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Participation Rates are Vital to Education-based Athletics

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on November 21, 2014 hst Print

As the article on page 12 indicates, participation in high school sports increased for the 25th consecutive year in 2013-14. These totals obviously reflect all programs around the nation, and it is an extremely impressive proclamation; however, look at your own program. Did you have an increase or did you slide backwards?

In education-based athletics, the participation rate is one of the critical and revealing benchmarks of the program’s health. It is something that all athletic administrators should use as a barometer. The participation rate will not only tell you how many athletes are involved in your program, but it should also provide the following:

• The number of athletes in your program is only significant if it is compared with the total enrollment of the school. This figure provides the actual participation rate, and the higher the better. If you believe that athletics has educational value, and you’d better ascribe to this concept, then all athletic administrators should want the largest participation rate possible.
• A closer inspection of the total number of athletes in your program will also reveal that some teams or sports may not have as many participants as they could have. Some teams may have room for more athletes, but for whatever reason they do not try out. This should be a concern for all athletic administrators, and they should develop a plan to address this problem. A major goal should be for your school to offer every sport and team possible and that they are all filled to capacity. If not, you have some more work to do.
• The total number of participants for both your boys and girls teams is also extremely important. These figures are necessary for Title IX considerations because you need and want to have equitable balance between the two. If you have an imbalance, you may have to create some initiatives to increase the participation of females in your program.

Once you have this basic analysis, it is time to put some thought and effort into improving your participation rate. As has been documented, the No. 1 reason that young people participate in athletics is to have fun. Better stated perhaps is they want to have an enjoyable experience, and this would include being with their friends.

Understandably, it is easier to enjoy being part of a team that is winning. However, enlightened coaches can also provide a great environment for those on a team with a losing record. The key factor is for athletic administrators to find and mentor coaches who provide great, positive support for their athletes regardless of whether the team is winning or losing. Coaches who embrace education-based athletics are invaluable and definitely contribute to a school’s effort to improve the participation rate.

Creating additional levels of competition – such as junior varsity and freshmen teams – and adding new sports are two more possible solutions to increase your participation rate. Both of these approaches will require venues for practice and games, equipment and coaches; and these items will, of course, need more funding. But a few hurdles should not deter an athletic administrator from exploring these possibilities to provide more opportunities for young people.

While adding new and additional sports can boost your participation rate, there are also two important cautions to consider. If you add a new sport, are there other schools in your area with which you can schedule contests and compete? Unrealistic, lengthy travel and missing class would probably not offset the desire and value of adding more opportunities for young people to join a team.

Also, Title IX compliance has to be a major consideration before adding any new sport. While you still need to be cognizant of the impact on your facilities and other factors such as costs, adding female sports usually will help with compliance and increase your participation rate. On the other hand, adding a boys team will require greater caution and a thorough analysis before making a decision.

In order to overcome any possible hurdles, there are usually solutions to most situations if you are able and willing to think creatively. Since additional venues for new sports, equipment and coaches will take more money, the first step should be to prepare a proposal for your school board. Explain the value and importance for creating new and additional opportunities for young people.

If your proposal is accepted, you are in business and can start planning for new teams. However, the inability of the school board to fund these new opportunities does not necessarily close the door. Explore the possibility of help from the booster club, corporate sponsorships or a grant to provide part or all of the funding.

Even if financial support for new or additional teams is not presently available, always retain copies of your research and proposals. There is always next year and the economic outlook might improve or unforeseen funding sources might appear. Increasing opportunities is not and should not be a one-time effort.

Considering the benefits of participation, every athletic administrator should try to provide the great educational opportunity of being part of an athletic team to as many young people as possible. The answer to this proposition should be a resounding, “Yes, it is important to increase participation.” What are you waiting for? Get started providing more opportunities!