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Eric Zweig dishes on the benefits of sports-talk

November 22nd, 2011 by Carrie Gleason

Eric Zweig

Eric Zweig is a lifelong sports fan who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985. He is the author of four books for young readers.  Here we talk to Eric about some surprising examples of how the actions of sports heroes can help serve as examples of positive character building for youth.


tough guys covercrazy canuckslong shot coverstar power


Q: You've been writing about professional sports for nearly 30 years. Have you seen a change in the way the media and sports commentators are talking about events or incidents that raise issues of fairness, respect, fair play, and sportsmanship? What effect do you think these commentaries have on young fans?

A: These days, with all-sports TV networks, all-sports radio, web sites and twitter feeds, there is just so much MORE sports coverage than when I was growing up, and EVERYTHING gets talked about more than it used to. Lately, concussions and head shots are the big issues in hockey … and this seems to lead into the idea that players today have less respect for each other than they used to. I’m not sure that’s true, and hockey has always been a very violent sport, but I do think it has led to an understanding that younger people playing hockey do have to learn more about fairness, respect, fair play, and sportsmanship. Parents of young athletes too. And that has to be a good thing.


Q: Your Recordbook Tough Guys is an example of how sports can help develop the character attribute of citizenship, because it shows how two rivals, Joe Hall and Newsy Lalonde, put aside their differences and learned to work together for the greater good of their team. How would you relate this to what kids might be seeing in professional sports today, or even in their own youth leagues? 

A: Tough Guys certainly touches on this … but my book Crazy Canucks, about the national men’s ski team in the 1970s and ’80s, is an even better example about the importance of teamwork. Skiing is pretty much an individual sport, and even though there are national teams, in that era, the Europeans pretty much all prepared as individuals. Realizing how undermanned and underfunded they were compared to those European “teams”, the Canadian skiers realized that they really would have to work together in order to have any success at all. And the success they did have was truly amazing. There’s an expression that says “there is no ‘I’ in team” and I think that most of us do have to learn, in sports, and in our work, that we often have to put our own feelings aside and do what’s best for everybody. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, and I do think it’s something that sports can help with.


Q: In Long Shot, you show how the Winnipeg Falcons, a hockey team made up of working-class Icelandic immigrants, were kept from playing in the regular Winnipeg league because of prejudice. Yet that team went on to represent Canada in the Olympics and even won the first Canadian Olympic gold medal in ice hockey! What character attributes do you think it took for them to win? What made them such a successful team?

A: The story of the Winnipeg Falcons is a truly inspiring one! The players really had to overcome a lot in order to succeed. I think the hardships they faced did teach them the importance of fairness, courage, respect, and perseverance. They showed that a small group, working hard together, can really accomplish a lot. And when they did reach the top (ie, winning the Canadian amateur championship and going to the Olympics), the way they treated the poorer passengers on their ocean voyage to Europe showed that they really were fair and honest people who wanted to treat others they way they wished they had been treated. The same when they got to Europe and realized how much better they were than the European hockey teams. They refused to run up the score. They even worked to train those European players to become better at the game. It’s really a perfect example of the way we are all are supposed to behave — in sports and in life!



Building empathy

November 22nd, 2011 by James Lorimer

fighting for gold cover

A powerful way to reinforce empathy is to find common ground between people who don't think they have anything in common.

A reluctant reader with an interest in hockey can easily find common ground with the characters in Lorna Nicholson's true-life story about a hockey team who overcome tremendous obstacles to win gold at the Olympics. The book is Fighting for Gold.

The hockey players in this book play a different version of the game -- sledge hockey. The fact that they are disabled makes it tougher in some ways for them to play the game. But they're as dedicated to hockey as anyone can be -- as a young reader quickly realizes.

Lorna talks about the team's struggles and accomplishments in the tournament and also touches briefly on each player's physical disability and even shows the logistical challenges that the team faced getting all its players to the tournament.

It's a great story with a happy ending. The team went into the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy and came out with the gold medal for Canada.

Lorna's respectful coverage of their stories makes this book ideal for character education units around empathy, as she creates awareness for their struggles without diminishing their athletic prowess.

Reviewers have recognized Lorna's achievement with this book. Says Resource Links: "This book is fast-paced and action-packed, but also very empathetic towards the struggles and amazing achievements of the members of the team." (Read the whole review; it's in Volume 15, no 3)

Fighting for Gold is part of the Lorimer Recordbooks series, hi-lo sports history stories for ages 12 and up.




Fighting? Competition? — Deal With It!

November 22nd, 2011 by Carrie Gleason

Looking for a more direct approach to help kids understand character education through sports? The Deal With It series titles are 32-page graphic-novel-style books that contain quizzes, Q+As, comics and scenarios that get kids talking about issues.

competition covercompetition spread

Competition: Deal with it from start to finish

This book looks at some of the pressures that kids face to do well is sports, school, and extra-curricular activities. It also examins what happens when competition turns ugly – cheating, name-calling, and bad sportsmanship — and helps provide solutions for dealing with these situations.

Click here  to download a free teacher's guide.



fighting coverfighting spread

Fighting: Deal with it without coming to blows

This book looks at some of the reasons why kids start fights and comes at the issue form the roles of the instigator, the defender, and the bystander. Kids see how building acceptance, respect, cooperation, fairness, and teamwork can help prevent fighting.

Click here to download a free teacher's guide.


Character building through hockey

November 22nd, 2011 by Carrie Gleason

Lorimer's Sports Stories books designed to appeal to young people who would rather spend their time playing sports than reading. The books are written with plenty of play-by-play scenes to engage reluctant readers. The problems that the characters face often result in personal growth or realization through sports – and, just like in real life sports, these problems are often associated with developing character traits like honesty, courage, integrity, and perseverance.

If you've got young hockey players in your school or community these are books that can connect with kids and that reinforce character education themes:


making selectIn Making Select, a new book by Steven Barwin, main character Tyler could have avoided a lot of trouble, and an injury, if only he'd shown HONESTY with his parents by telling them what he really needed was a break from hockey.





power playIn Power Play by Michele Martin Bossley, main character Zach has to find the COURAGE to get back on the ice after a big hit, even with the knowledge that a bully is waiting for him when he does.






hat trickHat Trick by Jacqueline Guest is about Leigh, a main character who is leading a double life – lying about hockey to her mom and lying about dancing to her dad and friends. She will have to show INTREGRITY by being open and honest with everyone.





two minutes for roughingIn Joseph Romain's Two Minutes for Roughing, Les loves playing on his first real hockey team, but has to find the courage to PERSEVERE in the game after being the target of the team's bullies.






roughingIn Roughing by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, main characters Josh and Sam learn to RESPECT a new player's talent. 






delaying the gameIn Delaying the Game, Lorna Schultz Nicholson creates main character Kayleigh, who has to improve her TEAMWORK skills if she's going to succeed on her new all-girls' team. 






 Sports Stories are hi-lo sports fiction for youth ages 10-13. In addition to hockey, other sports such as basketball and soccer are covered.


Teach respect, sportsmanship, and fair play

November 22nd, 2011 by Carrie Gleason

Summit Series 

For Canadians who lived through it, the eight games between Canada's best hockey players and the Soviets' in 1972 was a series to remember. For Canadian teens today, the series can serve as a great context for discussing character attributes of fairness, respect, and sportsmanship.

For years leading up the 1972 "Friendship Series" (ironically this was the name originally given to the tournament), Canada hadn't performed well in international hockey tournaments. Canadians believed it was because their best players were pros in the NHL, and at the time not allowed to play in international tournaments of 'amateurs' like the Olympics. So a tournament was set up that would pit Canada's best against the Soviets'. It would be no contest, most Canadians believed, because hockey was our sport. But all this changed when Canada lost Game 1 and the battle to win became a "war on ice.". Remember, too, that this was at the height of the Cold War which pitted the West against the Soviets.

Summit Series '72, a new book by sportswriter Richard Brignall, addresses many of the issues surrounding this series, including nationalism and the Cold War context. To use this series to tie-in with character education themes, students can refer to the following scenes from the book and discuss them in terms of these character attributes:

Fairness: After Canada's Game 4 loss in Vancouver, the Canadian fans booed their own players. Team captain Phil Esposito had this to say “I tell ya, every one of us thirty-five guys that came out and played for Team Canada, we did it because we love our country, and not for any other reason. No other reason. And I don’t think it’s fair that we should be booed.” (Refer to Summit Series '72 page 94)

Respect:  Heading into the series, the Canadian media debated not if we would win the series, but how much we'd win by. Players, too, thought there would be no contest. Afterwards goalie Ken Dryden said, "We didn't respect our opponents. We didn't have a sense that we could lose." (Refer to Summit Series '72 page 85)

Sportsmanship:  In Game 6, Bobby Clarke, then a rookie player, was told by one of the coaches to "take out" Soviet player Kharlamov. Clarke slashed Kharlamov's ankle with his stick and fractured his ankle. (Refer to Summit Series '72 page 115)

 For a review of this new book, click on this link to CM Magazine. The review sums up the book: "Highly recommended."

You can get Summit Series '72 from your usual library wholesaler. To order online, click here.



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