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Developing an Education-based Culture in High School Activities

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on November 04, 2016 November Print

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Kevin Demer, CAA, athletic director at Boone High School in Orlando, Florida, and Susan Robbins, CMAA, athletic director at Yarmouth (Maine) High School, regarding developing an education-based culture in high school activity programs.

Kevin Demer, CAA, and Susan Robbins, CMAA

Question: For some community members, perhaps upper-level administrators and even school board members, they may not understand the philosophy of education-based athletics. How do you educate them as to the importance and value of this concept?

Demer: Through communications from the principal and me in social media, at pre-season parent meetings and in group discussions, we stress that we are investing in the future of our student-athletes.
The character-based actions of these young people will be what is remembered and not the wins or losses.

With respect to helping upper-level administrators and principals to understand the importance of this concept, you need to include them in the process. Last year, our school took a long look at a very intense rivalry with another Orlando school, in which pranks had turned into vandalism and sportsmanship ceased to exist.

We conducted a Sportsmanship Summit for students and they were given tasks to complete during the day. In addition, we invited our area superintendents to the event to see first-hand what the students were working on and they actively got involved with the students by listening, offering suggestions and sharing stories. Their involvement was the key in realizing that it is not “win at all costs” and that sportsmanship, character and citizenship are the important outcomes.

Robbins: Due to travel and community programs which are gaining popularity and are competing for student-athletes, it is more important than ever to educate the community. At Yarmouth High School, we emphasize the importance of this concept in all the traditional ways such as sports information nights, school assemblies and having a statement on our website.

In addition, a report reviewing the athletic program is presented at the end of each school year to our superintendent and School Committee. Since these meetings are televised, this as an excellent way to communicate all the good that happens in our athletic program to the general public.

Question: Since winning is not the only or ultimate objective in education-based athletics, how do you measure success in your program? What specific benchmarks do you look for and use?

Demer: In Orange County, we have a program that is called “Rivalry Love” in which sportsmanship medals are awarded to members of the visiting teams that have demonstrated the characteristics of outstanding sportsmanship. One of the best ways to show our parents and community how well we are doing in this area is to share with them the student-athletes who have been honored so far this year. When they see the variety of the teams that have been so honored, the message is very clear that we value sportsmanship and make a concerted effort every day to reinforce this message to our teams and athletes.

Robbins: The Maine Principals Association, which is the governing body for interscholastic sports in the state, began awarding sportsmanship banners for each sanctioned sport in 2013. Our school won four of the inaugural banners and have earned several more over the last few years for a total of 14, which is an average of four teams per year. While we win our share of state championships, earning the State Sportsmanship Award for a respective sport is the highest honor bestowed in an education-based athletic program!

We also do a great job of recognizing community service efforts and the academic successes of our teams through school committee meetings, school assemblies, postings on our website and Twitter feeds.

Question: Since coaches spend an enormous amount of time with and have a great impact upon student-athletes, how do you ensure that your coaches ‘buy-in’ to the education-based philosophy?

Demer: Each day, whether it is through personal contact or email, I try to find a positive message to send to our coaching staff. While it is great to tell them “nice win last night,” it is also important to tell them that I liked the way that they handled an athlete or the team with a tough situation during that game. But the manner in which they approached the situation – in front of their team and the parents in the stands – goes a long way to illustrate the value of education-based athletics.

Also, there are always opportunities to share with them articles from other coaches or athletic directors who can give them tidbits about teachable or coachable moments. New ideas can help them provide a better environment for their student-athletes.

Robbins: We have a guiding document called “The Clipper Way.” These expectations, which long-time coach Mike Hagerty created, is a culmination of the many principles we have here at Yarmouth High School. The five principles not only lead to quality athletics, but they also help our athletes make quality choices in life. These principles are:

  1. Work hard and do not complain.
  2. Trust your teammates and put them first.
  3. Focus on what you can control, which is your effort to do your best when the chance presents itself.
  4. Do the simple things well.
  5. Focus on what is next.

These values will provide confidence and a roadmap in life. Also, as the leader of our athletic program, I personally check in with our coaches as much as I can, especially during the season, because an athletic director is the “Coach of Coaches.” I think it is so important to have these connections to build a relationship of trust and to reinforce the principles of education-based athletics.

Question: What help and guidance do you provide your coaches so that they continue to teach and encourage the development of life-long qualities and values with their student-athletes that are a part of education-based athletics? And from a practical standpoint, when and how do you find the time to do this?

Demer: As an athletic administrator, I try to provide our coaching staff with education-based experiences and teachable moments for our student-athletes which they can use with their teams. Also, I ask for input from our coaches about topics and invite them to be guest speakers for our Student-athlete Leadership Team meetings.

Robbins: My goal is to communicate frequently with all coaches throughout the year not just those in season. With dwindling budgets for professional development, I try to share resources, links and articles which are relevant and helpful. This is a great way to educate coaches and to reinforce the education-based concept.

Each year, I also have a few points of emphasis at coaches’ meetings related to best practices. These items center on the concepts of education-based athletics and create a consistent approach with the coaching staff. In addition, I text coaches after a practice or game to compliment them on something I saw that stood out. Positive recognition is a great form of reinforcement.

Question: In hiring new coaches, what questions do you ask and what other steps do you take to make sure that you are adding an individual to your program who embraces education-based athletics and isn’t only driven to win championships?

Demer: Just about every individual you choose to hire has the necessary credentials regarding wins and losses. The key is if he or she can fit into an education-based program. Therefore, we focus on the teaching aspect first and determine if the individual is effective in the classroom. After that, we look at how the individual will relate to the student-athletes and involve sportsmanship, leadership and character development in the program. We want individuals who define “class” and will positively represent our program to the community.

Robbins: Everything starts with the hiring process. We utilize a variety of questions during interviews to be sure coaches understand the concept of education-based athletics. For example:

  • What is education-based athletics and please provide examples of how you will reinforce this concept on your team?
  • We have a co-curricular honor code that prohibits students from using alcohol, drugs or tobacco. Violations result in missed games and mandated meetings with our substance abuse counselor. What is the role of a coach in reinforcing the values put forth through the school athletic code?
  • We have high achieving student-athletes here in Yarmouth. What would your reaction be, if a player approached you to miss a practice session to meet with a teacher for extra help or tutoring?
  • We also ask the question, “Why do you want to coach at Yarmouth High School?” This one allows the applicant to articulate why he or she is specifically interested in our school. The answers can be very insightful to see if the candidate understands what the school community values.

Question: What resources do you use to help in your educational efforts to promote the concept of education-based athletics in your community? What has been successful in your setting?

Demer: We utilize our social media outlets, whether it is through the Athletics page on the website, our Facebook page, the PTSA website, or any other available means to promote positive accomplishments within the athletic department. For example, we were honored to win the FHSAA Fred E. Rozelle Sportsmanship Award for the 2015-16 school year in our classification, and we posted a notice explaining that the student-athletes’ and coaches’ actions on the playing field throughout the year was the main factor in receiving that prestigious award.

Robbins: At Yarmouth High School, we agree that social media is a great way to reach a larger audience. In addition to tweeting scores and highlights of games, I also mention the involvement of our teams in community service projects and retweet articles that emphasize the concepts of education-based athletics.

I strongly believe that there is a recipe for success in Yarmouth and the basis is quality communication to create the best possible experiences for our student-athletes. Also, for our Sports Information
Nights, student-athletes help present much of the essential information and do a fantastic job about touting the best features of our education-based program. And it is always well received by coaches and parents.