Team sports at the high school level are more than just great ways to boost self-esteem and build communication skills.
For Melanie Forbes, Marko Mitrovic and Erin Thompson the opportunity to join a team at their respective schools of Appleby College, Metropolitan Preparatory Academy and Greenwood College School has allowed them to grow both inside and outside the classroom.
They’ve improved in analytical thinking, leadership and allows them to juke outside of their comfort zones and into risk taking.
Thompson, a Grade 11 at Greenwood, is a middle for the Grizzlies volleyball team, and has honed her ability to guide her teammates, even though she’s 5-foot-7.
“I used to be very self-conscious and shy when I was younger,” she said. “Being on a team — not at a higher leadership point, but being a part of a group setting — has really helped me to focus my natural leadership skills.
“I can push myself and push other people safely, knowing that this is what I love and I’m good at it.”
Thompson has been playing volleyball for six years, and was first scouted for club teams like her current one, the Galaxy, in Grade 9.
Typically, a 15-year-old would play on the U16 squad, but she was able to play up a level on the U20 team. There was no trepidation on her part, as she won Greenwood’s MVP.
Though the Grizzlies finished 5–9, Thompson grew under the guidance of her coaches Carla DiFilppo and Cara Pennington.
“It brought together everything I had been working toward,” she said. “Even now, I’m still kind of shy, but at the school I have a lot of friends. I’m super energetic and very motivated.”
She has two more years left at Greenwood, another season at the Galaxy under the tutelage of coach Emily Kawaguchi, but she’s already thinking post secondary. University of Victoria and University of Toronto are both in her cross-hairs.
‘How much I’ve changed’
Though Forbes is looking abroad for her schooling, she shared a similar growth in personal development.
“Looking back, I can definitely see how much I’ve changed, especially in the last year,” she said. “I know sports is a part of it, but it also comes with growth. I’ve been taught essential skills that are necessary in careers.”
She will be a senior the coming year at Appleby, and it’s a time she’s looking forward to before she heads to Bloomington, Ind. to attend the University of Indiana.
A proven midfielder, she had to promote herself and reach out to coaches at American schools, like the University of Wisconsin, Princeton and, her selection, Indiana.
She’s confident she’ll one day represent Canada at the World Cup or the Olympics. Former teammate Deanne Rose is a member of the Rio 2016 squad.
Also looking States-side is Mitrovic, a new addition to the Metro Prep Predators basketball squad.
He switched schools last year, moving from a public school to the academy in hopes he’d be able focus more on his studies and get the one-on-one training he required.
“It was the opportunity to re-focus and just to individually practise my skills,” he said.
He wanted to follow in his older brother, Nemanja’s footsteps, and attend school south of the border.
The best part for him is he’s had to stick to new, more productive habits.
“Here there’s such a small amount of students, the work goes by quickly, so you have to study almost every day, and you have to be engaged every day.”
Going from the hyper-competitive atmosphere of a TDSSAA school to the Small School Athletics Federation competitor like Metro Prep, has not hurt Mitrovic’s hopes of going to the U.S. on an NCAA scholarship.
Coaches Andrew Hobbs and Dominick Devastey have worked with students to hone their skills on and off the court. That’s ideal for a point guard like Mitrovic, who models his game after the Toronto Raptors bulldog, Kyle Lowry.
“They pride themselves on building the person as well as the player through our practices they really get you to focus and get your mind set right,” he said. “It’s hard work, but they don’t want you to give up. It makes you want to push through other obstacles.”
It goes to prove that team sports — like volleyball, soccer and basketball — can grow confidence and leadership skills that go beyond the classroom.