Sandpoint’s Conor Baranski Helps Students Tap Into Their Full Potential
Sandpoint High School teacher and varsity girls soccer coach Conor Baranski has seen his share of success from his students. He has also wondered how he could help achieve the elusive combination of relaxation and focus to reach their full potential. So Conor and fellow teacher and IEA member Scott Fitchett approached principal Tom Albertson about starting up an elective class in performance psychology and were quickly given the green light.
“Scott and I have different strengths but similar ideals and philosophies, including the thought that today’s students are a bit too coddled,” says Baranski. “We wanted to structure something that would help them be focused and engaged in class, as well as teach them how to set goals and lay out a plan to achieve them.”
The class features several different units, including strategizing, visualization, developing a routine, and breathing exercises. The group went bowling recently to demonstrate how following a routine can help you relax, stay in the moment, and be more successful. The students have also performed as a choir as an exercise in how deliberate practice can make them more productive, both individually and as a group.
“It’s really about giving them life skills,” says Baranski. “Giving them real confidence, they can set a goal and then achieve something difficult. “Scott and I get a lot out them in return because they are consistently asking why we are learning things and how they are relevant.”
Baranski has also seen the performance psychology concept pay dividends in his other role as the girls soccer coach at Sandpoint High School. The team has reached the state finals in five of his seven years as coach, winning the state championship two years in a row. One player in particular has benefited from the new skills.
“Jezza Hutto had really been struggling with penalty kicks, getting nervous in that situation even though she was a terrific player in other aspects of the game,” Baranski says. “We worked with her throughout the class and then set up a final project where she had to take 10 penalty kicks. She used her routine training to make nine out of 10 with me as the goalkeeper, and she has a renewed confidence in her ability in this important part of the game.” Hutto will be playing soccer for Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR next year.
The performance psychology class can be difficult and is geared toward upperclassmen, but has included students from all high school grades. It had a robust enrollment of 60 students the first semester it was offered, but is down to about 30 students in the second semester. “I think word started to get around that it wasn’t just an easy elective and required students to really be involved and engaged,” says Baranski.
Baranski and Fitchett are fortunate to have the full support of the school administration as they teach their out-of-the-box class. “I like that it helps students stretch their limits and pushes them outside their comfort zone,” says Albertson. “And I really appreciate Conor’s growth mindset and positivity. He’s always looking for things we can do rather than focusing on why we can’t do something.
Baranski was born and raised in Sandpoint and graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane. He made his way back to his alma mater after working in the timber industry. He and his wife, Ali, are loving life in North Idaho with their two-year-old son, Oakley.