While reading through the interview transcripts of students at Everdeen, one particular theme stood out to me as emerging within many contexts. That theme was sports. One specific interviewee seemed to be able to incorporate his participation in athletics and sports while at Everdeen into his responses to almost every question asked of him. At Everdeen, “everybody has to do sport training in school” (Jake Anderson). This idea of each student being required to partake in some type of athletic activity or sport at school is certainly an interesting one. It is not necessarily uncommon for schools, especially elite ones, to require students to participate in athletics in some capacity. This requirement can’t be considered solely positive or negative for the student’s educational experience, given that there are both pros and cons to it.
Those in leadership roles at Everdeen “claim sports provide a unifying experience for students” (Howard, 2020, p. 9). In claiming this, they are not necessarily wrong. As student Jake Anderson describes, “kids go and play sport with each other… we all mingle with each other.” The very prominent aspect of sports and athletics in life at Everdeen is a great way for the students to broaden their social circles and get to know students who they would not typically interact with a little bit better. The students are given a space to collaborate and work together on a team in a different atmosphere, and through doing this they are gaining very crucial communication and cooperation skills. Those at Everdeen “believe that involvement in sports provides a much more important instructional setting for teaching these lessons” (Howard, 2020, p. 9) as opposed to other methods that could be used. This aspect of socialization through the various sports teams and athletic events is certainly a pro of the requirement.
The student whose interview transcripts I read, Jake Anderson, also consistently mentions that sports are “like a way to [get] out of studies, get your mind off things, but have fun with your friends at the same time and just have the best time that you can.” He responded with this after being asked what role sports play in his life. It is clear that he, as well as many other students at Everdeen, truly enjoys participating in his respective sports and athletics. Students feel as though it is a great way to clear their minds of any school-related issues, as well as anything else that might be impacting them. This helps keep the student’s mental health in a good space, by assuring that they are not constantly surrounded by the stressors of school and life and that they have a space to decompress. These are all certainly positive things that come out of the school’s athletic requirement, and they are not to be discounted when considering the negative aspects as well.
Also at Everdeen, however, the student’s participation in sports seems like it almost overshadows their participation in other extracurricular activities, as well as their academics. As displayed by the tendency of this student to center his answers about his experience at Everdeen, a place of education, around his experience playing sports and participating in athletics, he clearly thinks of it as a very prominent aspect of his life. He rarely describes his actual classroom experiences at Everdeen, which could be a sign of them being on the back burner in his mind. He is evidently very focused on his involvement in sports, almost so much that it overtakes everything else. He also states, “I don’t really do anything else,” when being asked what he does outside of school besides sports. In this, it is clear that the athletic involvement is overshadowing any other extracurricular activities that students may want to partake in, such as music or art. Students seem to become so enthralled in athletics that they forget to leave room for other activities that could be beneficial to them as well.
This pattern of placing athletics over academics and other activities is not specific to Everdeen and can be seen at many elite educational institutions. For example, many student-athletes at Colby have developed a reputation of caring more about their sport than they do about their academics. This is again, not necessarily a bad thing, it is just something to keep in mind since one of the main purposes of pursuing higher education is to learn. Clearly, elite educational institutions, like Everdeen and Colby, need to be careful how they promote athletic involvement to students. These places need to emphasize that it is definitely important for socialization, mental health, and overall experience. In doing this, they also need to be careful about pushing student involvement too much, because it can easily lead to over-prioritization and hyper-focusing on the wrong things while at school.
Adam Howard (2020): Globally elite: four domains of becoming globally oriented within elite schools, Educational Review, DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2020.1805412