Thoughts on Sports, Teamwork and Montessori Education

What does a former NFL football player have to do with Montessori education? Head of School Donna Milani Luther recently shared her thoughts and explained why national sports educator Joe Ehrmann was selected to kick off the 2013–14 Nelson ♦ Omran Speaker Series on October 23rd.

How does Joe’s message fit with the Inly ethos and philosophy?
He’s actually very Inly-esque in his approach to coaching, and I think it aligns perfectly with who we are as a school. We share the understanding that students learn well when there’s a sense of happiness and friendship and teamwork and love. As someone who extends that onto the coaching field, Joe presents a really interesting view.

Joe talks a lot about teamwork and collaboration and the importance of helping each other succeed… and I see a lot of similarities in our approach at Inly. Because our classrooms are multi-age, the older students are taught how to be role models and to help the younger ones. And because we’re a preK–8 school, this happens at all levels — from middle school down to preschool — as older students model kindness and leadership, teach skills and inspire younger students. The whole educational model at Inly is set up to help us all become the best we can be.

What about the role of competition in sports? Is this at odds with the Montessori-based approach at Inly?
I’ve always been one to think that you compete with yourself. If I’m doing math, I want to do math myself better the next time; I don’t need to beat the person beside me. At Inly we teach children to make personal goals and then to work hard within that framework to achieve them. Our approach is “we’re all in this together” rather than competing against one another — which leads to cooperative learning and to the kind of teamwork that I think kids need in this century.

Joe’s philosophy is that teamwork, not competition, is what it takes to succeed — both on the sports field and in life. That’s our philosophy at Inly as well.

Joe talks a lot about gender issues and the sports culture in our country. What is this all about?
He touches on this a lot — particularly in his “Be a Man” TEDx talk. It all has to do with healthy child and adolescent development, and knowing one’s true self. Joe comes from a traditional macho place and knows that the mentality is set from a young age. The “here’s what guys do in sports” message is all around us — they drink a bit too much, they act a certain way, and there’s that kind of bravado. It applies to boys in particular but all kids when they don’t have another way to identify themselves and fit in. Sometimes when kids don’t have another angle in they use sports as a shell around themselves as opposed to finding their authentic selves.

Joe’s message is about the need to transform the culture of sports, and it starts with parents and teachers and coaches sending the right message—the earlier, the better.

What do you hope parents take from this talk?
Joe presents a much more holistic approach to sports. It’s not about winning this particular game, it’s about winning your long-term personal race in life. It’s about ‘how am I going to be the best person I can be?’ and viewing sports as one vehicle to get there. I hope parents see that this kind of approach can lead to happier, healthier humans and that they help their own children get there.

What about teachers and coaches? What do you hope they take away?
We’re actually doing a pre-talk workshop for Inly teachers and coaches as well as YMCA coaches. Each teacher and coach will write a personal mission statement on how they pledge to help boys grow to men and girls grow to women and to help each child be the best they can be. Their individual statements will detail how they plan to help facilitate this back in their classrooms, gyms or out on the sports fields.

Is this a brand new collaboration with the YMCA?
Yes and no. The Joe Ehrmann talk is co-sponsored by the South Shore YMCA. But since the Y now owns the South Shore Natural Science Center, last year’s talk with Richard Louv could technically be considered our first collaboration.

As for sports programs, we’ve been lucky to be involved with the South Shore YMCA for several years. Our Upper Elementary students regularly travel to the YMCA in Hanover to do a physical fitness and life skills program; Upper Elementary and Middle School students also play in the Y’s flag football league as part of Inly’s After-School Program. It all makes for a healthy, well-rounded and developmentally-appropriate physical education and sports curriculum—both during and after school.

Read more:

Transforming the Culture of Sports: Former NFL player, named the “Greatest Coach in America,” speaks at Inly School

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