Sports programs are more important than ever for adolescent boys. The physical output of adolescent boys is formidable as they reach the years of their peak physical potential.

Yet it is rare, in the digital age, for boys to experience the limit of their physical energy and capabilities. School work does not offer this opportunity and most children have a home life that does not offer it either. Sports is one “arena” that boys can truly push up against their physical limits and get a sense of this awesome potential.

A high school sporting event is experiential education in action. Anyone who has spent time trying to talk to a young person about the consequences of actions knows that a reasonably controlled place for actual consequences to occur is sometimes the only way.

Also, the teamwork that happens on a field of sports is clear and obvious: everyone has a position with a name in direct relation to an actual, physical goal. Holding a position, performing one’s duty and a small part of a larger team enterprise creates a model that applies to work in any community.

Understanding that the person who makes the goal did not do it alone but, almost always, got there by virtue of decisions and actions of the defense and fellow offense is, again, a perfect metaphor for work, success and failure.

The coach of a boys or girls athletic team serves an important role by modeling the virtues of a noble heart and good leadership: trust, hard work, humility, and recognition of a job well done. Although student-athletes may see these attributes in many teachers, the fact that a team coach is present in this intensely physical setting clarifies and underscores the teaching.

Of course, this is an idealistic view. Professional sports have become highly suspect and the various benefits seem absent from many professional teams. All the more reason to nurture the teaching aspect of working with young athletes. High school athletics should be seen, not as a stepping stone to a future of athletic prowess, but as an opportunity to educate about who we are, how we handle challenges and how we handle success.

At its best, a high school sporting event reflects the values of the larger community and serves as a model for a young person to hold as they venture into the world. We have seen wonderful young athletes emerge from our schools as leaders of their peers because they embodied the best qualities of our community.

The success of an athletic program comes from an interweaving of individual work, work within a team and, finally, support from the community. And, in full circle, the athletes are reflections of us and our community as we show up to support them in their arena.

Elphie Owen is a sixth-grade math teacher at Camden-Rockport Middle School. She is a Camden resident and mother of Henry Owen, a senior and student-athlete at Camden Hills Regional High School.