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Meet Commonwealth Staff: Jackson Elliott ’10, Director of Athletics

Coach Elliott, Jelliott, Mr. Elliott, Jackson: like the eponymous hero of his favorite book, the Odyssey, Director of Athletics Jackson Elliott ’10 is a man known by many names in the halls of Commonwealth. Before returning home and helming his alma mater's athletics program in 2022, Jackson ventured on his own odyssey, too, spending five years teaching in South Korea. Keep reading to discover his joyful coaching philosophy, his favorite comfort food from his time abroad, and little-known trivia about his time as a Commonwealth student. 

Getting to Know You

Your hometown:

I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts—but I also really love Cheonan in Korea. I lived there for five years.

What is your favorite book? 

Definitely the Odyssey; I've read it so many times. I love Greek mythology. I was actually just talking with my advisee about it today, because they're about to start it in ninth grade English. 

What is your favorite comfort food?

Kimchi jjigae, which is a Korean stew. It's my go-to meal. It's always served with rice and side vegetable dishes, and it's good in any kind of weather.  

How has Commonwealth changed—or stayed the same—since you were a student here?  

The building itself has changed a bit. The elevator is new and the stairs down to the basement are new [to me]. I still, every once in a while, go down the Dartmouth Lobby stairs and take a right to get ready to go down to the basement! In terms of how it stayed the same, there are a lot of teachers from when I was here. 

What was your favorite class at Commonwealth?

That's tricky! There were a lot of great classes. But I would say one that I always remember is Empires and Nationalism, which I took with Audrey Budding. We were focusing on all these different places where lines were being drawn to form nations, like the Balkans and Iraq and Rwanda. We talked a bit about the partition of India. And there's conflict because people who are lumped together to form a nation might not be unified in a real way. The class was so fascinating to me, and it was one of the more unique history classes I've taken. 

What do you do in your free time? 

I...play sports! Usually soccer and Ultimate Frisbee. I like to play a lot of board games as well. I definitely catch up on sleep. I used to do more social dancing, like tango, salsa, bachata, and merengue. 

Working at Commonwealth

What led you to coaching and back to Commonwealth, specifically? 

I didn't really know what I wanted to do in college—and after college, really. I was a philosophy major, and there's not exactly a philosophy company. So I looked at things that I was passionate about. I got the chance to do some coaching in college with the Women's Club Soccer team at American University, and that was a lot of fun. I realized that there might be some opportunities afterwards to do more coaching. 

I ended up back at Commonwealth coaching for a year [Varsity Basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, and Boys' Soccer from 2014--2015] and had a blast. After I went abroad, got a bunch of teaching experience, and came back here, when the job at Commonwealth opened up, it was a great opportunity. It allowed me to continue to coach while supporting all of the other athletic programs that we have here. 

Tell us more about teaching abroad.

I was lucky growing up in that I was able to travel a decent amount. But I didn't go abroad in college, and I wanted a chance to live somewhere unlike anything I'd really experienced. Teaching was a great way to do that. I landed on Korea because of a variety of factors, one of them being it was in a place I'd never been before. Also, it's easier to learn Korean than it is to learn a number of other languages, because their alphabet is phonetic. If you really apply yourself, you can pick up enough reading and writing to get around in about an hour. That doesn't mean you'll understand everything! But it's a little bit easier to go to a restaurant and read a menu, or do other kinds of everyday things. So that was a draw for me. 

I was in Korea for five years, and I really loved it—that's why I stayed so long. My first job was teaching mostly late elementary and middle school students at a variety of levels, from those just learning to speak English to people who were reading Lord of the Flies and other more difficult English texts, writing essays, and doing debate. My second job was at an English kindergarten, so I was teaching the basics and spending a bunch of time with these kids. One of my favorite classes I got to teach was chess; I got to watch them learn how to win, create an opening, and eventually get to checkmating. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are always longer, because those are the days we have our sports in the afternoons and I'm typically also coaching. I'm often making sure our sports attendance rosters are up to date and that everything's going well with our different facilities. I'm always looking ahead to the next sports season—seeing if there's a new sport we can add or for a new coach for a particular sport. I'm processing payments with referees, scheduling games with other schools and teams, making different schedules. And there's a lot of miscellaneous stuff, like checking equipment, particularly for team sports.

If you could put together a "highlight reel" of some of your favorite moments of coaching in 2022, what would be on it? 

Ultimate Frisbee last season was really successful—I believe we got third place in the league. I think, for the kids playing, experiencing that kind of success on the field gives them confidence, and it helped drive up the interest in team sports. This fall, the Boys' team has been particularly strong in soccer. Our Girls' team has had some really great moments, too, particularly the game against Woodward [Academy, on October 19], which they won three-zero. 

You mention a rising interest in team sports. Where do you think that enthusiasm comes from? 

There are usually kids within different grades who drive that interest because of their passion. They introduce their friends to new sports. And I think that when kids get to experience being on a team, it's good not only because of the benefits of learning how to work towards something together as a life skill but also just because it's fun to spend that time with other people outside of school, work, and the daily grind.

Does your time studying philosophy still influence you today? 

As a philosophy major, you spend so much of your time reading difficult texts, trying to grasp concepts, and trying to organize your thoughts and thought process in a particular way. And that definitely has its applications when coaching, where you try to create an underlying philosophy of how you want to coach and approach a team growing and improving together.

What does that coaching philosophy look like for you at Commonwealth?

I always want to be the team that has the best spirit—the best togetherness and support for one another and positivity towards the game. That's not to say I don't want to win! Obviously, you want to play your hardest and consistently improve as a team. But if you're only focusing on the end product, you're really going to miss out on a lot of the joys of playing the sport.

 

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