[Ed. One of the questions often asked during our Open Houses is, "Do kids at a Sudbury School challenge themselves?" Matthew address this question in the blog below.]
The Underdogs first game is on January 27th, 2016 at 3:30 at Donlon Gym (43 Partition Street, Saugerties, NY 12477).
This past Tuesday at 9:00 it was 18 degrees here on campus, not factoring in wind-chill…. It was windy. Most of us were right where you’d expect us to be, huddled up inside the building, working and playing. Our new basketball team, however, was training…. Outside.
In fact, they were lined up in the push-up position, balancing on one hand while dribbling a ball with the other. I watched them from the office, shaking my head in admiration and disbelief, as I have so many times this year.
The coach - Noa, a student - was walking slowly back and forth in front of them, his lips soundlessly chanting incantations to the basketball gods. I went outside to get a little closer to the action - the team’s energy drew me out there, as it has so many times this year. When I reached the court, though, they looked so dialed in that I pretended I was just walking by on my way to the mailbox.
As I passed, Noa broke the wintry silence, addressing his players: “Keep working. I promise you there isn’t another team in New York practicing outside today.” I’m sure he was right, and I’m sure there isn’t another basketball team in the state anything like ours at all, any time of any day. Maybe they haven’t played a game yet, but I’d say they must be the best team in the state.
Recently a parent told me that her son and husband had been taking boxing lessons from a coach in Kingston, and that the coach was “getting them to do things they would have never done otherwise.” She was implicitly questioning our school’s strict prohibition against requiring (or even coaxing) students to do anything in particular (or anything at all) with their time here.
She wanted more of the value that sometimes comes from being pushed, encouraged, and held accountable by a coach.
there’s a fundamental difference between asking to be pushed and trained and encouraged and having it thrust upon you
I couldn’t agree more that such value can be immense, but there’s a fundamental difference between asking to be pushed and trained and encouraged and having it thrust upon you. Her son has chosen to box with a coach, and that’s the basic reason his boxing is producing joy and energy in his life. Of course, the parent knew all this and really just wanted to talk it through. And I understand how the concern about a kid wasting his time doing what appears to be nothing can creep; it happens to me, even as a staff member of the school. And then things like “The Underdogs” happen that put me firmly back in my place and remind me that taking initiative - laying claim to and directing your own life - is maybe the most important thing, and commitment only flourishes unfettered by compulsion.
“The Underdogs” are our basketball team, of course. The name is simultaneously a misnomer and stunningly accurate. Accurate because no one on the team has really played much basketball at all before this year, and because they still have never played indoors together, and they’re...well, a little short. But it’s a misnomer because they’re able to invest as much time and energy to the enterprise as they like here, they work as hard as any team out there, and, having created this together - as friends and partners - they’re a true team in the un pour tous, tous pour un sense of the Three Musketeers: a family acting strenuously towards a common goal.
I mean… when you make something from scratch, you invest your heart along with your time. When you, as a young person, choose a peer as your leader, rather than opt into an adult-led activity, you retain ownership and pride of purpose. Which is not in any way intended to say that seeking out adults for instruction is a bad thing; it’s often a good idea because adults generally have more knowledge by default.
In this particular case, though, the kids made a good choice. Noa is, as mentioned above, a student, and he’s 15, but as a coach he reads like he’s 35. His grasp of the sport, and his own skill in the diversions of the court, are consummate, and his passion for the project is intense. Noa has his sights set on college basketball, and the best way to master something is to teach it.
we can be a basketball school, or any kind of school for that matter, if the students make us so
You wouldn’t ordinarily think of our school as a basketball school, but that’s one of the really cool things about us: we can be a basketball school, or any kind of school for that matter, if the students make us so.
These days, walk down our hall at 9:30 in the morning and you might see Noa on the phone, reprimanding a tardy player for not calling to notify him. Crack open the door to one of our side-rooms at 2:30 and you might see him delivering a teary-eyed speech on the value of stepping out of your comfort zone and grappling with the unknown. Or watch, like me, with admiration and disbelief as the players run to get water after a round of “suicides,” aiming to be back on the court in 30 seconds or less so as not to have to “do it all over again.” Watch them drill, and listen as Noa as he tells them that if they mess up… that’s evidence that they’re doing it right, that they’re working hard and pushing themselves to be better.
What I love the most about this team is how supportive it is of each player. The earnest encouragement they offer each other is a genuine motivator, and the jubilation they enjoy together when any one of them masters a skill energizes them all. These kids know each other well, of course, as they attend a school which doesn’t segregate kids by classes and ages. There’s this natural sort of tribal quality to the team that stems from their intimacy.. It’s just so damn fun! I coached a couple little league teams when I was in college, and I wish those teams had had that quality. The difference was that those kids didn’t know each other; they were meeting for the first time to play baseball… So it was harder for them to really come together.
So usually there’s an end of day scrimmage between the team and a few staff members, which has allowed me to keep intimate track of their progress, and the rate of improvement has been swift and steady across the board. At first, they wanted it bad, but their skill level wasn’t as fully developed as their desire. So, they played some pretty physical basketball. Hey, they did what they could… I'm 6’3”. And the rest of the staff is pretty ok. But that was weeks ago. Already the Underdogs are passing well. They’re boxing out. They’re setting screens. These kids are nailing their shots, folks. And they’re laughing. A lot! And... beating us….. Sometimes. They’ll be playing their first official game January 27rd at 3:30 pm. Underdogs, maybe. Best team in the state, definitely….
See the full gallery of images at sudburyschool.com/gallery/the-underdogs.