Play like champions today

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Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington has begun a unique partnership with the University of Notre Dame to bring the university's Play Like a Champion Today program to the school community. This educational program uses competitive play as a way of shaping virtues in each athlete and ensuring that each athlete has fun.

In the parents' brochure explaining the program, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz wrote: "Notre Dame's Play Like a Champion Today workshop gives parents the sound, practical, and faith-inspired guidance they are looking for."

"Play Like a Champion Today reinforces our school's link between our sports programs and our Catholic identity," said O'Connell's Assistant Head of School Carl Patton. "Our athletic department is working closely with our school chaplain, Father Gregory Thompson, to implement this program across all sports and all participants. Our coaches, our parents and our student-athletes are all benefiting."

"No teacher will spend as much time, demand as much sacrifice or share as many moments as a coach of an athletic team," said Play Like a Champion Director Kristin Sheehan, who led two coaching clinics and two parent workshops at O'Connell earlier this year. Coaches were taught how to cultivate the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance in their athletes and make their team "a moral community." In addition to the workshops and clinics, the program includes monthly educational opportunities for all participants and continued professional development for staff and coaches.

Boys varsity lacrosse coach, Ryan Beck, started implementing the values stressed in Play Like a Champion Today long before the spring season. For winter training, Beck made a "fantasy draft" model where four senior leaders drafted workout groups from the team to compete against each other throughout their training. Points were based on optimal grades, minimal school detentions, physical improvement and consistent attendance at workouts.

"The four cardinal virtues sum up what we strive for in this sport," said Beck.

In the parent workshops, the focus was on the impact that parents have on their children, often in more ways than what is realized. The presentations gave parents pointers on how to be a supportive and exemplary "number one" fan.

"This program emphasizes the idea that sport is a form of youth ministry, and it challenges us to view sports as a means of developing the whole person - physically, mentally and spiritually," explained O'Connell Athletic Director Joe Wootten. "This parallels our school's mission to foster the pursuit of excellence in the whole person."

The first high school in the Washington area to implement this program, O'Connell joins more than 30,000 coaches and 20,000 parents around the country who have partnered with Notre Dame in a mission to produce athletes dedicated to Christ.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015