A crowd of St. Paul’s athletes formed a raucous huddle around two of their peers. At the center of the group, amidst hooting and hollering, two students held out clenched right fists over flat left palms. An impromptu rock, paper, scissors tournament was about to crown a champion. It started with a frenzy of one-on-one matches across the room, continuing until only two winners remained. Those who lost did not slump back into their chairs and lose interest. Instead they became more invested and excited than if they had won, fanatically cheering on their friends and teammates as the field shrank.
Ultimately, the winner was less important than the lesson to be learned. Two groups of 30 student-athletes were gathered to participate in a workshop run in partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). The rock, paper, scissors exercise emphasized focus on team over self, and always bringing energy and positivity to the table. PCA Lead Trainer Joe Terrasi noticed the willingness with which this particular group displayed both traits.
“You can sense that there’s something great already happening here,” he said.
According to St. Paul’s Athletic Director Dick Muther, this is no accident. Over the past few years the department has put an emphasis on developing athletes and teams whose identities were centered on positivity, sportsmanship, and unity.
“It’s way more than the game,” said Muther. “As soon as people figure that out, they start to take care of each other better, and once they take care of each other better they not only have a positive experience, they start to win more, too.”
Winning is something that the Big Red has done a lot of lately. Both the boys and girls cross country teams came in first at the Lakes Region Championship, football and volleyball both finished their regular seasons undefeated, field hockey had only one regular season loss, girls soccer went undefeated in league play, and boys soccer ripped off a six-game winning streak during the heart of their schedule. Field hockey and volleyball returned to the playoffs while football earned its first bowl game appearance in 29 years.
“This has been a multi-year effort,” said Scott Reynolds, head coach of the currently undefeated girls volleyball team. “Pick the best, most positive players and get them to trust each other.”
Despite all the success, athletes and coaches alike are quick to define their seasons by more than just wins and losses. During the PCA workshop, when asked what the characteristics of a successful season were, students shouted out things like togetherness of the team, staying engaged throughout the season, and building bonds with teammates. Coaches are proud to report the kindness and positive morale on display by their players.
“Our athletes shake hands with all three coaches after every practice, look us in the eye and say ‘thank you’,” said Boys Cross Country Coach Toby Brewster. “We are grateful to have good kids.”
Muther emphasized that nothing the coaching staffs have done this fall is radically different from season’s past. Rather, it is a commitment on the part of the School as a whole to the idea that learning happens as much outside of the classroom as it does inside of it.
“We’ve been mindful about what we’ve asked of the kids over the course of two or three years,” he said. “It’s starting to become embedded and we are seeing the results.”