Strength, communication, inclusion. These are a few of the themes Calhoun coaches emphasize with their teams during competition. Their goal is to create an environment that pushes the student-athletes to compete at the highest level while building leadership skills that will help them both on and off the court, track and field. Calhoun coaches learn to create and seize these teachable moments in their seasonal internal coaching-development workshops, where they learn both to foster sports-based and leadership skills on their teams and to support the personal growth of student-athletes. These intentional workshops have been instrumental in encouraging student-athletes to become strong-minded and resilient individuals, even long after their athletic careers at Calhoun are over.
This fall, the coaching-development workshops were centered around the concept of “belonging,” which describes environments where all identities feel welcome, comfortable and accepted in contrast to “fitting in,” where many feel they have to adapt to feel accepted. All coaches came together and discussed current examples of this in the department, such as the policy of not cutting students from teams, or using inclusionary language for all genders. They also examined the difference between “belonging” and “fitting in,” and then reflected on their feelings on both subjects, drawing on their own life experiences. The coaches’ discussion focused on the differences among students on their teams, and how they can create team environments that are accepting and welcoming for everyone, meaning that no student would be forced to fit in. To increase this sense of belonging in their program, the coaches then discussed how to prioritize relationships between coaches and student-athletes, so that student-athletes feel invested in and seen by their coaches and their community, and how students are expected to learn from and treat one another as a means to pursue collective goals and understand what it truly means to be part of a team.
“From the very beginning of each season, I make sure student-athletes know that everyone is welcome on the team, regardless of skill, gender or ability. I also make it clear that each of us is responsible to make sure that's true, and every interaction is an opportunity to increase someone's sense of belonging or take it away. It takes practice and awareness, but it is possible if everyone is committed to it,” says Michael Zurkuhlen ‘06, Middle School Soccer Coach.
In the future, the Athletics Department plans to continue holding space for these important conversations and finding new avenues to provide support to student-athletes. These workshops demonstrate the scope of commitment that being a strong athlete and a strong coach requires time and space devoted to building leadership skills, and to sharpen these skills, you must devote the same amount of time and focus as you do in workouts and practices. In Calhoun Athletics, both commitments are paramount; one does not thrive without the other. In this way, participating in sports at Calhoun becomes an extension of the classroom and a place where student-athletes gain useful, lifelong tools to build successful relationships and excel beyond their sport. It all starts with the investment and belief of the coaches, and the workshops where they strive to find the right way to bring out the best in each student-athlete. Every minute spent in these workshops translates to students’ future success, not just in sports but in all endeavors.