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Posts Tagged ‘high school sports’

Apparently reports of the demise of the volunteer coach have been greatly exaggerated.

The world of youth sports has definitely changed over the last 20 years, and is still in the midst of tremendous change.  I have previously written (here) on how challenges of safety, cost, and the balancing with academics are all providing challenges for our traditional view of school sports.  So, as we prepare to celebrate our coaches in our school district with an annual celebration and thank-you for their time – I have been struck by how many volunteer coaches we have in our district.

In our district of just over 7,000 students we have over 300 volunteer sports coaches.  For colleagues outside of Canada reading this post it is worth noting that public schools do not pay coaches in Canada.  Coaches are all volunteers.  And given all the gas money, post game team slurpee purchases amongst other costs, volunteer coaching costs people money in schools.  And while schools often recognize coaches with Starbucks Cards and school logoed golf shirts, and districts like ours host year-end barbecues, it is really just a token recognition for all the time put into coaching.

At one point school sports coaches were almost exclusively staff members.  And teachers, administrators and support staff are still a huge part of the coaching contingent.  They are joined by parents and other community members.  One particularly noticeable group is former parents, who continue to volunteer well after their children have graduated.  Also students play an increasing role in coaching.  Very often elementary teams get help from high school volunteers, and in high schools senior students support the grade 8 programs.

Connections to the school through athletics are still very important.  They can be crucial for students to build a sense of connection to school and help define a peer group.  Of course, almost universally, the coaches speak about the two-way street of benefits provided by coaching.  Staff coaches talk about how the connections they build outside the classroom enhance their abilities to connect to students in the classroom, and community coaches appreciate the opportunity to help within the positive school environment and share their passions with young people.  I will regularly talk with retired colleagues who tell stories of teams, games and trips as the most wonderful memories of their careers.

And to be clear, there are staff, students, parents and community members volunteering in a huge range of areas in our schools to create opportunities for students, a similar post could likely be written about fine arts, but in an era when many factors are pulling us away from school-centric athletics it is worth noting and celebrating how many people are still contributing.

For another day, there is a post to be written about how we better support and recognize all of our volunteers in school (staff and community).  But this is more about celebrating.  In a world when we often think volunteerism is slipping, and that fewer  people are giving of their time, and the politics of schools over the last twenty years have made people less ready to give of their free time – we have a great story to tell.  We have hundreds of mentors working with thousands of students – building connections and memories.

The volunteer coach is one of the rich traditions of our school sports system.  And one we must never take for granted.

To all those in West Vancouver and beyond who have given time to coach this year – thank you.

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Sports are a huge part of my family life. My wife owns a sports business for young people, my kids are very involved in numerous sports and I try to find time to coach and volunteer whenever I can.

And we participate in a lot of sports – soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, cheer, cross country, track and many more.  We have never been a football family.  Like others, anxiety over safety issues in football have raised concerns for me.  And when I learned that former BC Lion Angus Reid was going to be speaking about high school football at TEDxWestVancouverEd I was preparing to not agree with him.  A former football star touting the importance of high school football at a time when the sport is facing trouble with participation; I was ready to be reminded that schools need to be like they used to be, when football was king.

TED Conferences can be overwhelming.  One speaker after another, mostly confirming your view of the world.  Many of the talks, no matter how powerful or passionate, can run together.  Well, we are a couple of months after the event now, and one talk has really stuck with me – it is Angus Reid’s Why We Need High School Football.

It is hard to change one’s thinking in 12 minutes – but Angus Reid made me see high school football differently.  His set-up was important.  He was clearly focused on high school football, differentiating it from community and professional football.  He also dealt with the concussion and safety issue in a very upfront way – taking the approach if high school football is important enough we ca figure out the safety issues.

There were a number of strong points Angus made.  His emphasis on the structure that football can give young people is important.  In a world of uncertainty, football is very routine – one game a week, usually on Fridays, and a series of after-school practices each day with a specific purpose as they build up to the game.  As I wrote in my most recent post, people are often seeking routine in an ever-changing world.

Then there is the entire issue of participation.  Reid notes that there are 88 chances in a game to get kids to play.  So you can find a way to get everyone in the game on a team of 40 or on a team of 80.  Football is a sport that is open to everyone – different positions require different shapes and sizes and very different skills.  The issue of participation in school sports is one I have been thinking a lot about recently.  Maybe because my kids are now at the young high school age, I am seeing kids (and their parents) crushed as they are cut from basketball and volleyball teams.  As much as I love both of those sports – they are ones where sometimes only 12 of 60 or 70 interested kids “make” the team.  We need more sports like football, and rugby, ultimate, cross-country track, among others that find a way to include most if not all of their interested kids.  This point has been further emphasized this past week with the announcement that young people in Canada are some of the least active in the world.

Finally Reid makes the case for the empowerment that can come from football.  Reid mentioned Nolan Bellerose, who was the subject of a wonderful recent story from Howard Tsumura at the Province Newspaper.  It is true that sports can be a vehicle for so much more.  It is true that we see these possibilities through many school sports, and similarly through music, art, robotics and a range of other co-curricular and extra-curricular programs it is true that football can often tap into a population of our young men who often struggle to connect in our schools.

So, Angus Reid, you changed my thinking.  I will look at high school football differently from now on.

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This post is a duplicate of the article in the  AASA – August 2015 School Administrator Magazine.  

The entire issue (here) is dedicated to topics related to high school sports.

A superintendent’s case for a forward-thinking approach to interscholastic athletics addressing safety, cost and the balance with academics

His first reported concussion happened in youth soccer. His second came in high school football. A possible third head injury may have happened in pro football training camp. But when a rookie 24-year-old linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers, Chris Borland, decided to retire from the NFL in March, not due to injury but rather to prevent injury, the sports world uttered a collective gasp.

Parents and players have taken notice of Borland’s story and the growth in concussion research. In my 7,500-student district, I recently received an e-mail from a parent quoting Mike Ditka, an NFL Hall of Famer and legendary Chicago Bears head coach and tight end. While that may have surprised me, the provocative words he echoed did not: “If I had a young son today, I wouldn’t let him play football.”

More than ever, superintendents are being drawn into controversies around interscholastic sports. In just the past few months, news media have reported on a superintendent who resigned following the contentious termination of a varsity basketball coach; several superintendents drawn into student-athlete disciplinary cases over alleged hazing; a superintendent challenged by her community after she disciplined a football coach for an offensive sideline tirade; a superintendent who cancelled games against another school over the rival team’s “Redskins” nickname in support of his own school’s Native American population; and several superintendents caught in the middle of school board budget debates around financial support for school athletics.

Sports and schools have been interconnected for generations. Yet the rising tide of serious challenges is raising new questions about the sustainability of interscholastic sports programs. These deal with student-athlete health risks, competitive pressures from a social media-fueled public and tough questioning around the educational value of school-based programs when public revenues are stressed. Jointly, or in isolation, these pressures could lead to a scaling back, if not disappearance, of some school sports in the coming years.

Reigning Romanticism

To an outside observer, it seems as if high school sports never have been more popular. Varsity sports are big business, with communities investing in football and basketball facilities and major sports news outlets like Bleacher Report and ESPN giving high school athletics expansive coverage.

Beyond widespread media attention, several other factors support the notion that school sports will continue to thrive. Communities have a rich history of school sports, and nostalgia runs deep in our schools, notably in smaller communities whose sole identity these days may be tied to their public schools.

Adults often romanticize their own school sports experiences — from cheering on the football team to scoring the winning goal in a soccer match or a buzzer beater in basketball. Superintendents recognize the considerable pride that comes to a school and a community when a sports team wins a regional or state championship. Movies such as Hoosiers and Rudy continue to inspire us.

And unlike in other countries, where sports facilities used by pre-collegiate students typically are not located on a school campus, gymnasiums in North America generally are an integral part of school campuses. Given the physical connection, it makes logical sense that sports such as basketball, volleyball and wrestling will continue to remain within the school domain.

Three Pressures

The challenges I see school system leaders confronting in interscholastic sports fall into three categories.

Athlete safety. Coaches and school leaders always will assert that students’ safety comes first in scholastic sports participation. But grim evidence from expanding medical research on the long-term effects of sports-related concussions indicates that brain trauma can cause permanent cognitive impairment, memory loss, depression, dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can lead to erratic behavior and suicide.

We’re learning that it’s not just the bone-crunching body hits in football that cause injury. Successive sub-concussive blows, even in sports such as soccer, rugby, lacrosse and ice hockey, can cause as much or more brain damage. The recovery time can be longer for children and adolescents. Notably, the majority of injuries occur during practices, not in interscholastic competition. A recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics indicated 58 percent of reported concussions in high school football occurred in practice sessions.

Most chilling, however, is the “culture of resistance” among players to self-report concussion symptoms. According to the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, “High school athletes and those with scholarship possibilities especially will try to convince parents and coaches that they feel fine, in order to resume play.”

Other serious student safety challenges include physical harassment, sexual abuse and the ugly ritual of team hazing. These issues are forcing superintendents, like one last fall at a high school in New Jersey, to take serious measures — in that case, cancelling the school’s varsity football season in response to a hazing incident. Community and public reaction to the cancellation was mixed and only proves to demonstrate how difficult it will be to make changes to the nation’s most popular sport.

Blurring lines between school and community sports. Beyond health and safety concerns, sports themselves are changing. Basketball, volleyball and soccer, for instance, used to be school-based sports primarily. Now, it seems as if the school season is just preparing young athletes for the extended club season. The Amateur Athletics Union basketball circuits across the continent have youngsters playing dozens of games, even sometimes more than 100, during the “off season.” Colleges use the AAU programs as the go-to source for recruiting athletes, meaning parents no longer see school sports as the pathway to university athletics.

Coaching and profit motives in some community programs have professionalized youth sports and raised questions about where school-based sports fit into this new world. In the community, athletes can freely move between programs in a “free agent” environment, and coaches and sports programs can be talent collectors, while public schools hold to academic and residential eligibility rules that limit movement.

High school sports once were neatly organized into seasons that more or less matched the terms of the school year. Students could run cross country in the fall, play basketball in the winter and participate in baseball or softball in the spring. Over the last couple of decades, youngsters have been pushed into a 12-month calendar. This poses a challenge for schools that try to encourage students to play multiple sports at the same time non-school-based sports programs are stressing specialization.

The place of sports in school. One historical advantage for school sports over those in the community has been the cost of participation. In most school districts, there is no pay-to-play measure. This has changed in recent years. As school district budgets tighten, superintendents and school boards are faced with choosing whether to prioritize athletics or core classroom services.

We also are seeing the need to redirect revenue sources once targeted for athletics, such as those generated by campus vending machines and gym rental use, to support the overall operating district budget. I am faced regularly with turning down requests to financially support school sports in my district as teams rely on user fees and parent fundraising more than ever to cover costs.

While competitive sports in secondary schools engage small numbers of participants, we realize we need to find ways for all students to be active to support their physical and academic health. Given the alarming rate of youth obesity, there are concerted efforts to focus on sports that promote inclusive participation and lifelong fitness. Classes in yoga, dance and personal fitness are becoming more common in high schools and our physical education classes have decreased their attention to competitive sports while increasing their focus on lifelong fitness.

Finally, the increased emphasis on global academic competition in education challenges the place of high school sports in the future. When our nations are competing with Finland and Singapore on the international stage and the stakes for our students are rising, competitive school sports can be seen as a distraction. Do we want our great math teachers spending their nights preparing lessons or coaching basketball? (OK, the answer is probably both!) As the expectations ratchet up for educators in the classroom, it is harder to see where commitments to competitive athletics fit into the new definition of a teacher.

The Way Forward

As a school principal recently said to me, “If we were starting schools from scratch, do you really think we would include competitive sports when the community does them so well?”

This conversation really challenges me. I have coached varsity-level sports, I’ve been president of the High School Basketball Association, and I’ve seen the amazing and continuous benefits of school sports on the lives of young people. I would far rather be the superintendent cheering on the championship team than overseeing the demise of these programs — which is precisely why we need to take a serious look at competitive sports in schools moving forward.

At their core, our schools are about nurturing the brain. As I wrote in my response to the parent’s e-mail with his warning from “Iron Mike,” we need to play close attention to the evolving science of brain injury and take student safety seriously. But let’s evolve our sports rather than eliminate them.

Football needs to be different because we know better than to continue to allow head contact in the game. The heads-up tackling initiative is a step forward. Helmet-mounted impact sensors may be another. Within the next few years, concussion management training for coaches and conservative “return to play” guidelines must be standard protocol.

We need to look at whether some sports are managed better in the community and, if so, perhaps we should stop offering them in schools. In British Columbia, we offer 17 different sports for boys and girls through our schools. Working with a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit groups, all those involved in sports need to jointly support high school student-athletes and not be in perpetual competition with one another.

For me, hearing community members tell “Friday Night Lights” tales of the past offers wonderful nostalgia and history, but it is not instructive about where we need to go next. Superintendents and other forward-looking system leaders must begin to envision competitive school sports for 2035, not 1955. The challenges individually are not insurmountable, but collectively they are a daunting set of factors. While I am convinced we could do nothing and school sports would continue for a while; looking 20 years out, like many other aspects of schooling, they may have to evolve.

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Outside of work, I spend many hours coaching my kids and other parents’ kids in school and community sports.  There is a  lively debate right now in the youth sports community about the value of focusing exclusively on a single sport from a young age. I wrote on the topic in a 2012 post on the Multi-Sport High School Athlete, and in 2013 on Being a Sports Parent Today.  Part of what really draws me to this challenge in youth sports are the parallels and similar debates in education.

I find the conversation around sports and whether we should be keeping score and ranking players and teams from youth, akin to the conversation around the purpose and appearance of elementary school report cards. Letter grades are very much like keeping score; those who argue for them remind us of the competitive nature of the world we live in and the need to let kids know where they stand, with those opposed contending the real competition is with oneself, learning and improving skills and the relative comparison to others is really secondary.

I also find the challenges for new providers in the youth sports game very similar to what has happened and is happening in education.  A generation ago it was the local community sports associations who were organizing youth sports. If you wanted to play hockey, soccer or basketball there was really only one option available.  Now, there are dozens — traditional community providers sharing the stage with other non-profit organizations, for-profit enterprises, as well as a series of new sport providers in as many sports capacities.  Similarly, in education we see public education challenged by independent schools for market share, and even less traditional options for learning like for-profit tutoring companies and completely virtual options like the Kahn Academy.

Youth sports, like learning options for young people, is in a time of transition — and it is part of what makes it an exciting time.

With that as a backdrop, here are my recent comments I shared for an article by Don Fennell, Sports Editor for the Richmond Review, Year-round sports mode: top athletes, coaches share their thoughts. I have also included the comments of my wife and oldest daughter on the topic from the article because the thoughts are really ‘all in the family’.

The shifts happening in youth sports are far more complex than just being good or bad, says educator Chris Kennedy, who is also a former president of the B.C. High School Boys’ Basketball Association.

“With the opportunity to go year-round, we have seen the traditional season disappear for almost all sports,” he says. “And there are some real concerns. There is a lot of research that early specialization leads to fatigue and burnout and overuse injuries. It also seems to serve the adults more than the kids. Kids are looking to have fun and often it is the adults’ competitiveness that is driving the decisions their kids make. There is also research that suggests adults who specialized in one sport growing up have higher rate of adult physical inactivity.”

Kennedy says the related debate with increased early specialization is whether sports should be more or less “score-focused” at younger ages. He thinks youth soccer and basketball have it right: de-emphasize scoring at younger ages and focus on development.

“This doesn’t mean we don’t want kids to be competitive, but do we need to keep score and have a focus on winning and losing all the time?,” he asks. “I like the race to nowhere metaphor and how it applies to youth sports. Parents are killing themselves to get their kids to so-called elite training that is getting in the way of being a kid and what is really the goal.”

Kennedy’s wife, Stephanie, is equally passionate about the topic. She has always believed that kids should be exposed to and participate in as many different sports as possible while they are young. And for a variety of reasons.

“I know through my own four children that all kids have their own structural make-up, both physically and mentally, and that different sports may cater to these differences,” she says. “I truly believe there is a sport for all kids, but it may take some effort and time to find out what that is. And in today’s age of childhood obesity, low activity levels, access to electronics and the resulting de-socialization of youth, sport can play a key role in reversing these trends.”

Stephanie, who runs Panther Cheer Athletics, is also adamant that kids participating in as many sports as possible when they’re young aids their physical development. This doesn’t mean, she says, they must do multiple sports at the same time, but within a calendar year should shift from one activity to another.

“This allows children’s young bodies, which are often growing and changing so rapidly, to adapt and hopefully grow stronger with minimal injuries,” she says. “I know from personal experience as a provincial level gymnast that I enjoyed the opportunity to play intramural sports (such as volleyball, basketball and soccer) in high school but began to resent the fact I wasn’t able to participate in these in any large way as gymnastics took most of my time. It also alienated me from my peers who played more conventional team sports and were members of high school teams. “

The eldest of the couple’s four children, Elizabeth, 12, thinks those who focus on one sport may quickly tire of it, burn out and then have no other alternatives.

“It is also more likely you will be injured because you are using the same body parts over and over,” she says. “(Alternately), if you play a lot of sports you have the chance to meet a far more diverse group of people and learn a diverse group of skills.”

Elizabeth says unfortunately sports out of the mainstream don’t get enough exposure and because kids don’t know about them “they may never try a sport they could be really good at or have a passion for.”

“Coaches in some sports are also organizing so many practices (young athletes) don’t have time to try other sports,” she adds. “I think there will be many more overuse injuries and once their career in that sport is over they won’t know what to do because they will feel it is too late to try a new sport.”

The entire article is worth a read here.  It is interesting that there is general consensus from all those interviewed of the value of young people playing a range of sports. So, I am left wondering, if we all believe this to be the right approach why then is this topic such an issue?  I think we may know it to be right on the theoretical level, but in the heat of  “keeping of with the Joneses” we have trouble letting our actions reflect this approach.

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WILL FERRELL AND ELLIOTT CHO

Some of the same thinking leading education transformation in our schools is also changing the thinking around community and school sports. Debates over keeping score at a soccer game with 10-year-olds are similar to discussions on whether we should be giving Grade 4 students letter grades. And, seemingly, there is a growing movement to move past the era of the uber-zealous sports parent.

A recent column from Lawrie Johns, Sport  Parents Must Have Realistic Expectations is an excellent read.   Of course, Lawrie has a lot of credibility on this topic with me.  Both his boys, now in their early 30s, are very well-adjusted young men, and I had the opportunity to teach and coach a little bit of basketball to his younger son, Brian, who also represented Canada at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics in swimming.  This dad knows what it is like to raise a child who has become an elite athlete.  Lawrie advises:

Some suggestions for parents: No after practice/game interrogation.  Understand the rules of the sport – leave the officiating to trained officials – better still – become one!  Cheer on efforts BY ALL not just yours.   Learn about sport nutrition and hydration.  Learn about injuries – they are part of sport (unfortunately) but how to support the athlete though an injury is crucial.

Lastly – Have Fun!

It makes sense that parents need to be educated partners in their child’s sports, as in their child’s schooling. Another great source for information along the same theme is the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Coaches Blog.   To quote a recent post:

Those five words – “the courage to be patient” – give a picture of the great potential  . . .  and at the same time highlight the problems that exist in the reality of an ultra-competitive youth sports environment.  More specifically, having the “courage to be patient” seems to involve doing four very difficult things, and the failure to do any one of these four things  (resisting external pressure, controlling internal desire, being a great teacher, maintaining faith) may explain the disconnect between potential and reality.

So,  as families head back to the soccer fields and hockey rinks in the community, to the cross-country races, school volleyball courts and football fields in the fall, hopefully, times are indeed changing.  Competition is awesome! But we know better than even a decade ago about how to ensure our kids have good experiences that will last a lifetime and not be burned out or turned off of sports by age 12. Lawrie’s column offers this  perspective:

There are about 750 NHLers today out of hundreds of thousands boys playing hockey in this country.

There were 31 swimmers on the national team in London – out of over 100,000 who compete through clubs in Canada. There were 12 on the women’s Olympic basketball team – over 150,000 girls play basketball. Eighteen players on our bronze medal women’s soccer team – over 500,000 girls play youth soccer.

In sports, like in the classroom, we want our kids to work toward big dreams, but we also want some perspective.  I have a great passion for sports.  School sports adds richness to the culture of our schools; community sports bring people together and we (parents and kids) learn wonderful lessons through our participation.

We need to ensure that sports are not overrun by a culture of early specialization, private elite programs and self-focused athletes and parents who instill an NHL or Bust attitude in our programs.  We need to reverse the trend of fewer young people participating in organized sports and to also ensure we have opportunities for kids, with varied sport skills, to continue playing. We want our passionate athletic sons and daughters not to lose their passion about their sport as they get older.

There is nothing quite like the fun of sports — that is the whole point of it. As Tim Elmore suggested in a recent post, the most powerful six words we can say to a child involved in sports, ” I love to watch you play.”

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High school students sampling different sports each season, appears to be a diminishing reality.  Many may know the stories of athletes like Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky, who played a number of sports as a youth, and specialized in a sport later in life. But, when we look to our high school athletes today, it seems more are focusing on specific sports at a younger age, and this trend is one that is dramatically changing our high school sports. Recently, Cam Cole wrote an excellent piece around this in the Vancouver Sun about physical literacy and the decline in kids sports.

Of course, at its core, this is not really a school issue; it is far broader than that. There is an intersection of school and community in almost every sport today. While less than a decade ago there were often lines between ‘school sports’ (e.g. volleyball, basketball, rugby) and ‘community sports’ (soccer, hockey, baseball) the lines have blurred.  Today, almost every sport is a 12-month sport. For some sports like hockey, this is almost 100 per cent in community; for others like basketball, it is more evenly split between school and the community.  Many sports have complete organizations in schools and the community.

Personally, I think something is being lost in early sports specialization.   A recent report from Matthew Bridge and Martin Toms out of the United Kingdom: “The specializing or sampling debate:  a retrospective analysis of adolescent sports participation in the UK” tends to agree. The report indicates  “individuals who competed in three sports aged 11, 13, and 15 were significantly more likely to compete at a national compared with club standard between the ages of 16 and 18 than those who practised only one sport.”   This runs counter to what many athletes, coaches and parents seem to believe, and who go all-in on a sport from a very young age.

Another phenomena influencing multi-sport, high school athletics is the increased emergence of paid coaches in community programs.  While still largely supported by volunteer staff, parents and community members, most major community sporting clubs have some paid staff, who are obviously invested in retaining athletes for their livelihood.  When it was solely a system of volunteers, the parent who coached soccer in the fall often helped coach the school basketball team in the winter, as well as the softball team in the spring.  Paid community coaches are often less likely to see their athletes sample school sports.

There is also a major overlap and growing competition between school and non-school sporting opportunities (in many ways, it follows the non-profit versus profit paradigm).  Club programs run all year and coaches will often discourage “their” athletes (the issue of  coaches and so-called “athlete ownership” is also very infuriating)  from participating on school teams outside of their sport. So, the community soccer coach doesn’t want a player to play volleyball for the school, because they want to promote sport specialization.

As a parent, along with my kids, I do want to have more say in this conversation. I want my kids to have the opportunity to play a range of sports if they want to.  I am less concerned with “development”, which is all the buzz in sports now, and more concerned with the “fun” which should be all the buzz.

I like the advice Stephanie Hauser, a high school athletic director from Wisconsin,  recently shared on the topic of multi-sport athletes at Proactive Coaching:

For Parents:

  • Be the final decision makers on behalf of your kids’ well-being.  This means having to put your foot down and be willing to make the difficult decision to say “no” on behalf of your multi-sport athletic child.  Injury, fatigue and burnout WILL happen if you are not willing to say “no” to some things.  Know when it is the right time to make the decision for your child – don’t automatically give the kids the choice; most will opt to attend everything, not wanting to let any of their coaches down.
  • Be willing to “shut them down” for a time period when you see fatigue or burnout happening.  Last summer, we were seeing the signs of some nagging fatigue injuries with our daughter, and we were struggling as parents with how to best handle the situation.  Then, the best thing for all of us happened – she twisted her ankle at Panther Fitness.  This was the excuse that we needed to shut down for the remaining three weeks of the summer…what a blessing in disguise!! The results were amazing.  Her shin splints went away, her knee and hip pain went away, she had time to hang out with friends, clean her room, read a book, and when volleyball season began three weeks later, she proceeded to have an all-conference season.  The trade-off for her was a refreshed body and mind, rather than a few more weeks of training, and she came back stronger than where she left off.

For Coaches:

  • Let your actions speak louder than your words.  Many coaches say that they support the multi-sport athlete, but it is evident that this is just “lip service” because in reality they are putting undue pressure on these multi-sport athletes to attend everything.  Have regular conversations with these kids, so you will be able to sense when it is time to give them a little more breathing room.  In reality, many of these multi-sport athletes are the most reliable, competitive and naturally athletic kids on your team.  They are the “studs” – let them thrive in their other sports, and then come your sport and thrive there.  I have witnessed this with our own daughter.  There is no doubt that she begins each season looking a bit rusty.  My husband and I call that the “three-sport athlete look.”  Yet, within the first few weeks of the season she not only meets, but exceeds the performance of others who have spent countless hours in the off-season in the gym refining their one-sport skills.  Coaches, spend the off-season time with the athletes that need you the most, those single-sport athletes who may have limited athletic ability.  They really need you to help them fine-tune their skills because they may not have the strong athletic ability to rely on.  This is the opportunity for you to really help them strive to be the best that they can be.
  • Work with other head coaches to coordinate your off-season schedules and regularly talk with them about shared athletes.  NEVER make an athlete feel like they have to choose between one coach and the other, and NEVER discuss or put down that athlete’s other coaches.

For Athletic Directors:

  • Schedule time for head coaches to sit down together to coordinate the summer calendars, open gyms, contact days, and camps in a sincere effort to minimize the number of conflicts and difficult choices that the multi-sport athlete is forced to make.  This will open the communication lines and minimize the frustration between coaches who feel that they are competing for the multi-sport athletes’ time.
  • Communicate the multi-sport athlete philosophy of the athletic department with parents and share with them the things that the athletic department and coaches are doing to support that multi-sport athletes.  Provide multi-sport athlete research, education and data for parents.
  • Manage the outside entities, such as legion baseball, AAU basketball and select soccer.  Work with your coaches to find ways to we get these outside entities to work with the school to help us maintain three-sport athletes.  To do this, you need buy-in from the coaches and the willingness to commit to this effort and be the liaison between school and outside entity.
  • Applaud and honor the multi-sport athlete.  Build recognition opportunities into your athletic award system.  Many of these kids are truly masters of time management, selflessness and self-discipline; and they have a passion for competition.  Additionally, there are those multi-sport athletes with marginal athletic ability that truly just want to participate so that they can be a part of something good.  Reward these kids for their dedication and contribution to your school.

There are a number of challenges currently happening in high school athletics, and I actually think we may have one or more new models developing (more on this in another post), but one value we should return to in school sports, and really — in all sports — is the value of the multi-sport, high school athlete.

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