Game-Changer: Let Athletes Major in Sports

I sometimes joke that at Stanford University, I “majored in basketball.”

Truth is, I spent hours each day immersed in a highly educational experience involving leadership and team-building lessons that were far more hands-on than anything I might have picked up at the Biz School. I also took those lessons and used them as a foundation for a career as a sportswriter.

The author shooting (#12)

But what if athletes could really major in sports? In today’s Washington Post, always-thoughtful sportswriter Sally Jenkins makes the case that NCAA Colleges Should Consider Offering Sports as an Academic Major.

Jenkins’ proposal is a game-changer because her plan would legitimize sports participation for the educational experience that it is – and encourage universities to create integrated curricula including existing courses such as sport science, sport psychology, sport sociology, sport management, physical education, kinesiology — and the currently missing piece, the connection between theory and practice: varsity participation.

Most athletes are not football players, and most sports do not generate revenue (nor do most football teams, but that’s another story). Her main point has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with challenging the way we think about sports as an educational experience.

Congrats, Sally, for raising a fascinating new subject.

Maybe if I had been encouraged to study sports as an academic discipline, I would have thought of your wonderful idea myself! 🙂

Mariah Burton Nelson now serves as Executive Director of the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Tara VanDerveer: “You ARE On the Team”

A week before the WNBA draft I am at the Final Four. Tara VanDerveer has just been named Coach of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

I tell her that I really appreciate the two receptions Stanford held for former players this year: One chairs-in-a-circle discussion between current players and about ten former players, and one casual conversation in an Indianapolis bar.

“It’s been 33 years since I played at Stanford,” I marvel. “But you make me feel like I’m still on the team.”

“You ARE on the team,” replies Tara. She introduces me to her mother, and to her sister Heidi.

I have accomplished many things since Stanford. I’m socially and professionally connected. Still. It feels weirdly satisfying to have Tara tell me I’m still on the team. Even though I live in the DC area, never get back to Maples Pavilion for games, and — though this is heresy to admit — don’t even FOLLOW the team closely until it’s Final Four time. I’m too busy living my life.

For instance: Tomorrow I’m travelling to Amelia Island, Florida, to speak to the Executive Women’s Golf Association. I’ll be keynoting their annual Golfpalooza. My topic: Competition, Leadership, and Teamwork. Those executive women golfers are also “on the team.” Which is why they attend conferences — why we all do. Sure, we want to learn, but we also want to connect. We want to belong. We want to feel part of something larger than ourselves, and work to achieve goals in collaboration with others who share our values.

“You ARE on the team,” Tara said. Same thing the Minnesota Lynx told Connecticut superstar Maya Moore in the WNBA draft.

Isn’t that what we all want to hear?

–Mariah Burton Nelson, who only wishes she had stood up straighter when this photo was taken! Tall sisters, however — power players who were on magnificent display in Indy during the Final Four — will understand: It’s hard to talk to shorter people without bending over!