Experiential Learning in Sports

In this edition of Mondays with Matt, I want to talk to you about experiential learning. In some of my other writings, I have alluded to this as exposure based learning and simulation based learning. The reason why I am writing to you about this is to help us all realize the wonderful opportunities that we have at our fingertips.

In sports, many of us proudly declare that we are “students of the game”. Whether as adults or as kids, professional or amateur, we seek to understand everything about the game that we love. We draw inspiration from the smallest of activities – remember the column about turning everyday games into learning opportunities – and glean information from many different experiences. The same holds true for many other forms of recreation as well – painting, music, building, etc. We learn and develop interests along with gathering information from things that we experience. We are exposed to certain things or witness a simulated version of something that allows our minds to learn and develop.

Look around you, at the world around us. We are surrounded by learning opportunities. We just don’t always realize it. As we perform many activities that bring us joy and pleasure, we are learning, whether we know it or not. We are developing interests, learning new skills and becoming students of our crafts. As you become aware of the classroom that is our world, you will realize that not all learning happens in a classroom. You will realize that – to quote the book and movie A River Runs Through It – eventually all things merge into one. Your day to day experiences that you learn from go hand in hand with your classroom lessons and eventually become one lesson. What you achieve in an athletic setting or during a recreational activity gives a real life context to lessons that have been learned in the classroom and may inspire you to learn more about a subject on your own time.

These are just a few of the reasons why experiential learning is often a core principle and concept when it comes to higher education. What often does not get realized as much is that experiential learning is critical during our youth as well, for it is what gives life to the lessons that we learn. For my young friends reading this, I am going to guess that you like field trips. Why not? When I was your age, a field trip was a great day. I did not have to worry about being in the classroom and all of the stresses of being in school. What I didn’t realize, and what I do want you to realize, is that you are still learning. Field trips are not random days off provided by your school. Really, they are using an effective teaching tool to help you learn.

There are a few different experiences that I would like to share with you – childhood experiences, field trip and simulated experiences – that I deeply learned from in terms of recreational activities without even realizing it. These events, in turn, taught me lessons and inspired me to further pursue certain interests and athletic activities. Let’s start with field trips. I was not a wonderful student in my youth and I found school intimidating. But I loved learning. It’s probably not hard to gauge how I felt about field trips. Two field trips – one to the Basketball Hall of Fame and one to the Connecticut River. Both very basic out of school trips. Both impactful. At the time, my exposure to basketball was going to the Mullins Center and watching the UMass Basketball team during their Final Four season in 1995-1996. I was starting to develop a love of sports at the time and going to the ultimate museum for basketball was aweing. I was inspired. It left and impression and my love for sports only deepened. Field trip #2: the Connecticut River. For many of you, my young friends, you are attending Hadley Elementary School. Though I started in the old Hooker Elementary School, I spent time in your school as well. One day, we were talking about nature. We took a field trip to the River dike. Though just a snapshot in time, the river spoke to me that day. Not literally, but watching the beauty of it flowing. Seeing the flowers on river’s edge. That day taught me to appreciate and love nature, to study it as a living being. I may not have developed that interest without that experience.

There are other moments from my own childhood where I developed interests and skills. Believe it or not, my love for baseball started from not only watching baseball on TV, but from playing video games. Now, I do not advocate playing video games all of the time, but it can be a helpful tool. I developed an interest in some of the skills that would later lead me to major in Sport Management in college from a simulation based computer game called Front Page Sports Baseball 1998. I was having fun recreationally, but I was learning as well. I was developing an interest. While I could go on with many more examples, such as themed exhibits, fairs and the such, our space and time is limited. So, what I want to leave you with is a word – edutainment. As you participate in Park and Recreation activities, remember that word – edutainment. First developed by the Walt Disney Company to describe some of its educational materials that were entertainment based, edutainment is a tool that we tend to unconsciously use to learn, develop and be inspired. A lot of times, it does come naturally, after all. We are all students of our craft if we take the time to realize it, due to edutainment experiences. So, continue learning and having fun and remember that our world – your world – is part of your classroom.

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