We are in March Madness. Ask every basketball player when they started their quest to play basketball in the coveted NCAA Tournament. They will say they started in the 6th or 7th grade—if not before. They set their goals and aspirations at that age. They practiced with that goal in mind. In the 8th grade, they refined these efforts and, based on NCAA rules, are now being recruited by colleges—yes, that is right! They join AAU leagues, they play summer leagues. They stop doing other sport and activities and focus efforts on basketball. In 9th and 10th grades, they intensify these efforts by going on travel teams that take them across the country. They begin to narrow their choices of universities (and coaches) they want to play for. They double down on their own practices, hire private coaches. In the 11th grade they begin visiting schools, and many make “early ecisions.” Take a look at the picture below...It was taken five or six years ago. Each one of them made a commitment—and it paid off.
I write this to say, if we expect our children, the future students at my university, to truly be college ready, we need to have them go through the same commitment process and exercise their mind to prepare when they are in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. We need them to set their goals and ambitions. They need to set the road map and not shy away from tough and rigorous classes. They need to “play against the best teams and players,” which means taking four years of math, two years of foreign languages, and extra science courses. They need to attend summer college opportunities (i.e., at my university, we offer the “Common Wealth Honors College,” which allows rising juniors to attend a six week semester on our campus taking courses from our professors and gain college credit) just as others attend AAU tournaments.
In addressing 6th, 7th and 8th graders, I always ask if there are athletes in the room. And I always get a “yes.” I ask, when do you start practicing for a big game? When do you start practicing to get in the varsity squad? How many of you want to play at a university and when do you start preparing for that? The day before the big game, the day of tryouts, or months and years before? They all say, months and years before....Then I say, “Then start practicing for your university experience now. Don’t view homework as a chore, but as a practice session for your chance to play in the big game, to get on the varsity squad, to get into your university of choice. Don’t view teachers as someone who is assigning you busy work, rather as your coach, as your personal coach, who is preparing you to win the game, to get on the varsity squad, and to prepare you for your next ‘game,’ which is getting that A, graduating from high school and going on to a university.” I tell them not to shy away from competition, but to embrace the challenges of life, as they will only make you better.
Our goal is to make champions—and one (and not the only) symbol of that is a diploma from a University. To do that, you must practice day in a day out, chart your course out, set high goals and expectations, hold yourself accountable, prepare and do the work. You cannot do that in your last year of high school. It starts in the 6th grade with the mindset, it continues in the 8th grade with the plan, and it is implemented each day, week, month and semester all through high school.
Please Note: This blog was originally published on www.weredoingitwrong.com on March 18, 2018.
By Dr. Robert O. Davies. Known for his student-centered philosophy, commitment to the community, unyielding advocacy for higher education and inclusive leadership style, Dr. Robert O. Davies is currently President of Central Michigan University. He is past President of Eastern Oregon University and Murray State University.