Judaism on the Field

by Emma Castro

At Rodeph Sholom School, the goals of the Middle School Athletics program are focused on teaching athletic skills, game rules, and the fundamentals of team play. This is a competitive program, therefore teams, especially in older grades, will naturally strive for victory. However, winning and losing is only one indicator of a team’s success. The process of team and individual improvement over the course of a season, through dedication, sacrifice, and effort, provides satisfaction regardless of a team’s record. The lesson of remaining modest in victory and magnanimous in defeat is underpinned by Jewish values that our students learn during their time at RSS and are part of the general philosophy of the RSS Athletics Program.

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The key values of achrayut (responsibility) and areivut (bound-up-ness) are deeply embedded in the team dynamic at RSS. While each team may have players with innate talent, RSS coaches focus on drills during practice that are not talent-based but instead work-ethic based. These drills help hone core athletic skills and encourage the sharing of responsibility. Whether an athlete is scoring a goal or defending against the opposing team, each player has their own duty or achrayut to the team. As the players have these shared experiences, they start to understand what being a “team” means, which instills a sense of areivut; the connectedness that binds the players together.

Beyond the mechanics of the game, there is an emphasis placed on the ability to let go of oneself and focus on the overall goal of the team. Athletes are encouraged to consistently think beyond themselves, channeling the concepts of achrayut and areivut. Director of Athletics, Brendan Oswald, explains the thought process an athlete goes through when he/she misses a goal in a game, “They might think, I just made a mistake, everybody is looking at me, I can wallow in my self-sympathy, or I can do what I’m supposed to do, which is to think about my team and run back to defense.’” He admits that this is a very hard thing to actually do in the moment. Andrew K.’18, co-captain of the 8th Grade boys basketball team has seen this come to fruition on the court saying, “when we play for the team and not ourselves, we are very hard to beat.”

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Thinking beyond oneself is just one component of good sportsmanship. Often sportsmanship is a term that is stated but not embodied, but the coaches at RSS hold this value in the highest regard. Similar to the rules of the JCC Maccabi Games, RSS asks all athletes and coaches, as well as spectators, to bring their own sense of rachmanut (compassion) to the game. Having compassion for your own teammates when something goes wrong, as well as caring for your opponents, win or loss, is a fundamental part of of good sportsmanship. This is why teams always shake hands at the end of the game. It’s a display of sportsmanship and an opportunity for players to take a moment to think about what the other team is feeling.

Coach Oswald encourages parents of athletes to be as compassionate and supportive of their children as possible, “I find great verbal feedback to your child after a game is, ‘It was so great to watch you play,’ instead of, ‘Oh you should have done this, you should have done that.’ Players need recognition that they worked really hard –regardless of the outcome.”

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With an emphasis placed on skills, sportsmanship, fun, and camaraderie, “our students learn how to be comfortable in a competitive arena by working together as a team,” says Coach Oswald. And while RSS athletes are no different than any other student athletes in wanting to win, the difference lies in the way they handle losses and the gratitude they feel for the experience as a whole. By instilling these key principles into the mindset of the players, the experience of playing on an RSS team goes beyond learning the basic rules and mechanics of a sport. These Jewish values inform the way they approach their lives on and off the field. Ariana T. ’18 says, “It’s not about winning, it’s about trying our best, having fun, and being supportive of each other.”

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