Camden, NJ – October 28, 2021 – Over the past 30 years or so, I’ve worked closely with hundreds of young people. Although I’ve worked with several young women and a few white kids as well, the vast majority of the youth were Black males aged 14-21. Here, the focus is young urban Black males. More specifically, young Black males in behavioral programs and/or special education programs. For these youth, school represents a place where they are highly frustrated and repeatedly failing. In far too many instances, it’s just not working. The youth do not know how to learn. Typically, they have poor organization and study skills. They repeatedly fail to complete school work and homework on time. On many occassions, there is a positive family history of members having academic problems, failures, or disinterest.
You can see the problems early. Throughout middle school, many of these young Black males display defiant behavior towards adults and act as if parents, teachers, and other authority figures are the enemy. It’s not uncommon to see 12-14 year olds consistently arguing with adults. Defying and refusing to comply with requests and rules even when they are reasonable, almost seems like the new norm. Many of these youth struggle with the transition to indepndent adulthood and competitive employment.
But there are exceptions… A good number of these struggling young Black students become student-athletes and seriously change their approach to school. There are countless positive outcomes each year.
Overall, it’s a mixed bag. Among the struggling middle and high school students I’ve worked with are the following: a Shop Rite employee that just did 7.5 years in a state penitentiary, a Kintock Halfway house resident trying to transition back into the community after a 6 year bid, a Pharmaceutical Sales Manager, an NBA Assistant Coach, a streets department manager, 5 current NBA players and a boatload of current college student-athletes.
Why such variation? Why have some engaged in criminal activities? Why have some become constructive members of society?
I don’t know… Those are really complex questions social scientists continue to grapple with.
I do know that positive and sustained engagement with schools and educational service providers is crucial factor. The ones that remain engaged with schools and continue to trade school or college fair much better than those that disengage from and ultimately drop out of school. How do you keep these boys engaged in school?
Sports can play an extremely important role in keeping Black males engaged in school. Indeed, great youth coaches understand the role they play in socializing youth through sport. Organized and appropriately managed youth sports play a crucial role in social development for participating youth. For many Black boys, sports is where they learn to actively interact with others, synthesize information, and make decisions for themselves.
Of course, athletic competition, applies stress, anxiety, and social pressure on young athletes. But, this is good stress and anxiety.
Through competitive sports, youth can build and develop character, confidence, and ultimately self-worth. Sports provide opportunities to explore and develop young athletes. Young athletes can identify themselves apart from playing sports through connecting with others and building new relationships. The challenge is to use sports to help youth become better students.
Exactly, how does a youth coach help young boys become better students? How does a youth coach help young boys attain and maintain a level of academic performance that is commensurate with their intellectual ability? How does a youth coach help young boys complete school and homework assignments on a regular basis? How does a youth coach help young boys eliminate patterns of acting out, disruptive, or negative attention seeking behaviors when confronted with frustration in learning?
University of Maryland basketball star, Donta Scott was what is commonly referred to as a “bad” kid in elementary and middle school. As a young boy, he exhibited persistent refusal to comply with school rules and expectations. Today he is the highly respected leader of a nationally ranked Terrapin basketball team. One of the toughest players in college basketball, Scott shares his thoughts on his own educational journey.
Students and student-athletes in behavioral and special education programs, often feel a stigma that interferes with arranging for psycho-educational testing to evaluate the possibility that these youth have learning disabilities and determine whether they are eligible to receive special education services.
Scott walks readers through his own educational career. He details how his youth coach connected his academic performance to opportunities to play basketball. He discusses his high school selection process. More importantly, Scott explains how he took control of his educational decision-making during his college recruitment.
Scott offers students, parents and youth coaches clear examples and practical advice. Anyone that is responsible for or working with young boys exhibiting behavioral issues in school should read this book. Special education students and their parents must familiarize themselves with Scott’s story.