In this file photo, football players from Ansonia High School take part in practice. Teams like Ansonia have resumed conditioning for the 2020 season after a brief pause. The CIAC plans to hold a shortened fall sports season beginning Oct. 1. Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Dear Leaders,

Why is football (or other interscholastic sport) important to high school students? Teams of boys and girls around the state are claiming a right to get on the field and play the game they love as a school and state-supported activity.  What are they willing to sacrifice for the privilege (it is not a right) of playing scholastic ball?  After all, our teenagers could just go out and have a pickup game in someone’s yard or an open school field.

What do our students get out of organized sports?  During practices, coaches facilitate camaraderie and promote  personal growth of individuals and their relationships with teammates.  Many student athletes become leaders on and off the field. Are they willing to take on the mantle of the mantra that playing sports cultivates maturity, sportsmanship, and discipline?  Are they willing to forego all parties?  Are they willing to step up as leaders on and off the field? Will they wear face masks consistently and without exception when they are in public as a demonstration of their good citizenship?  Are they willing to encourage their friends and neighbors to do the same?

What price are teenage boys willing to pay for the privilege of playing their beloved scholastic football?

Why is scholastic football important to the adults who support it and advocate that this fall season be reinstated for the sake of the boys? Organized sports provide a wonderful enriching experience that teaches life lessons.  But, what lessons are adults willing and committed to teaching the future men and women of their community?

In this teachable moment it is time to take those lessons off the field and into the town square.  It is a moment when the notions that self-sacrifice, thinking of the greater good, and the idea that the team is no better than its weakest members can come into the service of society.

If playing a modified version of football (or any sport) or foregoing one season promotes a sense of public responsibility, if  it saves a single life or prevents a single student from missing instruction in the classroom, if it ensures teachers are healthy and ready to teach, is that not a worthy sacrifice?

In our national health crisis there exists the most important lesson coaches, athletic directors, parents, administrators, and town leaders can provide – that of selflessness, of  asking what our athletes can do as a team and as individuals for their families, communities, schools, and teammates, not what we can do for them.

Athletes of all stripes, not just football players, and their coaches, can use this critical moment of community health emergency to build important life skills that will make a difference off and eventually back on the field.

I urge educators, coaches, parents, community leaders, and statewide administrators to consider what harm is committed in the name of giving in to a child’s wishes, without genuine consideration of the big picture.  Our teens, understandably want to be on the field, but honestly is that really the most important concern at this juncture in history?

Students who are likely to be recruited to play at a favorite college and those counting on sports scholarships will not be penalized for this gap in their sports experience, especially if they use the time wisely.  Now is a time to practice healthy physical and mental conditioning skills and to apply group communication skills off the field as well as on it. It is an opportunity to work on building an array of skills neglected in the service of a beloved sport including study skills, avocational interests, career exploration, and it is a time for exercising community service skills.

Foremost in the minds of every single adult should be the health and safety of every member of our communities. If you have raised your children to be resilient, you can teach them the importance of enlightened self-interest, and they will do fine.

Do not misinterpret their disappointment, sadness, and frustration as a call for fixing their difficult feelings.  Help them grow.  If you follow your impulse to facilitate a compromise that increases the likelihood of COVID-19 spread and increases the chances that schools will have to shut down again, a great many more people all around the state will have far more lasting and significant  worries, disappointments, and dire difficulties than missing a season of football.

Please, ask yourselves; “Why am I/are we all working to get our kids on the field?  Is there another way to satisfy some of their concerns without jeopardizing the health and safety of the larger community (in a public health crisis there rarely are compromises)?   What messages are we sending to teens when we work harder to get them on the field than help them to cope, consider the big picture, and exercise developing skill in empathy and consideration for the welfare of others?

Jill S. Greenberg, Ph.D., is a Westport psychologist.

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