More on Athletics, from Ellie Bewley

March 13, 2011

In response to my last post addressing Is Winning an Earlham Way?, Earlham alumna Ellie Bewley (’69, a member of Earlham’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and subsequently a coach and athletics/wellness professor) writes what follows.  It’s interesting to me that she wonders whether the reservations about winning don’t arise from repugnance at what Division I athletics have become.  I don’t believe she had read my earlier Response to JoBeth.

“I wonder if the intense animosity to stating a desire to have a winning program (and for me, a winning program is one of winning 50% of contests), comes from what we all know are the evils of Division 1 athletics in which it seems all ethics and values are sacrificed for the goal of a win. The objective of intercollegiate athletics is to compete, and I would argue, within the confines of all rules of the game, within ethical boundaries, and with concern and compassion for the opponent. To compete within these boundaries is to compete honestly and with integrity—anyone can cheat and win, but to win with honesty, ethics and compassion is a most noble endeavor. This environment teaches people to be their best, and it takes great skill in a coach to draw this out in each person, and to bring the “best” to fruition in a group. Is this not what your job as President is?

“You are struggling with how to determine the “effectiveness factor” in an athletic coach. It is a combination of recruiting skills (which is the ability of a person to sell themselves, their program, and the college) to quality student/athletes; game coaching ability (which involves thinking under pressure, knowing how to adapt personnel to a quickly changing environment); teaching and planning practices for unknown challenges and options; being able to analyze physical and mental skills and crafting learning situations to practice needed skill sets; and inspiring people in a stressful situation in which everything that a person is, is on command to  perform. Obviously, some people are stronger in some of these areas than others, but in some combination and strength, they are all important and critical to being a successful coach.

“If a coach is not competent in these areas, s/he cannot recruit competent student/athletes. A highly intelligent and effective biology major who will go on in life to accomplish great things will not come to Earlham if you do not hire highly effective biology professors. The same is true for athletics. And the great biology student who is also the great cross country runner deserves to be challenged in both aspects of his/her lives at Earlham. Winning in athletics is about being competent, and if you have competent coaches, it will be easy to have seasons in which they win 50% of their contests. I do not believe that winning in and of it itself is evil, but how we win is the important issue. If we win at someone else’s expense, is that winning? If we have to cheat in some way in order to win, is that winning? If I can cheat and no one finds out about it, is that winning? The issue is how we define winning, I believe.

“What would be the purpose of playing a contest against another college if the goal is not to win? What motivation is there to be one’s best if one is not putting every ounce of effort, thought, and ability on the playing field I, for one, do not want to play someone who is not putting out 100% effort because that person is not challenging me to be my best. I believe there is a time and place to compete to win, and a time just to “play”. Both times are valuable and important.”

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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