Trust, Empathy…and John H. Reagan Raiders Football

DSC_0089-LThe John H. Reagan Raiders football team had a record of 9 wins to 71 losses between the years 2004 and 2011.  In the past 2 years, they have won 9 games (2 games still left in the 2015 season)! This is a team surging forward in a massive comeback.  What could be driving this powerful #ReturnofReagan? Fresh talent? Harder workouts? New strategies?

Try trust and empathy.  Head Coach Keith Carey joined the team in February 2012, with the quote “The sooner that we can earn each other’s trust and start caring about each other, then the Xs and Os will take care of themselves and the wins will take care of themselves.”  From the moment he first stepped onto the Raider home field, Coach Carey has been steadfast in his goal to build a team rooted in care and trust and growing in success–on that field, in school, and in life.

DSC_5806-L

Traditionally, the words “caring” and “empathy” seem out of place within the context of full-body contact, earth-shattering tackles and clashing helmets. A football field doesn’t usually leap to mind as a place to get in touch with emotion. Football players have been expected to act like “men,” based on a negative definition of men as invulnerable people unaffected by feelings. Coach Carey is working with the young men on his team to change the very core of this traditional attitude about football. He says, “Now we understand that we can use the idea of a real team–made up of men who share their feelings, fears, and care for one another–to redefine manhood.”

DSC_2096-L

The team engages in intentional exercises to tell their stories, share their fears, communicate their feelings and openly appreciate each other. “The truth is that young people are struggling every day with terrible fear, insignificance, sadness, pain. We acknowledge that we are all struggling with deep pain.  Then it’s easier to share it,” says Carey. For many students that Carey coaches, football practice may be the only venue to share authentically about their painful struggles. Holding a team space that is safe, respectful, non-judgmental, positive and open has been Carey’s mission. This is how he is building his powerhouse of a cohesive team. “We talk every day about how the #1 predictor of success for our team is how much we care about one another.”

image5 (2)

The mission is even bigger than that, though, for the Reagan Raiders: By redefining the idea of men as caring, open team members who speak about their emotions, they are growing social and emotional leaders of the school and the future. “We address that it can feel awkward to talk to each other in an emotional way. But we keep telling these kids that they will be the generation that changes traditional ideas about male identity and even breaks the cycle of domestic violence by learning to express their feelings in appropriate, authentic ways.”  When the team faces challenges and setbacks, Coach Carey frames them in terms of the greater purpose–learning to be resilient and successful in life. “Every setback prepares us for situations that will arise as we take on the most important roles in our lives, like being husbands and fathers.  That is our mission as a team; it is bigger than any setback.”

DSC_1123-L

Coach Keith Carey and the John H. Reagan Raiders are doing impactful work both on and off the football field. This video, which shows core team values juxtaposed with spectacular Raider football plays, sums it up nicely:

We are #AISDProud of the Reagan Raiders! Keep it up! #NotWithoutHonor

More about SEL in school athletics:

SEL in Action! Part I

SEL in Action! Part II

SEL in Action! Part III

SEL in Action! Part IV

Social and Emotional Learning in Action! Part III: Inspiration Basketball

Our continuing series focuses on the social and emotional learning presented by extracurricular activities, and how these lessons reverberate through classrooms, schools and the lives of young people.  The inspiration for this exploration came from this basketball video:

Just to emphasize the empathetic awesome:

“I think, in a way, this is how sports should be…it’s just kind of showing the impact that encouragement and support for anybody can make.” –one of the Waco student basketball players, to the bemused reporter

Clearly, playing on a basketball team can create an organic space to grow and practice perspective-taking and empathy.  What other SEL skills can develop on a school basketball team, under the wing of a talented, nurturing coach?  Check out this letter from a parent to the principal of Lamar Middle School:

To Whom It May Concern:

Perhaps you are already aware of this great Coach, Teacher, Facilitator, Mentor of middle school students.
Either way, I feel compelled to share our perspective and what we learned from Coach Derek Wright.

This year our 7th grade son made the brave choice to try out for basketball at Lamar Middle School. He had never played before and had a lot to learn! He was nervous, but determined.

Coach Derek Wright was charged with developing a team ready to win on the court in just a few short weeks. Never an easy feat and one that takes a great deal of commitment, patience and knowledge of the game. Of course Coach Wright has all these qualities, as he’s been at it awhile. However, it’s his keen awareness of player’s strengths and needs that is truly inspiring.

We hoped our son’s basketball skills would improve and they did, but what we weren’t prepared for was the incredible change in his self-confidence, resilience and positive attitude.

Coach Wright deserves most of the credit for this positive growth in our son and many others. I watched in amazement many times as Coach Wright guided his players with a sense of calm, clear, specific goals. He seemed to know exactly what each player needed to hear in order to dig deep and find the strength to ‘win’ the game. He shared his love of the game in a way that made the experience fun, yet focused.

The Lamar Scotties 7th grade basketball team played their final game of the season on Thursday.
I would say it was a good season looking at the stats. Winning games is always a good feeling. Winning at life and learning skills that will stay with you forever…priceless!

Thanks for believing in your team Coach Wright!

A coach that recognizes the social and emotional learning opportunities inherent in athletic activities has the power to positively impact young people in ways that will stick with them their whole lives.  We saw teacher-coaches like this in last week’s post about Consuelo Mendez Middle School, and the first post in the series featuring conversations with former football coaches.  Compassionate educators who bring their SEL-infused coaching strategies from the gyms into their classrooms, schools, and leadership roles are truly educating the whole child.  And that’s the name of the SEL game!

hands_on_basketball