What Parents Can Learn From Football: Focus on the First Downs

GCP has previously featured articles about what teachers and coaches can learn from one another. Today we focus on what parents can learn from football.

Regardless of how much of a football fan you are during the rest of the season, it is hard not to focus on the game during the playoffs. And even we novice watchers learn pretty quickly after a game or two that while it may be thrilling to watch a receiver catch a long pass and sprint down the field for a touchdown, most games are won by teams persistently and systematically making first downs, slowly but surely marching down the field towards the end zone. Less exciting to watch, perhaps, but often the stuff of which champions are made.

So what does this have to do with educating our boys? A recent conversation with an African American college admissions officer who has worked at a selective college for more than thirty years suggests that the parallels are compelling. He worries that we are not sufficiently concentrating on the systematic acquisition of “first downs” in educating our children, especially our boys. We are encouraging our sons to dream big, but not keeping them focused on doing their best, in even the simplest assignments, every day. In his words, making sure that first-grade Billy is optimally prepared for second grade is more important than whether he wants to go to Harvard, like his Uncle Joe did. Helping fourth-grade Sam understand that with consistent and diligent effort he can be ready next year to join Ms. Martin’s popular fifth grade class is as valuable as (or even more valuable than) encouraging his desire to be an astronaut.

As has been noted in many other GCP posts, our focus on our boys’ education has to start when they are young, by reading to them and keeping them engaged in stimulating activities. And it needs to continue through their years of schooling, encouraging them to stay the course and focus on their daily work even when they are convinced that reading some boring history chapter will in no way help them pursue their dreams of becoming the next Bill Gates.

It is tempting to be distracted by their exciting dreams of the future, which we so want to see realized. But helping them understand the importance of those first downs could be what really gets them closer to making these dreams come true. As this wise admissions officer noted, if we concentrate on the systematic acquisition of those educational first downs, “The touch downs will surely come eventually.”

Something to think about this weekend when you are watching the Giants march towards the Super Bowl. (Go Big Blue!)

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