WALLINGFORD — For high school students managing school, sports, clubs and college visits, finding downtime can be a real challenge.
At a Board of Education meeting on Oct. 28, Joe Sanders, parent of a Sheehan High School senior, asked the board to look at ways to have extracurricular activities happen as much as possible during the week, letting staff, students and families have the weekends off.
It all started when his daughter wanted to participate in the annual Powderpuff game, but practices scheduled for Sunday morning conflicted with her other commitments. The flag football game for senior girls pits Sheehan against crosstown rival Lyman Hall High School.
“When the material (for Powderpuff) came home, some of the excitement went out of the room for her,” Sanders said. “She saw that there were seven consecutive Sundays and four Saturdays of practice time, and she came and said, ‘Mom and Dad, what am I going to do about Sunday mornings?’”
On Sunday mornings, they “spend time together as a family,” he said. She also is active at her church.
“She was thinking, ‘how do I fit all this in? How do I go and do all this?’” he said. “These kids are being asked to be in school full time. Many of them also have other extracurricular activities that they are doing. I don’t know that it really meets the ideal that we’re looking for, of trying to have that downtime, that time to rest or recharge.”
Cheryl Colwick, Sheehan’s Powderpuff coach, said that when making the practice schedule, she takes many factors into consideration.
“I do make it known to the girls that family and school functions come first,” she said, adding that she’s accommodated students in the past who attended church on Sunday mornings.
Sheehan’s Powderpuff practices started after Columbus Day weekend, when fall high school sports are about three-quarters of the way through the season, she said.
Sheehan RB, Bailey Rogers (31), squeezes between Lyman Hall defenders during the powderpuff game at Sheehan High School in Wallingford on Wednesday November 24, 2010. (Matt Andrew/ Record-Journal)
During the week, there’s competition for field space with boys football, girls lacrosse and boys and girls soccer.
Students often have band competitions, sports games, SAT and ACT testing and college visits scheduled for Saturdays.
The Wallingford Vikings use the Sheehan field Sunday afternoons, so that leaves Sunday mornings for Powderpuff practice.
Although Powderpuff could practice on other town-owned fields, the end of daylight savings time means the light ends sooner and the cold begins faster, Colwick said.
Sheehan’s Powderpuff team holds 10 three-hour practices. Players are required to attend eight out of the 10 practices, which allows them to honor other commitments.
It all worked out for Sanders’ daughter, who declined to comment, and she’ll be playing in the Powderpuff game later this month.
Rest and recovery
Julie Liefeld, faculty member and director of the Family Therapy Clinic at Southern Connecticut State University, said that modern students, from millennials to Gen Z, have dealt with a tremendous amount of focus on what they need to do to make their life successful.
“In fact, they are exposed to so much at earlier and earlier ages that college students reflect the higher stress levels than any other generation measured,” she said.
The pressure on parents and educators to get kids into the right place to get into college and be successful may result in them pushing their children into a “success profile,” rather than an “activities profile” that is co-created between parent and child based on needs, curiosities and interests, she said.
“Over-programming a young person is not correlated with future success,” she said, “and in fact may be correlated with some unhealthy outcomes, such as high levels of stress, and the inability to self regulate, and poor decision making.”
In terms of brain rest and emotional recovery, downtime is never time wasted, she said.
“We are often not great as seeing adolescents as in the middle of important physical and emotional development which does require rest and recovery time,” she said. “Adolescents often crave sleep as much as they crave socializing. These aspects of development need to be balanced with the performance and achievement markers that our society typically sees as more valuable.”
Who we are, what we need
Colwick said that participating in Powderpuff actually can be a way for students to learn time management skills, as they work to get their homework done and stick to a schedule, and there’s an important social benefit.
“I do have an understanding for family time,” she said. “We all benefit from downtime with family and friends, but I do also think that it’s a family atmosphere at Powderpuff. Building new relationships in 10 practices is just amazing, and the benefits from the friendships formed in 30 hours of practice as well.”
In the huddle with the Sheehan powderpuff team
Trying a new thing, despite its encroachment on downtime, can also have its benefits.
Liefeld said that when a young person is inclined to try something novel, they are demonstrating important decision-making and self-knowledge skills.
“They should be encouraged to experience their decision and its consequences,” she said. “One of the most important mental health skills and emotional protective factors we can have is the ability to truly know who we are and what we need.”