Final Thoughts

Transformation: Young athletes learn fulfilling life skills

Her background is similar to other college-level players. She was one of the better players in high school, winning individual awards and being recruited by various colleges. She is a good student and has the potential to flourish in the right environment. So she enters her first day as prepared as one can be without knowing exactly the demands that she will face.

If truth were told, her first year was a bit much for her. All of the adjustments made it difficult: classes, teachers, friends, dorms, studies, teammates, coaches and that first homecoming. It was almost her undoing. She wanted to quit after that first day of practice. But she did not quit.

She made it to graduation. An accomplished student, she left St. Thomas a confident and recognized player, full of self-esteem with leadership qualities. She took with her an understanding of the value of effort, teamwork, sacrifice and priorities. She knows how important it is never to quit and how one person can make a difference. She gets the distinction between substance and style, although she had style as well. Athletics had made a significant impact on her and her life; she knew the lessons learned were now a part of her, as much a part of her that she can no longer see herself any other way.

One question that I have been asked repeatedly is, how does this happen? What happens to a young person who enters full of doubts and fears and leaves with confidence and self-esteem? For some, this transformation occurs because of athletics.

The lessons they learn in the athletic arena are no less formal and real than what is learned in the classroom or from a textbook. The athletic process is often difficult, and a successful player must be resilient to failures and setbacks and be able to learn and then do, often in the public eye.

Student athletes find that they must strive to achieve a level of expertise in the fundamental skills of the sport. In order to perform at a championship level, most skills need to be performed easily and well. In many instances this requires learning to identify one’s weaknesses (I was particularly helpful in this area) and commit the time and effort necessary to change. Often this required the formidable challenge of changing deeply embedded habits and replacing them with new, better ones. In experiencing this process, many of the young student-athletes found their lives literally transformed.

The sports environment is the means by which many young people learn the skills of living a fulfilling life. At St. Thomas, more than 650 students participate in intercollegiate athletics.

It is not without a price. The process is difficult and sometimes painful, but we learn from difficult and painful times. Anyone can learn in good times. And with the added visibility of athletics, the whole process has become more public. With this increased public awareness there is also greater recognition, reward and scrutiny. But like Bob Dylan reminds us: “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain.” Years later, the lessons remain relevant.

In reality the athletic arenas and events continue to remain a place where athletes are welcome and where they can reconnect with themselves and with the place where it all started to come together for them. This remains a place where they are always welcome.

Ted Riverso has worked at St. Thomas since 1978 and was head women’s basketball coach from 1984 to 1999. The team won the national championship in 1991. Riverso also was a part-time philosophy instructor and now works in development.