"In 1988 when Jeff Beedy was completing his research investigating the influence of sport on child development at Harvard University, youth sport was reach ing new heights of popularity, with unprecedented participation and never before seen expenditures. Jeff 's groundbreaking research was welcomed into a relatively new field, which despite its popularity, was marked by a dearth of social science research on the actual developmental influence of the youth sport experience. Well, as the old adage says, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." It's an understatement to say that sports remain a central part of United States culture. When one considers the sheer number of people who participate in some form of sport, the revenues generated by sport, the amount of media devoted to covering sport, and the iconic cultural status of athletes, it is hard to imagine anywhere in the world where athletics assert a larger cultural influence. Further, the unbridled popularity of sport and the blind faith of the general public in sport's positive educative influence, leave many longing for more research of the sort that Jeff has conducted, research that is rigorous and thoughtful, grounded in practice, and driven by a desire to be useful to sport practitioners. The youth development topics Jeff addresses in Sport and the Developing Child (e.g., the role of competition, the role and influence of coaches, the experience of team community, the importance of understanding child development) remain as pertinent to the field today as they were in 1988-more important, some would argue."
Matt Davidson PHD introduction to Jeff Beedy's Sport and the Developing Child
Matt Davidson PHD introduction to Jeff Beedy's Sport and the Developing Child
HARVARD UNIVERSITY 1983
History of Positive Learning Using Sports
In 1983, I chose to dedicate my life to exploring sport as a medium for positive change in children-- especially, underserved children. I may not have realized it when I began my doctoral program at Harvard in the early 1980s, but my original thesis charted the cartography of a new domain—sports as moral pedagogy, built on a foundation of research and experience. Over the years "PLUS" has had different names (NewSport and GoodSport) and taken different forms (summer camps and after school programs). PLUS has experienced success around the globe including Cyprus, China, South Korea, Canada, and throughout the United States. Since 1984, PLUS has been empowering children and communities to make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others in the world. Here is a brief history.
Its been thirty years since I arrived at Harvard Graduate School of Education ready to explore the role that sports play in children’s development. As an athlete, I enjoyed competing at the highest levels including playing baseball in the Cape Cod League and skiing in the World Freestyle Tour. Like many other competitive athletes, I felt sports were awesome. After a few weeks at Harvard, however, not everyone felt this way about sports. It soon dawned on me that some of my new friends had bad experiences playing Little League Baseball or Youth Soccer. Many of these graduate students had and never played a high school sport outside of gym class volleyball. This was certainly an eye-opening moment for me. How much fun was their sport experience? What did they learn? I would soon find out.
What I discovered from my research was that while sports are popular around the globe, the idea of sport as serious scholarly inquiry was widely dismissed. In the early eighties, I found myself as a pioneer in what would soon become a new field in education and youth development. I was surprised to learn that there was little quality research on sports and the developing child. I was a blender of feelings: on the one hand, I believed sports were positive and awesome. On the other hand, I was learning that sports may be positive for those who were good at them, but negative for those who were left out or not highly skilled. I eventually came to the belief that sports are a powerful medium – not unlike school or family– but whether they are positive or negative depends on how the sport experience it’s organized. I was fortunate at Harvard to study under Lawrence Kohlberg, Bob Selman, Sesame Street founder, Gerald Lesser and Carol Gilligan, who allowed me to study the moral impact of sport on youth.
Early sport-based research on moral development
In the early eighties, I pioneered a summer camp in Maine called The NewSport Experience. I created the camp as a way to study the impact of sports on the moral development of eight- to twelve-year-old boys. I was fortunate to be able to study with world renown moral psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. I’ll never forget the day Dr. Kohlberg flew up to Maine, and facilitated an eight-hour community meeting among the campers and staffers to discuss a theft in a dorm. I was nervous for a week trying to figure what type of activity we could “stage” at camp to show Dr. Kohlberg that we were a moral community. At the last minute there was a theft at the camp and we decided that we would address the theft as a community, with Dr. Kohlberg. What took place in that long meeting with children and adult of all ages demonstrated to me the power and value of community. After a couple of hours of dialogue around “you should lock the doors,” ‘they should not have left the money out in the open,” Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg stood up and said “what role does the community have in getting the money back to the campers who had their money stolen?” At that moment the whole community dialogue shifted to what the role of community is in moral reasoning. That was one of my first glimpses into the intellectual potential of sports. Thank you Larry.
PLUS summer camp and after school program
After completing my thesis in 1988, and as a way to expand to more diverse populations, I founded the PLUS camp (Personal Learning Using Sports) at Milton Academy in 1990. At the time, I was teaching a class with Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Robert Coles, called Social Reflections in Literature. The course prompted me to add literature to the learning environment. In the late 1980s when I was working on my thesis, Brenda Bredemeier and David Shields were studying Kohlberg’s work. Bredemeier and Shields were analyzing sports and character development as a branch of sport psychology, but my investigation into how sport can factor into the moral, cognitive, social and emotional development of youth was, heretofore, unexplored. It was in the early nineties that I began to realize we could use the model from our camp to create an after-school program. We brought the sport-based youth development program to inner city Lawrence and Dorchester, Massachusetts, and rural New Hampton, New Hampshire, with success.
Creation of PLUS Curriculum
All these “hands on experiences” led to the archiving and creation of the PLUS Curriculum. Today, after thousands of hours of work, we have formulated our principles and practices into a sport-based curriculum that communities across the country can implement through the comprehensive manual you are about to read. The PLUS Program has benefited from the assembly of a first rate research and development team. Dr. Matt Davidson, Research Director at the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect & Responsibility) has come on board to help co-author the program, bringing with him the expertise of Kelli Moran-Miller and Dr. Vladimir Khmelkov. Together with longtime staffers Kris Genakos, Cindy Glidden, Adam Tanney, Joe Bowab, Tom Zierk, Gara Field, Steve Davis, Morgan Murphy, Tom Zierk, Jerry Pieh, Andrew Churchill, and Amanda Beedy, we feel that we have assembled a team that is committed to creating a research-based program that is theoretically sound and empirically tested. The Leadership Rubric is based on Robert Carkhuff's Detractor to Leader Scale and Jeff Beedy and Steve Davis's Total Human Development Model (2002).
PLUS goes Global
In 2006, PLUS was invited to Cyprus to examine how sports can be used to bridge peace between the Greek and Turkish families. The groups of children, whose parents retained vivid memories of the tumultuous events of the 1970s and the subsequent division of the island, had previously been forbidden to speak to each other. But to our surprise, by the third night of the camp, the Greek and Turkish children were dancing, singing, and laughing together. Using sports as a neutral medium, the camp brought the next generation of Cypriots together, doing a small part to heal the divide and conflict experienced by their parents.
In 2010, I was hired as the founding headmaster of Korea International School, which is a part of Korea’s 2 billion dollar Global Education City on Jeju Island, South Korea. We learned that in Korea it is customary for older boys and girls to “rule over” their younger schoolmates. In an effort to address bullying, we created the Learn to Lead program. Based on the idea that leadership is not intentionally taught in the curriculum we taught the older students how to lead. We figured if we could replace “bullying power” with “leading power” than we could eradicate bullying and create a circle of good. Understanding that the socialization of children begins in kindergarten we taught the older students how to mentor younger students with the goal of creating a continuous cycle of positive leaders. Within a relatively short time we noticed a shift in perspective. Instead of investing time in bullying their younger classmates they where learning how to lead their younger schoolmates in a positive way with the goal of to creating a circle of good where respect trumps bullying.
Montessori and sports
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of leading a two Montessori Academies. I first became intrigued with Maria Montessori’s work at Harvard where I studied with renowned child psychologists Carol Gilligan, Lawrence Kohlberg, Robert Selman, and Sesame Street founder Gerald Lesser, and taught Social Reflections of Literature for Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Robert Coles. My doctorate was in human development with a focus on cognitive, social, and moral development in children. Later, as the interim head of a Montessori School in Alabama, I was able to see first hand how the Montessori approach creates a respectful learning culture. When children feel safe, listened to, and respected, the likelihood of helping the child realize their potential is greatly enhanced.
During my years leading Montessori schools, I seldom witnessed yelling or disrespect. Instead, I experienced laughter and joy. Teachers developed respectful methods, such as color and number games, to direct children to line up after recess. This may sound simple—but it worked, and, even more important, the children were almost always ready to learn. The children felt empowered and moved quickly and confidently through their assignments and challenges. The most obvious reason for this phenomenon is that the teachers began with a deep respect for the child.
The teachers are respectful and very successful in creating a peaceful environment in which to take risks. The students are curious, respectful and curious. One might wonder in what ways does Maria Montessori’s principles of teaching and learning apply to children’s sports? Are things to be learned by studying he Montessori Method and how it applies to youth sports? Consider the following Maria Montessori principle. “Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.” What if youth sport coaches and leaders adhered to this principle when coaching children in Youth Soccer and Little League Baseball? Would our children’s sport experiences change for the better? If the Montessori children are so respectful and intrinsically motivated than maybe we should apply some of the Montessori principles to children’s sports. I understand sports are different than school, but it is also true that in both arenas there is a common thread—the children. And it turns out that much of what PLUS focuses on philosophically and pedagogically is very much aligned with Maria Montessori’s approach to teaching and learning.
The mission of LifeSports PLUS is threefold. First LifeSports PLUS introduces girls to lifelong sports such as hiking, golf, fly fishing, and skiing. Second, LifeSports PLUS connects girls to relevant stories and literature including, for example, Title IX, and the history of women in golf and fly fishing. Third, the older students serve as mentors and coach and teach the younger girls as they develop their leadership skills. Purnell students learn how to mentor younger students through sports, music, project-based activities, and literature.
Life sports versus conventional competitive sports
Competitive sports such as soccer and basketball are wonderful for many but not for everyone. LifeSports PLUS focuses on sports that are all-inclusive and can be enjoyed throughout one’s life. LifeSports PLUS also builds upon the potential lessons learned through lifelong sports such as golf, hiking, fly fishing, and skiing that can be applied to all areas of life including the workplace. This especially true for women who are just making overdue strides in sports and the marketplace. LifeSports PLUS offers young women the opportunity to learn about sports such as fly fishing.
Women and Sports: Positive Learning Using Sports
Sports have long been considered to be positive for children. Until Title IX, however, girls have not enjoyed the same access as boys (Stats). Women have come a long way since the early seventies. In addition to the sport, girls study the academic sides of each sport including the history and role of women in each respective sport. For example, women have a long history in the sport of fly fishing (A Graceful Rise:Women in Fly Fishing, yesterday, Today and Tomorrow).
Positive Leading Using Sports: Learn to Lead by doing
Daniel Coyle, in his book The Little Book of Talent, suggests that “To learn it more deeply, teach it.” LifeSports PLUS is based on the belief that when high school girls are offered the opportunity to mentor younger girls they develop a deeper understanding of what it takes to be respectful and responsible leaders within their community.
There are a number of benefits to teaching older students how to mentor younger students. The obvious benefit is, of course, that the older students learn by doing. In the case of high school students, teaching younger children requires them to understand the skills, such as teamwork, and encourages that they create an environment where teamwork can take place. Leading second and third graders is difficult for experienced adults-- let alone teenagers. Struggling through a session with third graders who won’t sit still and listen requires a young leader to dig deep and find something that works. Yelling louder or blaming the situation does little to quiet the chaos. Of course, another benefit is that the younger children see the older students modeling leadership instead of bullying. This process can eventually create a circle of good where leadership actually trumps bullying. The goal is to create an environment where leading and helping is cool.
The goal of PLUS is to bring intentionality to children’s sports. What is new is the intentional application of research in the fields of human development and psychology to the philosophical and pedagogical design of sport-based activities. It is our responsibility as leaders to design programs where children can have authentic opportunities to be “at the forefront of global change and innovation.” Crafting sport-based programs that educate and empower children is what this book is about.
I may not have realized it when I began my doctoral program at Harvard in the early 1980s, but my original thesis charted the cartography of a new domain—sports as moral pedagogy, built on a foundation of research and experience. Today, this field has gained wide attention and continues to attract the interest of more scholars and schools each year.
Jeff Beedy Ed.D
Cape Cod USA