The Teacher-Scholar Model


By: Wendy Orrison
Head Field Hockey Coach

I attended the Teacher-Scholar Symposium that was hosted here at Washington and Lee the first part of the week.  I wasn’t sure how any of the information, panels, or keynote speakers would impact my world of coaching, but I was interested and it was right here on campus, so I decided to go. I’m teaching my first academic class this spring as well, a wellness course, and I thought perhaps I would gain some insight that may prove useful for that course.

What I discovered is that team sports are, in my mind, an amazing paradigm of the liberal arts model of education.  The symposium spent a fair amount of time discussing what it means to be a liberal arts institution and how we differ from institutions that are research intensive.   Expressions such as “create critical thinkers”, and “prepare students for a life of inquiry” were commonly used.  Field Hockey and other team sports force student-athletes to make on-the-fly decisions all of the time.  In field hockey, I have only one timeout to use over the entire length of a game, regulation and overtime.  That means that the athletes have to continually fix and change their game on their own.  They have to adjust to other teams, playing surfaces, officials, and their own teammates in high pressure situations.  I would argue that team sports lends to their education and more specifically to their ability to become excellent critical thinkers.  The average W&L athlete does think too! Don’t be misled into thinking that we play by instinct or guts alone.  I have yet to meet a W&L athlete who doesn’t think about the game in great detail.  I have learned that I must be prepared to tell my team why we are doing a certain drill or why I have changed a line up.  They want to know, not because they doubt me, or want to appear disrespectful but because they need to know.  It is a part of their fabric and typically they use the information well.

Another lesson that I took away from the Teacher-Scholar Symposium was that teachers should be scholars and that they should include their students in their research whenever possible.   How rewarding to hear this from top academics and administrators.  I learn more about field hockey and coaching every year.  As new or different assistants come in, as I attend conferences or read books, as I dabble in lessons on leadership, or when I listen to my athletes, I learn about the game.  I change something about our game or our tactics every year.  I feel that we are constantly learning as a group and that we remain open to change.  We tweak the defense, change our corners, focus on a different section of the game, or involve the captains in a slightly different way.  I would hope that if you asked any of the W&L field hockey players if their coach liked to learn and was open to learning they would immediately answer in the affirmative.  Just as I previously stated, I try to involve the athletes in the decision making process so that we all remain open to change and new ideas or strategies.

I left the conference confident that athletics is a living laboratory, promoting lifelong scholarship and that student-athletes gain invaluable education that enhances their liberal arts education.

Let’s go Generals-Beat the Burg!!


One Response to “The Teacher-Scholar Model”

  1. Jan Says:

    So great to hear your thoughts – it was affirming to hear your perspective after attending the symposium. I am in complete agreement with you about athletics and the liberal arts mission. Thanks for all you do!

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