Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and, when it comes to youth sports, someone who has “been publicly outspoken about the winning-at-all cost mentality in which lip service is paid to academics and personal growth when it should be the other way around,” recently called Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership the “single best school-based co-curricular program I have ever seen” in an article for Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” series.
As a sport, lacrosse historically is associated with white, upper class participants. That dynamic is changing, and lacrosse is the fastest growing high school sport in the country. In Harlem, though, lacrosse is being used as a vehicle to change lives, as,
the carrot to get kids to stay in school and become motivated far beyond the playing field. It is using the power of sports to unleash the potential of kids, many of whom…live in single parent households, some of who come from lower middle class backgrounds and some of whom live in shelters. It causes them to see a world they never knew existed but also to become a part of it.
Harlem Lax fascinated me for this reason. Sports, at their purest, can help participants experience not simply a world they never knew existed, but to challenge their minds and bodies to reach heights never believed possible. Sports can exist outside the confines of wins and losses, in a realm where the lessons are more tangible than the final score. As Bissinger writes:
Winning is exciting, molding a team into even greater cohesion. But it’s the level of effort that is important, the constant pounding away at the concept that what you put into anything in life is the exact same amount you get out of it. So is learning to overcome adversity and the twin companions of frustration and humiliation.
And the value stretches far beyond capitalizing on mere talent, to one of the most important virtues sports can teach – dedication:
It isn’t talent that defines a person but passion for something and love for something and dedication to something. Once you figure that out, which many kids first learn playing sports, the sky of possibility has no clouds. Talent can be squandered. Too many times it is squandered. But hard work and discipline are never squandered. They are never wasted.
When sports are kept in the right perspective and the idolization at all costs mentality is sacrificed, they offer a forum that unleashes an individual’s passion while instilling a framework that rewards discipline, dedication, work ethic, and the team. This is why sports matter. And why programs such as Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership are vital to the personal development of their participants.