High school activity programs are important in giving identity to school communities, but with the increased focus on high-stakes academic testing it has become easier for critics to question the benefits of athletics and school activities. Consequently, athletics and activity programs have had to become creative with sources for fundraising.
One way to stabilize support and potentially gain new advocates is to connect and promote the high school’s mission and vision. Almost all schools have these foundation documents that describe and define student and school community outcomes.
As school leaders, we know that high school activity programs – sports as well as speech, music, debate, theatre and others – are designed to support character growth and time management, and give participants valuable social skills that set students up for success; however, if athletics and activities leaders are to maximize the gains of participation and create community support, they must connect and show how their programs connect to the school mission and vision. When these leaders effectively communicate how their programs support the purpose and mission of the school, they set the stage for new levels of success.
Character development is the link that bridges the school’s mission to activity programs. In any given day and in any given class, students may learn skills that will allow them to be academically competitive. They learn skills that will make them ready for college and a career, but few schools promote how they develop character to support the school’s mission.
Through participation in high school sports and other activities, students develop character. Attributes such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship become the focus in these activity programs. Colleges want to admit and businesses want to hire those individuals with character because they stand out as leaders among their peers.
Not surprisingly, most school foundation documents talk generally about growth and development of the “whole” student. High school activity programs provide this environment for growth. Like a mathematics or English department chair who examines data to improve performance, athletic/activity directors must examine not just game and contest outcomes, but data points that measure how participation in activities supports school mission and vision through character growth of all participants. Furthermore, participation in sports and other activities may be the only way some schools can demonstrate that they develop the “whole” student, showcasing their importance to school mission and vision.
Teach Coaches, Advisors, Faculty the Connection
Even the best coaches, advisors and teaching faculty can forget to connect their work to school vision and mission. Sometimes, leaders forget to emphasize the importance of participation amid the myriad competing responsibilities of running a school or program; however, leaders of school activity programs must take time to share and promote the school’s mission and vision. At the very least, holding an annual meeting for coaches and advisors to discuss the school’s mission and vision can go a long way toward creating a common understanding of the purpose of activity programs. In a more developed program, athletic/activity directors could make character development a part of program evaluation.
In the same manner that leaders of high school activity programs make time to share school documents, coaches and advisors should give time to share the school’s mission and vision with students. After all, it is the students who represent a school and should have a clear understanding of what they are expected to do. All schools want their students to be successful, and when all stakeholders become clear about how their work promotes student growth, they are more likely to find cohesion and success.
Keeping school administration informed on how sports and other activity programs benefit students is also important. Some administrators do not have extensive background in afterschool activities, and letting these leaders know that students are developing character through participation in these programs is very beneficial.
For instance, administrators should be informed about the team or club developing citizenship through a library day with the local elementary school or participating in a local Special Olympics event to raise awareness and acceptance of those with disabilities. These types of events become qualitative data points that allow administration to see the value of athletic programs outside the context of winning and losing games.
Whether it is orientation meetings with new hires, parents or community members, athletic/activity directors are more likely to find support when they connect their work with the school’s mission and vision. Those who work as advisors and coaches should be taught the importance of the mission and vision and how school activity programs support the mission and vision.
With a common understanding, coaches and advisors are more likely to generate support in their programs and communities. In these times of limited funding, it can be this small attention to detail that separates successful programs that need to continue, to other programs that may need to be dropped.
Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA, is a teacher, coach and athletic director at Freedom High School in Oakley, California. He is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.