A couple of years ago, there was a bright-eyed girl who had never played golf in her life before 6th grade. She had a pretty natural swing, but it needed refining. Her coach taught her the game and gave her the tools to improve her swing; but more importantly, helped her develop an intense love of the game. This passion is what drove her to continue to improve her skills. She worked week after week, even while playing other sports. A year later she won the middle school league championship.
Our goal with our athletics program is to inspire every budding athlete to find her passion and strive for excellence. In middle school, we encourage the girls to participate in athletic activities for multiple reasons. Certainly developing competitive skills is important, but for many it is also an opportunity to expand their horizons and try something new. Through athletics, they have the opportunity to grow in courage, teamwork, and determination. This equips our girls to meet challenges head on and excel.
Our varsity coaches unanimously agree that developing players’ core skills for the upper school program is far more important than wins and losses at the middle school level. This doesn’t mean that winning games or championships in middle school isn’t important, but it is not the primary indicator of success. The banners that hang in our gym represent the great teams in Hutchison’s history. We want to be sure we are giving our girls the best opportunity to be a part of that tradition in varsity athletics by developing strong skills and resiliency in our middle school sports.
An important aspect of this development is embracing failure. Every girl in middle school sports will experience some form of failure, whether it is not making the team she had hoped for, not getting the playing time she wanted, or missing that potential game-winning shot. Failure is healthy and a girl’s response to it is what defines her potential growth. One of the biggest deterrents to building resilience through failure is what a girl perceives others think of her. The fear of somehow not living up to others’ measures of success can paralyze girls. Many girls prefer to quit than to face the prospect of her friends thinking less of her. This is where the partnership of athletics and parents is paramount. The conversations at home often shape how a girl will respond in these situations. Parents are crucial in helping a girl navigate past the emotions of failure to focus on the life lessons that can be gleaned from it.
In our middle school athletics program, we are developing young women with the skills and intangibles to later compete at the highest level of varsity athletics.
ABOUT MATT NELSON
Matt Nelson is the assistant athletics director at Hutchison. Over the course of his career, he has built and led winning athletics programs around the country at both the private/independent school and collegiate levels. He holds a Bachelor of Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College.