How do we develop confident, creative, and joyful student-athletes who champion teamwork, participation, and growth? That is the question that drives our athletics program at The Denver Waldorf School.

This ethos begins with a simple no-cut commitment: any DWS student who wishes to play a sport will have that chance. Whether it’s cross country, volleyball, basketball, or ultimate frisbee, our coaches embrace the opportunity to help each and every student grow and develop their talents and work ethic.

Too often, however, youth athletics are plagued by a very different ethos—one that values that domination, recognition, and exclusivity above all else. In Beyond Winning, Waldorf educator and author, Kim John Payne, laid bare the pitfalls of this mindset:

“[T]he obsession with early success in a win-at-all costs culture has created a pressure chamber in which top prospects, even at the age of five or six, are funneled into elite programs while the majority of kids . . . are robbed of the opportunity to discover and develop their talents . . . The result is a youth sports landscape pockmarked with children who end up—at age eleven or twelve—with fractured egos, low self-esteem, and, in some cases, severe physical injuries. It’s why millions of American kids quit organized sports just as they become teenagers.”– Kim John Payne, Luis Fernando Llosa & Scott Lancaster, Beyond Winning: Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment (2013).

As a school committed to developing the whole child (head, heart, and hands), we believe athletics should boost our students’ understanding of self-worth, increase their self-esteem, and promote health and wellbeing. In short, we believe physical activity through sports is an opportunity for healthful growth.

It’s also the smart tactic to nurture joyful love of sport. As Payne points out, almost three-quarters of America’s youth quit organized sports by age thirteen — precisely at the age when sports can be taken more seriously and occupy a more central role in healthy development.

Imagine a sports culture where our teenage athletes experience joy instead of burnout, embrace team success over individual glory, and value participation over exclusion. By creating a healthy sports culture within DWS, we make these goals into our reality.

We create a culture that nourishes the hearts, souls, bodies, and minds of every student-athlete. It begins with a commitment to let everyone participate, and this is why we all play.