the WHY WE PLAY initiative. The league’s board of directors enacted a policy requirement for school boards to complete a “brief but dynamic video training” on the initiative before the league’s membership resolution could be completed for the 2015-16 school year. Redman added that athletic administrators and new coaches must receive educational training on the topic twice a year, and the more than 25,000 state coaches must undergo training once every three years.

“I think one of the most consistent forms of feedback is that InSideOut Coaching is the doorway into some of the best conversations you will have with your coaches. For athletic administrators, it gives them a common language to be able to have conversations with their coaches about something other than winning games,” Redman said. “When a school community pushes back because a coach maybe isn’t as successful on the scoreboard as maybe they think he or she should be, it provides a framework for athletic administrators to address that with parents within their community – with principals, with superintendents, with school boards.”

The league’s intent in aligning school communities with the initiative is to encourage the athletic administrators, coaches, parents and officials who speak to student-athletes to rethink what they view as their sports culture. Coach involvement alone isn’t enough to change this mindset, according to the MSHSL. Education received as part of WHY WE PLAY training is believed to offer school communities the shared common language needed to promote the many rewards of sports participation.

“The goal is to win, and coaches should be playing and planning and preparing to win the game but that’s not the purpose,” Redman said. “The purpose is the human growth and development of kids through their sports experience and connecting them to caring adults in their learning communities so they can also have academic success.”