SPS Today: More Than a Game
Healthy Culture of Athletic Teams is no Accident
St. Paul’s athletes formed a huddle around two peers. At the center of the group, two students held out clenched right fists over flat left palms. An impromptu rock, paper, scissors tournament was about to crown a champion. It started with a frenzy of one-on-one matches across the room, continuing until only two competitors remained. Those eliminated did not slump back into their chairs and lose interest. Instead, they became more invested, cheering on their friends and teammates as the field dwindled.
Ultimately, the winner was less important than the lesson. Two groups of 30 student-athletes were gathered to participate in a workshop run in partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). The rock, paper, scissors exercise emphasized focus on team over self, and always bringing energy and positivity to the table. PCA Lead Trainer Joe Terrasi noticed the willingness with which this particular group displayed both traits. “You can sense that there’s something great already happening here,” he said.
According to St. Paul’s Athletic Director Dick Muther, this is no accident. Over the past few years, the Athletic Department has emphasized developing athletes and teams whose identities are centered on positivity, sportsmanship, and unity. “It’s way more than the game,” said Muther. “As soon as people figure that out, they start to take care of each other better, and, once they do that, they not only have a positive experience, they start to win more.” Winning is familiar to SPS athletes. Both the boys and girls cross country teams came in first at the Lakes Region Championship, football and volleyball both finished their regular seasons undefeated, field hockey had only one regular season loss, girls soccer went undefeated in league play, and boys soccer ripped off a six-game winning streak during the heart of its schedule.
Despite the success, athletes and coaches are quick to define their seasons by more than just wins and losses. During the PCA workshop, when asked to outline characteristics of a successful season, students cited staying engaged throughout the season and building bonds with teammates. Muther emphasized that nothing coaches have done this fall is radically different from seasons past. Rather, it is a commitment on the part of the School as a whole to the idea that significant learning happens outside the classroom. “We’ve been mindful about what we’ve asked of the kids over the course of two or three years,” Muther said. “It’s starting to become embedded, and we are seeing the results.”