Lessons From the Squash Court

Part of success depends on internal grit and determination, and we all need to allow our children to self advocate and to set their own goals. As parents, our dreams are just that, our dreams.

I am a stickler for good sportsmanship, and while I am hyper-competitive, I believe in playing hard, winning with tenacity, and losing with grace. When my son was first learning to play squash (more of an East Coast thing), my mild mannered boy once threw his racquet in a moment of pique and disgust. He had seen older boys make this intemperate physical statement and thought it was part of the culture and expectation for this sport. Later in the car, I told him that if he ever did it again, I would walk onto the court and take him home. Trust me, there are few images more horrifying to an adolescent than an irate mother heading out of the stands. I also knew him well enough to know that I would never have to make good on that threat.

My son went on to play lacrosse at the collegiate level and later, as a high school coach, received letters from many parents of his players that were incredibly touching, often mentioning how life affirming and life changing he had been for their sons. He always said that he believed coaching was primarily teaching, and an opportunity for coaches to be as affirmational on the field as teachers are in the classroom.

I became an adult athlete myself, playing on teams as well as practicing racquet ball obsessively. I took my natural love of competition and decided to direct that toward team sports. Rugby was a fantastic outlet and I played into my early 30s. Back in high school, however, I had coaches who decided early on that I was not varsity material. I lost all confidence and became an example of a truly self-fulfilling prophesy. I had no idea how much better I was than their image of me.

I write of these vignettes now for, as you know, we are currently conducting a search for an Athletic Director at Marlborough. High on my list of qualifications is the need for our new leader to envision all of our girls as athletes and to affirm their tenacity, grit, and passion. This does not mean that every girl will - or should - make the varsity team, and there are no medals for showing up. That is an expectation, but one of the most touching conversations I had with a now graduated senior had to do with her love of softball. In her own words, she was not a gifted player, she never started and rarely played, but she loved being a part of the team, and by senior year she was playing a bit more and loving every second of it. Part of her success had to do with coaches who encouraged her; they did not tell her she was great, but they did affirm her willingness to lead, to try hard, and to never give up.

Part of success depends on internal grit and determination, and we all need to allow our children to self advocate and to set their own goals. As parents, our dreams are just that, our dreams. As a school, it is our responsibility to hire leaders who love being around our students, regardless of their ability, and to instill in them a love of play, of competition, and of teamwork, as well as a deep and abiding care for one another and the understanding that success will only come with hard work (and even then nothing is guaranteed).

As we enter into this process of hiring, we have an opportunity to strive for the joy of creating culture and reminding one another of our values. It is an opportunity to show who we are and what we stand for. I am happy to have Laura Hotchkiss lead this search, and we will remain true to our core beliefs and the mission of Marlborough. Go Mustangs!


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