On Team Kenyon
I grew up in a family that scorned athletics. I don’t mean that we were couch potatoes exactly — we enjoyed hiking, and my brother and I took swimming lessons at the Y. But my dad didn’t watch sports on TV or even play catch with my brother in the yard, and neither parent ever suggested we join a team. My husband’s family was more athletic — skiing and canoeing were regular family activities, and my husband was a keen debater inside the classroom and at the dinner table. But competition in both families was expressed individually, for the most part, not with group support. One felt competition with oneself.
So when my husband and I had kids, I worried a bit that the genuine benefits of playing on and with a team was something they would not have; after some valiant attempts at baseball, soccer and ice hockey in the early years, our children weren’t much into sports either.
I do like to think they learned how to play fair, though, even though they were rarely on a ball field. And lately I’ve had reason to re-think my definition of what a team is and what belonging to a team means for all involved.
Our daughter left American soil this fall and went to study in Belgium in a graduate program. Of course we have had to field a number of questions such as, “Aren’t you worried about your daughter in Belgium?” The answer is yes, of course. We are all worried about all of our children, everywhere. Nevertheless, I have noted in discussion with our daughter a healthy confidence and optimism. She has met people from all over the world and has already made strong bonds in these academic and social worlds much larger than those at Kenyon.
Still on the Kenyon campus, our son navigates the shifting waters of classes, clubs, a job and friendships as every college student does. True to his nature, he seems hardest on himself, just as his sister did. And yet with both of them this sense of competition with themselves seems rooted in the high expectations Kenyon had for them when they arrived. Matching those expectations was the strong support Kenyon provided them each year.
Now I won’t say that either Kenyon’s expectations or this support is unique to a small college. I will only say that in my observation, students feel that their presence in this small community matters. They have a job to do, and others depend on them. Even if they don’t have coaches, they have professors, supervisors, friends and coworkers. That’s a team.