Watching games last Friday and Saturday in the gym and the rink – basketball and hockey –players pivoted, sprinted, shifted from offense to defense, worked to set up and break up plays, communicated with each other through eye contact, gestures, and position. Sometimes a call, a shout, and when the timing clicked all was flow. Effortless on the surface. Professional. Sports are a natural setting (not the only setting) for collaboration to blossom, for different strengths to fuse together to create team, where the critical lesson of transition is taught. And given this week highlights transition on a national scale, where we witness the transition from one administration to the next, it’s in the back of our collective minds.
Watch a skier come down the race trail at the Proctor Ski Area and what looks like a shuttle passing through a weave of different colored gates is really an athlete going through multiple, high speed transitions. Transitions from gate to gate –yes – but also transition from one relative pitch to the next, from steep to less steep, to steep again. All in a matter of seconds. Skiing is about mastering those transitions, and is one of those particularly brutal sports where one miscalculated transition can end a race day seconds after it has started, hours away from school. “A stupid sport” we used to call it in our house, while we were packing lunches, checking for skis boots and goggles, and sending our own children back out to the hill again and again and again. There is something about learning how to handle transitions that is essential to learning how to handle life.
On campus, try to count the transitions that a student (or a faculty member) goes through in a single day. There are the academic transitions from class to class, the social transitions accompanying each shift, the electronic transitions from one electronic neighborhood to the next, the physical transition of going from warm Shirley Hall to the cold stretch of walk down to the Learning Center, the afternoon shifts from the Brown Dining Commons to a chairlift on Ragged Mountain. It seems simple on the one hand – you just do it – but to do it with grace day after day, to do it with stamina, to do it while learning every day…not so easy.
Last week I stood near the finish line of a cross-country ski race. I looked across the field where racers started and finished and I thought about the years when I learned how to ski, learned about transitions. I can still see the first bump of a hill I went down. Fell down. It took a long time to get my skis under me that first winter, to manage even the relative flats of fields. I still think about transitions when I am on the trail. My point? We never stop going through transitions in sports, in learning, in the simple shifting from place to place or season to season. Life is transition. Continual transition. Commitment, work, understanding, empathy, planning, and the ability to read the terrain help us shift with grace.
We go through transitions every day. Constantly. Today just happens to be a bigger day than most, and collectively we look to see how grace unfolds on a national scale. Tomorrow I hope to be back in the rink and the gym, watching for the pivot and first step of an unfolding play. Delighting in the game.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School