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Educational Athletics: A Teacher’s Playbook for Success

By Nick DeForest
Educational Athletics: A Teacher’s Playbook for Success

The pandemic has highlighted the great value that physical activity and playing on a team can have on a student’s entire wellbeing and help them achieve more in their next level. However, athletics programs at international schools around the world are underfunded, understaffed, and considered something extra.

This article is the third in a three-part series highlighting insights into the importance of athletics in education. The first article talked about why international schools are different from United States high school athletics and how that is important, what athletics can bring to a school community, and the overall benefits of athletics. The second article included some of the “plays” that directly relate to school administrators because directors, boards, principals, teachers, athletic directors, and coaches all have a role to play in making a top-notch educational-based athletic program. In this last article, I would like to put the focus on teachers but not teachers that are coaches, primarily teachers that are not a part of the athletics program at all, or at least not yet.

A Global Playbook
Just briefly in case you have not yet read the first two articles in this series. 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.

Aligning the Sails
If you are not a fan of athletics, do not see the point, or think it is a distraction or a waste of resources then this article will not change your mind. I do hope, however, that it gives you something to think about. Think about why so many people play sports around the world and think about why so many of our students list athletics trips and tournaments as their most memorable experiences in high school.  Athletics can do things that other areas of schools cannot. In many cases, athletics can be the fundamental fabric that holds schools together. If that is realized and strengthened by all community members, your school culture will improve and make your entire school community a better place.

I love to say to my coaches that we need to “align the sails' between them, the students, and the parents. If everyone is on the same page, then the ship (an athletics program) can sail in the right direction. Aligning the sails is even more important for an entire school community because it is only when the board, administration, teachers, students, and parents are all aligned that the entire school can benefit from its athletic program. Of course, not everyone will agree all the time and that is not the point. But all of those stakeholders must agree to the overall belief that athletics are important in the development of the students in your school.

Tennis Balls
In schools all around the world, it is commonplace for student-athletes to hear from teachers that they need to make a choice between athletics and academics. Student-athletes may hear, “you cannot get the grades you want if you play on the basketball team” or “you will not have enough time to get your homework finished with so many practices and games.” On the flip side, the same student-athletes may hear from their coaches that they can do both successfully. Of course, students will need some help with time management skills and realistic goal setting. But are our students the equivalent of the ball being hit back and forth between teachers and coaches in a tennis match?

Having teachers not only acknowledge the importance of athletics but also encourage students to participate is critical, not only to reduce mixed messages, but also to help round out many of our students' educational experiences. Unfortunately, so many explicit life skills are not learned or specifically taught in the classrooms of our busy schools. This limitation starts at the very top of the pyramid in your school with the administration but trickles down. Are principals including athletics events in calendar planning? Are they encouraging teachers to watch events and, most importantly, are they committed to promoting the benefits of athletics in meetings and discussions with teachers and parents?

The number of teacher-coaches in a school program is often a very good indicator of how committed a school staff is to its athletic program.  There are many benefits to having teachers coach. To start with, teacher-coaches are in the school building all day and can see and talk with students during breaks and at lunch. Teacher-coaches, whether they are experienced coaches or not, have an education background and, in most cases, absolutely understand why educationally based athletics is important. However, more importantly, having teacher-coaches shows the students that athletics is an important part of a school. If teachers can go from teaching all day to the gym for practice, then students can as well and students often try out for teams because of the relationship that they have already built with that teacher-coach. For teachers, it is another way for them to connect with students outside of the classroom and also helps them in the classroom, according to every teacher-coach that I know. Teacher-coaches are not just a sign to the students but also to the parents and the entire school community that the school’s value of athletics is a part of a student’s overall education.

So, You Haven't Coached Before
If a teacher is committed to the idea of educational-based athletics and that we are here to develop the entire child, then I feel that there is a place for them on any coaching staff regardless of their experience. A great example from AIS Vienna is our creativity, action, service (CAS) coordinator and math teacher who came to us wanting to find a way to connect with students in a different way but had no athletic or coaching experience. I first put her with our junior varsity girls’ volleyball team where she had a fantastic experience learning about volleyball skills with the girls but also completing organizational work and building some leadership skills. She has now moved on to the high school girls’ varsity soccer team so she can be outside more. She is recognized as an important member of the coaching staff as she is committed to giving whatever she can to our student-athletes, and they are better off for it.

With these three articles, I am only scratching the surface of the benefits of an athletic program and all of the ways it can make your school a better place. Teaching character, linking athletics to our curriculums, including student voices, and partnering with resource teachers and counselors are just a few more of the ideas that can be explored and developed through a strong athletics program. If these articles have piqued your interest, then I encourage you to reach out and connect with me as I continue to try and widen the outreach and understanding of athletic programs to improve and “raise the game” of entire school communities.

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 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]



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