The unseen benefits of travel with athletic teams

I recently had the honor of recognizing the late Coach Tommy Thomsen at his 2018 induction into the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Hall of Fame. I was fortunate enough to play for Coach Thomsen during my collegiate lacrosse days at Denison University. My time at Denison was filled with countless road trips, spring break trips to the East Coast, and an international trip to England one January. As a collegiate athlete, I always looked forward to the trips with my team.

In December, as the Colorado Academy Boys and Girls Basketball Teams loaded up their respective buses before an overnight weekend trip to Steamboat and Buena Vista, there was heightened anticipation in the air. CA student-athletes love to get on the bus and travel with their teammates too. Spring teams can take advantage of spring break and get on an airplane and travel. Many fall teams take trips in the summertime as a preseason adventure and an opportunity to train. Why are student-athletes allowed and required to take time away from their academics, their classroom, and their families? The answer is that athletics and the travel inherent in the activity are positively impactful and provide important lessons and experiences that will last a lifetime.

“Being on the bus with your teammates provides a unique opportunity to bond,” says Mia Cravitz, one of the CA Girls Basketball Captains. “Playing away is also when you really get a sense of team chemistry and our ability to be each other’s biggest fans. It’s a true test of perseverance and heart, because it’s not easy to play in a new environment with lots of people cheering against you.” When she talks about “being each other’s biggest fans,” Cravitz displays a sense of selflessness which will buoy both her and her teammates this season and benefit them off the court and beyond CA.

Teams consist of players from a variety of grades, which promotes friendly personal interactions in the hallways of the Upper School. “Back at the hotel, the whole team is hanging out, playing music, doing homework, and watching movies together,” says Senior Boys Basketball Captain Alex Mushkin. “This time is relaxing and really helps all of us to get comfortable with one another.”  Senior Girls Basketball Captain Story Wolf-Tinsman hints at the resilient and tough competitive mindset that is necessary to travel when she says, “Our hard work at home travels with us and our support for each other cannot be shut down by an unfamiliar rim or court.” Whether at home or away, our student-athletes understand the need to be mentally strong—demonstrating grit—regardless of the setting.

How do you balance sports travel with academics?

Travel heightens the sense of responsibility CA students have for completing their academic obligations by managing their time, focusing, and demonstrating self-discipline. The collaboration between teachers and coaches is a tremendous benefit to playing at CA. Many of our coaches are classroom teachers too, including JV Boys Basketball coaches Sean Gallop (US computer science) and Austin Harvey (US math), and Varsity Swim coaches Paul Augustus (US math) and Jason Koza (MS math). CA teachers are respectful of an athlete’s efforts and flexible in their expectations.

Both Basketball Head Coaches, Cyndi Graziano and Steve Hyatt, are career classroom teachers, as well as being successful mentors on the hardwood, and they have a unique outlook, respect, and insight, as they have experienced in both the athletic and academic worlds. Both work to turn competition on the road into experiential learning at its best.

“The annual trip we take to the Buena Vista and Salida region holds a special place, as I grew up in the region, and the team has the opportunity to meet and observe my interactions with my family and friends,” Coach Graziano says. “It is important for me that we are facing very competitive teams from the mountain region, to see how we match up, and most importantly, learn from our mistakes.” Playing better teams and experiencing competition that may not be available close to home is an added benefit to athletic travel. This concept of leaning into discomfort and learning from failures is parallel to what we teach in the classroom.

The time spent on the bus traveling to athletic contests is credited with indelible, lifelong memories that can’t be recreated in many other arenas. I am hopeful the experiences created through athletics and the travel engaged in by our teams are as impactful for CA students as they were for me in high school and college. This school year, as the new Athletic Center nears completion, the Mustangs are truly road warriors! Keep the faith, however, because next year will look different with a completed Athletic Center. If you have a chance, check the calendar on the school website for a game this winter, and feel free to travel with us as we represent our school and work hard to bring home the victory!