Flip the Field

I’m always looking for ways to meet my students in untraditional spaces. I’ve held class 20-plus feet in the air in a mess of ropes, lived on two dollars a day with my students, and operated a microfinancial institution in Honduras with my students for ten years. 

A couple years ago, I wanted to give some of my students a chance to earn extra credit. So, I designed Flip the Field. Here’s how it works:

My students get to choose whatever contest they want to compete against me with. And, if they beat me, then they earn extra credit. I’ve competed in the:

  • Shot put
  • Swimming
  • Basketball
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Broad Swords

I got beat in them all, which is what I expected (and desired).

Over time, I quickly broadened Flip the Field to include opportunities for students to teach me something new. I learned how to:

  • Play the game Magic
  • Read music on the piano
  • Sing Guns and Roses “Patience” in sign language
  • Play a Ukrainian card game

In the process of competing against them on their field of play and learning on their field of expertise, we learned from each other and connected. Moreover, being in their space allowed for open and honest communication about their struggles (if any) in class.

Here are the details:

Step 1: Set up Doodle with the days and times that you are available to participate.

  • Looks for days around midterm and before finals.

Step 2: Send an Email to Your Class via Canvas telling them about Flip the Field (see Sample Email below)



After multiple weeks of having to play on my field of expertise, I invite you to participate in FLIP THE FIELD. Here’s how it works:

1. Choose an activity that you would like to either (a) challenge me in a contest to or (b) teach me. It can be an athletic activity (e.g, swimming or shot put), game (e.g., Magic) or you can teach me a skill (e.g., sign language). So, what do you excel at?  What do you enjoy doing for fun? What can you teach me? Or, can you beat me in a contest? It is your choice. However, I do reserve the right to say no to some activities (e.g., I will not skydive).

2. Reserve a day and time by filling out this doodle by the following date:

a. There are only so many slots available. They will be allocated upon a first-come-first-served basis.

3. I will follow up with an email confirming your reservation..

a. If you do not reply or follow up with me in some manner, then I will offer your reserved slot to another student.

I look forward to being taught a thing or two by you.


STEP 3: Discuss Flip the Field in class and refer interested students to your aforementioned email.

STEP 4: Send a Reminder Email to students who reserved spot at least 48 hours before their reserved day and time (see Sample Email below)

Dear Student’s Name,

You reserved (insert day and time) for Flip the Field.

Please reply and answer the following questions:

1. What will we be doing?

2. Where will we be meeting?

You are responsible for bringing any and all equipment.

You have 24 hours to reply. 

If you do not reply, then I will make your spot available to the next student. 


Step 5: If you plan on taking pictures of you and your students during your Flip the Field experience, remember to seek their permission (especially before sharing their images via social media platforms). Moreover, make sure all events take place in a public space on campus, related athletic field or in view of bystanders.

*If you choose to, you can offer extra credit to those students who participate.


Recently, at an All Faculty Meeting, the Provost of my university asked about the value of athletics as a deep educational experience. As the co-captain of my Division III college football team, there are two things that athletics taught me that the traditional academic classroom could not:

1. Commitment – athletics teaches you how to work for, sacrifice for and commit to something that is greater than yourself.

2. Apprenticeship – when joining an athletic team as a freshman or sophomore you do not expect to be a first-string starter. There is a depth chart. And, except on very rare occasions, you will be listed as second or even third string player right away. In turn, athletics teaches you how to enter into an apprenticeship under the starting junior or senior athlete at your position. You learn to bide your time, be patient, take direction from another. You have to earn your spot. In turn, the junior or senior starter at your position learns how to be a mentor.

While Flip the Field is intended to engage student and non-student athletes, I think it can play an important role in introducing professors and administrators to the deeply committed lives of student-athletes.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn