Over the last few years, the pandemic has shown us the great value that sports can have on a student’s entire wellbeing as well as on an entire school community. At its core, education should be dynamic, progressive, and at the forefront of today’s changing landscape. School athletic programs should be no exception. In my first article, I wrote about the positive benefits of participation in athletics, what educational athletics is, and what it can bring to an international school community. In this article, I would like to include some of the “plays” that directly relate to school administrators. Directors, boards, principals, teachers, athletic directors, and coaches all have a role to play in making a top-notch educational athletic program and by doing so, improving their entire school community.
A Global Playbook
I have focused my “playbook” around six key elements that all schools need to excel in: core, commitment, care, culture, competition, and communication. If a school does not care about its athletics program, is not committed to making it the best it can be, does not have basic core elements, does not think about the culture it creates around school, does not have some sort of competition, or does not communicate any and all of these things to its community, then there is absolutely no reason that a school should have an athletics program.
Top of the Pyramid
The top of the pyramid for international schools is usually the board and the administration. If these two high level groups are not committed to athletics, then the shock waves are usually felt all the way down through each of the groups below. However, it is the level of their commitment that really matters here. If they are simply compliant and provide accurate funding, then nothing may be noticed. But those top schools do not have a complacent board and administration, but one that is compelled to always provide the best athletic program possible. Here are some of the ways I believe that a board and administration can really help make their school’s athletic program better for their entire school community.
A core of a fruit is something that is not seen from the outside and often not used but it is essential to the existence of that fruit. Having a well written mission and vision statement, and clear and consistent standards and core values are often not seen or read by a majority of a school's community members but are what top-notch programs are built around. Just as classes, such as language arts, math, sciences, and social studies, are core elements of a student’s education, mission, and vision statements, coaching standards and expectations for student athletes are core elements of an athletic program.
There are two terms that should be at the core of top-notch athletics programs that should be used and understood by all members of a school community. The first is the term “educational athletics” which embodies the idea that athletics is an extension of the classroom and that playing sports is an educational activity that provides outstanding opportunities to teach life lessons at the same time. The second is the term “co-curricular.” There are many people in education that simply assume the terms “co-curricular” and “extracurricular activities” both have the same meaning; however, that is not the case and believing so can have a massive impact on how athletics are viewed at a school by all of its community members. Co-curricular activities are those activities that are outside of a school's curriculum but “complement” it in a way that adds to a student’s overall education. Extracurricular activities are simply defined as those school-based activities that are not tied to the curriculum but are attached to the school day. From top to bottom, schools should add these terms to their vocabulary and start using them in anything you print or put online as well as mix it into conversations and meetings. It is time to call our athletics programs what they are; educational and co-curricular. To me, a sure sign of a school that does not value their athletic program is one that calls them “extracurricular.”
A major factor of what separates a good athletic program from a great one is how committed each group of stakeholders are to providing the best athletic program and experiences for its students. It is easy to have some of the elements of a great program and some well written guiding statements but are they just words on a page or are people committed to them?
Directors and principals are equally important in how they show their commitment level towards their athletic program. Principals may or may not be directly involved in athletic department decisions at your school, but they are directly involved with the students it serves. Having principals that understand the importance that athletics play in students’ lives is crucial and it is that commitment that is needed here. A commitment to include athletics in the conversation when discussing students’ needs and a commitment to not only be compliant with the program but to be committed in championing its importance to their teachers. A principal that emphasizes their commitment and the school’s commitment to athletics is an important one so that all teachers are on the same page and spread the same message to the students. It is a great thing to see a school that has its board and administration attending athletic events and participating in ceremonies at tournaments, but how much greater is it when those same people are supporting the program day in and day out in all of their interactions?
Part of the Bigger Picture
“Care” is basically a no brainer, right? You must care about the program and the students in it if you want to have any sort of impact on the lives of the students. There are, however, so many small (and not so small) details that a program can do to really care for all aspects of its students. The term “wellness” has become very popular since the COVID-19 pandemic and schools have been developing programs that speak directly to the wellness of their students, staff, and community members. This is a fantastic initiative and for the most part long overdue; however, it should not be forgotten that all of our schools already had a “kind of” wellness program for many years, our athletic programs.
Wellness is defined as “the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal,” and according to research from the health care establishment, Concentra, many believe a wellness program is “a comprehensive health initiative designed to maintain or improve well-being through proper diet, exercise, stress management, and illness prevention.” If an athletics program is centered around educational athletics and focuses on developing the whole child, then it in itself is a wellness program. I am not suggesting that schools should not include more aspects into their wellness program because by no means is an athletic program all encompassing. However, athletic programs should be thought of as a valuable piece of that puzzle and not something that is just extra. A top-notch athletic program will instill values learned through sports but are intended to help in all areas of life and promote an active lifestyle well beyond a student's studies.
Bringing It All Together
Communication is the last chapter of my playbook and the only one without any sub sections. It is the shortest section, but arguably, communication is the most important of my six key elements. The importance of accurate, concise, and timely communication is clear for most people but as you look to improve parts of your school's athletic program, it is important to keep that in mind. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you do not communicate your ideas with the right people, in the right way, and at the right time, it may not feel the same way to others. Then, instead, what should be a very positive change could have the exact opposite effect than what you were looking for.
If you do not already, bring your athletic director to the administration team. Include them in the conversation from the start and do not only inform them of things after they have been discussed. Athletics play a huge role in the lives of our students and with more targeted support from school boards and administrators, they will be able to have a more lasting effect, not only on those students that are directly involved but also on the entire school community.
In this article I have included a few of the main ideas that directly relate to school administrators; however, my book expands upon these and includes many more ideas and suggestions. I invite you to look out for the last of my series of articles which will focus on what teachers can do specifically to help build a top-notch educational athletics program.
Nick DeForest, who is originally from Ontario, Canada, has been in Vienna Austria since 2000 and works at the American International School Vienna. Nick has his Bachelor of Arts in history from Brock University and his master’s in athletic administration and coaching from Western Kentucky University. He has also obtained his certified master athletic administrator (CMAA) title from the National Interscholastic Athletics Administrators Association (NIAAA). Nick founded the Globetrottin' ADs before the onset of the pandemic and has continued to bring the international school community together with his podcast and online conferences ever since.
His first book, A Global Playbook: How Every International School Can Raise Its Game is an attempt to show that a successful athletic program can improve the culture of an entire school community. It hopes to raise the game of all international schools by giving directors, principals, teachers, coaches, and athletic directors ideas from top-notch schools around the world. You can find A Global Playbook on Amazon.
Email: [email protected]