Sentiment about Specialization

Hung on the bulletin board in the boys locker-room is a letter from the University of Virginia lacrosse coach that states that he, as a coach and mentor, would rather have his athletes play football in the fall and be a part of a team environment, rather than training sport-specific for lacrosse. There are some clear advantages to being part of a team environment, but how much of the sentiment Groton has toward being a well-rounded athlete spurs from this idea?

We’re a rather small school. With the exception of Governor’s Academy and St. Mark’s we are the smallest school in the ISL, and our 372 students is a considerably smaller enrollment than both Phillips Andover’s and Phillips Exeter’s which both have an enrollment of 1,000+ students. How are we expected to compete against schools that literally have three times as many students as we do? Not to mention the fact that Groton prides itself on being a place of learning before one of athletics, and I would say this is accurately reflected in the admissions office.

So, even though Gov.’s, and St. Mark’s have fewer students, my guess is that they’re more lenient on making admissions choices in light of athletics – probably the reason why Gov.’s has an amazing football team and St. Mark’s basketball program continues to dominate. From this perspective, it makes sense that as a school, we should encourage anyone and everyone possible to be part of at least two teams a year in order to create more depth in our athletic program. However, even if everyone were forced to participate in three sports a year, our teams wouldn’t improve.

Belmont Hill, Roxbury Latin, BB&N, Phillips Andover, Phillips Exeter, Rivers, Thayer, Milton Academy and St. Sebastian’s all have more than twice the number of male athletes that Groton does (I say male athletes because BH, St. Seb’s, and RL are all boys schools). These teams consistently seem to dominate for two reasons based on my observations. Number one: athletics seems to play a greater role in  admissions. Number two: they (as schools, not individuals) specialize in being good at certain sports. Each school has a sport or two in which they excel. Having been a part of the Belmont Hill athletics program, I can say firsthand that the school seems to favor certain sports in admissions and in the athletic program. There are plenty of three-sport varsity athletes, but many of them train sport-specific after practice.

In the fall, the wrestling team would hold one-on-one sessions with the head coach after soccer and football practice every day, and when you weren’t in a session you were running laps on the track or in the gym hitting the weights. The crew team practices out-of-season in the fall for the Head of  the Charles in the early morning and trains all winter on ergometers. The other part of the program is that school ends much earlier, at around 2:15 on a normal day, and 1:45 on Wednesdays. Obviously Groton has a similar policy to short Wednesdays but we make up for any lost time on Saturday classes. This suggests that other schools place a higher importance on athletics than we do, but the strategy seems to focus on fostering the best athletes possible by sport-specific specialization. I’m not suggesting that we create a similar culture here at Groton; I am however, suggesting that their focus on certain sports and developing certain athletes for those sports has benefited the athletic program.

In my opinion, if Groton wants to establish a successful program, there are two routes we can take: recruit more and lower our academic standards, which would destroy the long-standing tradition the school has of academic prowess, or we can pick certain sports and promote those teams specifically, and get more students interested. Especially for smaller teams like basketball, cross-country, or squash, where one or two excellent athletes can completely change an entire program, this new recruitment plan would increase the quality of these teams. The school should also promote summer athletic activity for certain athletes. If we can’t specialize here at school, we should at least be improving outside.

When it comes down to it, I understand the sentiment against specialization and the idea of being a well-rounded person, but if Groton wants to make itself more well-rounded as a school, it needs a few sports teams that are consistent. I think some specialization can solve this problem.

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