6 Tips for Starting an Early Sports Program at Your School

The benefits of the sport are well documented. A significant portion of the study found that students who participated in the Scholastic Sports program benefited from increased mental control, academic achievement, and graduation rates.

These facilities only scratch the surface of positive outcomes for students participating in Scholastic Sport. So far, conversations around Esports have been centered on collegiate and secondary levels, however, a recent change in the wind has shifted the conversation to early Esports.

My question: Why didn’t we start this conversation early?

I have come a long way in my journey from a skeptic to a fierce advocate with a critical view of sport at school. In one year, I moved from an educator who created an elementary sports curriculum to a teacher who didn’t value the expanded role of video games in school, running multiple sports summer camps, and creating elementary sports after school clubs.

I teach an elementary STEM class called iCreate at South Haven Public Schools. We are a small community located on the “sunset coast” of Lake Michigan. Our economy is driven by tourism and agriculture. Located in the fruit belt of Michigan, South Haven is the blueberry capital of the world. Our small community hosts the National Blueberry Festival every year, and countless high school students work in the local U-Peak blueberry fields.

My STEM class, iCreate, is a part of our K-12 STEM series. At iCreate, students develop problem-solving skills through engineering challenges, collaborative search projects, and media creation. Although I have long been a proponent of game-based learning, I was skeptical (until last year) of the role of sport in education.

Summer 2021: Farmcraft Summer Camp

As the summer of 2021 approached, the faculty of South Haven Public Schools were tackling the best way to keep students connected to a stable thing in their lives, as well as to deal with the loss of epidemic learning: school. For teachers, an invitation to design and lead a summer enrichment camp seemed to be a great way to connect with students in ways that the regular school year could not afford. I can design a camp without thinking about standard alignment, group assessment or grade.

After a year of distance learning and hybrid learning, leading a camp with any kind of technology was the last thing on my mind. Actually, I wanted to lead a camp on gardening, one of my favorite summer pastimes, but how do you get 10- and 11-year-olds to sign up for a camp? Plants?

Enter NASEF’s Farmcraft 2021.

Our local Sports League commissioner noted that the North American Scholastic Sports Federation has released a Minecraft World for sports competition called Farmcraft. Mission: Work together to successfully farm in different biomes. Although many families in our community depend on local farms for their livelihood, students rarely understand agriculture. Farmcraft will provide students with appropriate opportunities to engage in a science camp; Playing competitive video games will interest students and discussing healthy gaming habits will interest their adults. Added bonus: My students will have plenty of opportunities to explore dirty planting and farming.

I organized my summer camp with three main ideas: healthy gamer habits, farming around the world, and the life cycle of plants. Every day, we explored plants through hands-on experiments, cultivated in Minecraft, and stayed active with holiday breaks.

On the last day of camp, the head of the SWMI Esports League, a NASEF approved, joined us to oversee a friendly scrimmage. The students received custom designed team jerseys for the camp: shirts with our summer camp logo that represent healthy body, healthy mind, healthy relationships, farmcraft.

Tip 1: Get started, then get better

Like any new venture, esports are something that takes time to fully understand. As the late Dr. Richard Dufour reminded academics, we need to be willing to “get started, then get better.” The beauty of esports is that they have a room for experts to travel with their teacher. It is incredibly powerful when the classroom is overturned and students have the opportunity to share their emotions and skills with their teacher.

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