What are summers for anyway?
According to many school calendars, the first real weekend of summer break is Memorial Day weekend. It’s hot, the pools are open, boats are on the lake, and your skin probably already smells of sunscreen.
But for high school athletes, what does summer really look like?
I’ll tell you what I can remember: It started back in youth baseball. Every summer my family would take a trip down to Pensacola, Florida. Problem was, our trip seemed to always fall right around the time when that baseball season came to its end. Like playoffs. The post-season tournament. Whatever you call the big game in youth baseball.
Much to my parents’ credit, we’d always still take the trip.
But I had to take my glove. Dad did too, along with a bucket of balls. And before we hit the beach each day I was required to throw one hundred strikes.
I hated it.
The air smelled of salt, the waves crashed like thunder, and the other kids buried their dads neck-deep in the sand, but not me.
Not before those hundred strikes.
Most all of my summers to come were adjusted in much the same fashion. No wakeboarding in high school for fear of knee injuries. Every vacation was planned around summer workouts and 7-on-7 tournaments. In college, I stayed in town and worked at a kids camp, just so I could be around if anyone wanted run routes or go over the playbook.
The days were hot and long and lazy. Other kids splashed and played. But there was work to be done—there was always work to be done.
And what did all of that work get me?
A free college education for one. But even more than a scholarship, the wins, and the losses, those summers taught me the valuable lesson of hard work.
If you’re a regular reader of these columns, you’re probably sick of me referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.” But it’s a good book, and I’m going to do it again. In the book’s final chapter he compares American schools to Chinese schools.
The Chinese schools score better in almost every conceivable way. Gladwell argues the main difference between the two education systems is how they handle summer breaks.
The Chinese don’t take summers off.
But in America, we do, and those few months of hot, sweaty bliss are something every warm-blooded American kid looks forward to. Or do they?
During my teaching career, I’ve always noticed the kids who keep coming to school. Even when testing is over. Even when it’s just a “make up” day and there’s nothing left to “make up.”
Gladwell goes on to explain that three-month gap in education is—not surprisingly—where we find the biggest drop in retention rates. In other words, most of the kids who keep hanging around the school, even when they don’t have to, are the ones who won’t read a book all summer. Maybe their parents work the night shift. Maybe they go to stay with Grandma in Michigan. Or maybe no one cares enough to read to them, or even talk to them.
If a student doesn’t study in the summer, and someone else does, that “someone else” will score better when it’s time to take the test.
So how does all of this relate to athletes in the summer? It’s pretty straightforward. If you’re not practicing, and someone else is…
You guessed it. The scoreboard never lies.
And coaches know this. They plan for it, meticulously. They run three different workouts throughout the day so their athletes can still get to their jobs on time. And it’s hard work, the days are long, but the lessons those student athletes learn are bigger than their best round of bench presses.
They’re learning that life doesn’t stop. That when they grow up they will have a job and a spouse and kids and whatever else they want to cram into their days—and more than likely, they won’t get a summer break.
But if you do, I’d charge you to make the most the most of it. As Jimmy Buffett once said, “I go to stop wishing, got to go fishing, down to rock bottom again.”
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