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If You Hate Sports, You're Probably Not Reading This
Editor Struck By Basketball Fever: Prognosis Day-to-Day

The most exciting time of the year for Kansas Jayhawks and other intense basketball fans is the annual NCAA tournament. 65 university teams are invited or automatically qualify for this single-elimination, winner takes all, three-week climactic event of the college basketball season.

The championship team evolves over the course of the three weeks, learning from each new challenge as they survive close games, overtimes, foul trouble, turnovers, missed free throws, etc... The team which wins six games and the NCAA championship is never the same group of individuals who started in the first game. Each of the team members has sharpened his skills, improved his mental agility and risen to the challenge of going beyond what were previously the limits in terms of endurance and composure.

Teams which depend on one or two individual players rarely make it to the championship game, because basketball is unlike any other sport (except soccer) in its definitive quality as a "team sport" which requires the members to think together, build momentum together and force each other to raise the level of their game together.

Jayhawk coach Roy Williams after win over Oregon (photo by Pat Turner)As a team works it way through the NCAA tournament, its members learn from opponents and circumstances which have challenged their very survival. The surviving team takes on some of the best characteristics of the team they defeated. The NCAA is, from this perspective, an intense three-week race among the best teams and players in the country to learn faster and better than each other. It is a learning marathon like no other, because basketball is the ultimate interplay of mind and body.

Good basketball coaches are like good teachers in any other realm. They encourage their players to learn and grow; they strive to instill a mental discipline which their students can carry with them beyond college. If you want to understand how to teach your students to work together effectively and learn from each other in groups, spend some time with the basketball coach at your school. There is no higher authority on the subject.

Ludwig Wittgenstein isn't very popular in American linguistic circles. We're all marching to the beat of Chomsky's baton and M.I.T.'s directives. But Wittgenstein--who started philosophy of language, pragmatics and discourse analysis--hit the nail on the head when he compared language to a game in which a ball is passed back and forth. Watch the NCAA Final Four and championship games this year if you want some refreshing motivation to take back to your ESL classroom. Your students will be very happy if you start to challenge them to function with English the way those basketball players handle the ball, dribble, make pinpoint passes on the run, hit threes, and, of course, once in a while enjoy the pleasure of making a "slam-dunk." It could be a whole new way of looking at classroom dynamics.

By Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online