Writing Our Games: Using Team Notebooks and Athletes' Journals

Editorial note: Listen to Dr. Richard Kent discuss the impact of writing on athletic performance in episode 63 of the Get Connected podcast.

From Yankee Stadium to the Green Mountains of Vermont to the Playing Fields of England

In 2018, the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees in Divisional play, three games to one. After the deciding game, the Red Sox posed for a team photo on the Yankees’ infield. Then, the players streamed to the clubhouse to don their victory goggles. As Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez strode past the television camera toward the clubhouse door, few in the viewing audience may have noticed the notebook he carried.

Martinez led the eventual World Champions in home runs, RBIs, and hits, and has kept notes on his performances for years. What’s that about? Like so many top athletes, Martinez is a student of the game. Writing is one of his tools. He’s not alone.

Several hundred miles northwest of Yankee stadium in the Green Mountains of Vermont, Tallie hunkers down in a moonlit cabin jotting notes about her trek through the snow-rich mountains (Figure 1). A backcountry skier, Tallie is a student at the famed Carrabassett Valley Academy (CVA) in Maine, a secondary ski and snowboarding school that boasts a dozen Olympians and 92 national titles among its alumni.

Tallie’s coach, Patrick Scanlan, explains why the skiers write after a day in the mountains. “Taking the time to debrief is helpful for learning about risk management, human factors in decision making, and effective communication—all things that are crucial to a long career in a big mountain environment.” In the years to come, Scanlan’s backcountry crew may work as avalanche ski patrollers, mountain guides, or wilderness first responders. Some will be adventurers in the world’s wildest winter regions. But no matter the work, writing will be a part of their journeys.

"Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know—and what we don’t know—about whatever we’re trying to learn." —William Zinsser

Picture 18 American soccer players seated haphazardly along a dormitory hallway in London, England. The teenagers have just witnessed the holy grail of professional soccer matches, Manchester United versus Chelsea. Now, the players are asked to write about the match using the prompts in their team notebooks. Their coach (me) wonders whether the kids will settle down in order to unpack a game that ended in a full-volley strike into the upper 90 of the goal.

Heads bowed in thought, the silent players press their pencils into the page and relive the wild, elegant moments of the match. Once their analyses are complete, we talk about the game for half an hour. Then, they head off to their rooms in preparation for our match the next day. When the boys of the ’87 team (Figure 2) write about this rain-drenched match, they focus on the English players’ skills, the quagmire of a pitch, and their hosts’ foul weather studs (“They must have been an inch long!”). Our players wore stubby, molded-soled “cleats,” about a quarter of an inch in length. In the end, the English boys stood and scored, and we did not.

For nearly 15 years at the University of Maine, I’ve studied and written about how writing in athletic team notebooks, journals, or training logs helps athletes learn and improve at all levels. This eBook showcases how and why writing is used by Olympians and secondary school athletes alike. The following pages include the basics of developing team notebooks and athletes’ journals, and they provide background on how writing has the potential to support and inform athletes and their coaches as they work toward the next level of performance.

Please download the eBook above to continue reading Writing Our Games.

About the Author

Dr. Richard Kent

Richard Kent, PhD, is a professor of literacy at the University of Maine and the director emeritus of the Maine Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project. He is the author of many books, including Writing on the Bus: Using Athletic Team Notebooks and Journals to Advance Learning and Performance in Sports and A Guide to Creating Student-Staffed Writing Centers, Grades 6-12, Revised Edition, the Book of the Year for the International Writing Centers Association, an assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English.

A former high school English teacher, athletic coach, and writing center director at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Maine, Kent served as the State of Maine’s 1993 Teacher of the Year and in 1994 received the $25,000 National Educator Award. To learn more about Dr. Kent’s latest research, visit WritingAthletes.com. For information on his books, visit his author’s page.

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