Bryn Mawr >> A star-studded panel featuring former Philadelphia 76ers owner Pat Croce, world-renowned sports performance psychologist and author Dr. Jim Loehr, Trinity College squash coach Paul Assaiante (his team won 252 consecutive matches, the longest winning streak in college sports history), ESPN’s Ashley Fox (a Shipley parent) and CEO and former sports agent Molly Fletcher discussed the challenges and pressures student-athletes face in 2017 with approximately 125 Shipley parents and coaches at The Shipley School Tuesday evening.
Tuesday’s event came about as a result of several conversations between ESF Co-founder and Executive Director Michael Rouse and Shipley Head of School Dr. Steven Piltch. Bryn Mawr-based ESF, which stands for education, sports and fun, operates day camps and education programs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut and New York.
To see a video of the entire seminar click here
Rouse, a former top- ranked junior and collegiate tennis player and father of three, said the pressure on high school students today, especially student athletes, is intense where teens are pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing and the relentless pressure to achieve.
“ESF is in the business of developing and inspiring people of all ages,” Rouse said. “We want this night to reset the scorecard for ‘success’ for young people by allowing teens to become stronger, healthier, more resilient individuals of great character and better prepared to handle the demands of life.”
Parents and students can be caught in a years-long pursuit for athletic scholarships from top-tier colleges, Dr. Piltch said.
“The plain and simple truth is that only a small percentage of those players do receive a free ride and we want to share the statistics and realities with them and their families,” said Dr. Piltch. “We should have students in programs that stress the importance of balance in their lives. After all, even for athletes able to earn a scholarship, an athletics career will rarely last beyond college graduation.
“The lessons people learn from playing sports are far more important than their accomplishments while they play. Ideally, those lessons are about character, resilience, teamwork, and empathy and understanding. Unfortunately, we can only be sure of what they learned when they’ve finished their careers.”
Dr. Loehr, a father of three who has worked with hundreds of world-class performers from the arenas of sports (including golfer Justin Rose, who won the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in 2013), business, medicine and law enforcement, said, “We need [parents] not to put [performance] pressure on their kids the way a coach would – lots of people can coach your kids, but no one can take your place as a parent – but to take the pressure off their kids for winning, and to put the focus on using the sport to become a stronger and more decent human being. The parent should communicate to the child that, ‘I want you to use sport to learn about yourself [as a person].’”
Dr. Loehr then asked the audience at Shipley, “What two things do you most want for your children?” and the audience responded with words like, “happiness,” “health,” and “achievement.”
He then asked the audience, “How many of you would put ‘being a good person’ second behind happiness? … While studies have shown that human beings were born to chase – are purpose-driven – the key for our young athletes is, who are they becoming as a consequence of the chase? It’s a false assumption to say that high achievement promotes strong character, or that it even promotes happiness. In fact, [data] shows that the higher you go in competitive sports, particularly team sports, the higher chance there is that your character can be compromised.”
Loehr, the author of many books, including “The Only Way to Win: How Building Character Drives Higher Achievement and Greater Fulfillment in Business and in Life,” said, “The biggest insight of my career [as a psychologist] was realizing that it’s health that inspires performance – health meaning physical, emotional, mental and spiritual [through developing character]. I look at someone like Roger Federer, who is so in the moment, so at peace with who he is, that he truly loves every moment. And he has great balance in his life. He has great health, four children – two sets of twins – and he shows humility in defeat, grace in defeat.”
The panel fielded many questions from the audience, and one of the topics was the question of a youth focusing on one sport.
Croce said, “I’ve always been a big believer in harmony and balance and cross-training, whether it’s in flexibility training and aerobics, or swimming and tennis, or hockey and basketball – that’s where the Russians had it right – they always cross-trained. This body that we were given is so magnificent, that to play just one sport [limits] you. We’re such beautiful animals, and we get to use these muscles in a variety of different ways [by playing different sports], so why not cross-train.”
The colorful Croce, always an entertaining speaker, had the audience perform an eight-second breathing exercise prior to his talk, “to get us focused on the here and now,” then quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and Bruce Lee, among others, as to the importance of focusing on the present and not projecting into the unknown future.
“We created a series of steps with the Sixers to become a championship-caliber team, and each step wasn’t a means to the end, each step was the end, creating the perfect form. Getting lost in the present as the soul gets into the role, investing in the doing, which is what a player like Allen Iverson did for us…. It’s the how in the now that creates the wow.
“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
Assainte, whose Trinity squash teams have been the picture of success over the last two decades, said, “I’m very concerned seeeing what I’m seeing coming in the door [of college] today. We have kids coming into our college who look great but very often the first time they hit failure they break like a porcelain doll. … You can learn so much from failure in sports and in life. One of the keys of a great leader is to have empathy [for those experiencing adversity].”
Fox, who played tennis in college, and whose father was a college basketball coach, spoke of her experience growing up as a one-sport athlete. While she credited her involvement with tennis as an important part of her journey (she made it to Wimbledon – as a journalist) she shared that even today she does not play tennis – unable to enjoy the game as a sport rather than a competition. Fox also spoke about her experiences as a parent of a Shipley student-athlete, and shared several quotes from legendary basketball coach John Wooden about what athletics can teach the individual about dealing with life’s challenges.
Fletcher, CEO of the Atlanta-based Molly Fletcher Group, the author of three books on performance, and a former sports agent who represented hundreds of sport’s biggest names, including Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA TOUR golfer Matt Kuchar, broadcaster Erin Andrews, and basketball championship coaches Tom Izzo and Doc Rivers, moderated the panel and kept the high powered group on task and on message. Along the way, Fletcher shared her experiences working with professional athletes and the importance of them finding passion and joy in their sport as a requisite for finding success. Fletcher, the mother of three student-athletes, was empathetic with the audience members’ questions and concerns on parenting, and shared with the Shipley audience some of her insights on the pressures that young athletes (and their parents) face, and how both parties can best deal with them.
ESF, the co-sponsor of the Tuesday night event, was founded in 1982 by brothers Michael and Bill Rouse at the age of 15 and 11, The nationally acclaimed education company provides award-winning summer enrichment programs for people of all ages. ESF also operates baseball and softball camps for the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer camps for the Philadelphia Union and football and cheer camps for the Philadelphia Eagles. ESF supports the ESF Dream Camp Foundation, which provides after-school mentoring and summer camps for underprivileged children from Philadelphia and Hartford, Conn. For more information, visit www.ESFCamps.com. For more information about The Shipley School, visit www.shipleyschool.org.