After many discussions about the benefits and personal observations of our athletic program, Dr. Brian Guenther, our academic dean, has structured the daily schedule for SMA students to allow for an athletic period for all Upper School (US) athletes. All US student-athletes, male and female, involved in team sports will need to register for this seventh period class for both semesters. The class will be designed for athletes only, and students enrolling in this class must be approved by the Athletic Director. Any student-athlete with an academic reason for not being in the class must have the approval of the Academic Dean. All full-time teacher-coaches will be assigned to the athletic period, and many of our stipend only coaches will be able to attend as well. Having the class at the end of the day will have the added benefit of less loss of school time for team travel.
The focus of this class will be to improve overall athletic ability in a non-sport-specific environment. The workouts will be intense and designed to prepare our athletes physically and mentally for the intensity of varsity sports. Our desire is to level the playing field with our competitors. Most of the teams we compete with have a similar athletic period or required after school strength training programs. One school in our district has 95 athletes (male and female) going through summer conditioning. Competing against bigger, stronger and better-conditioned athletes can lead to injuries. On the other hand, by having year-round strength and conditioning, we can equip our young men and women with the tools they need to give better performances on the court or field and suffer fewer injuries. Our students have a need to belong and to be a part of something. The “hard work pays off” mentality is one we will promote among our athletes to help them feel more pride and take greater ownership of our program.
Five years ago, Coach D.W. Rutledge, the retired Executive Director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, wrote an article in THSCA Weekly Headlines entitled “In Defense of the Athletic Period” (April 3, 2013). At that time, the Texas Legislature was considering eliminating the athletic period from public high school schedules, but that action was never taken as too many educators recognized the value of the traditional athletic period. Rutledge stated the following in his article:
“Sound athletic programs can provide valuable lessons for practical situations. The daily influential power of a positive coach can be life-changing. Student-athletes experience daily victories discovering within themselves the ability to overcome adversity, to develop leadership skills, to develop winning attitudes, to be hard workers, to be a part of a team which requires sacrifice and service to others. These things are the direct result of quality coaching and the value of coaching kids every day . . . helping them make strong choices and develop strong habits.”
Throughout my coaching career, I have seen the value of a strong off-season program. Team and individual development are enhanced by the time coaches spend with each athlete. Coaches have more time to be involved in the lives of their student-athletes, which usually encourages further participation. I believe every student can benefit from the daily counsel and instruction of our coaches. My hope is that having this athletic period will encourage more students to get involved in athletics.
Scientific research has well established the connection between athletic participation and positive student outcomes. In his article, Rutledge listed nineteen specific outcomes that correlate positively with participation in upper school athletics:
- Academic achievement
- Good school attendance
- Good self-concept
- High self-expectations
- Formation of educational goals
- Prospects for college attendance
- A high rate of retention (staying in school)
- Good conduct
- Optimum physical fitness
- Leadership skills
- Better habits of eating, sleeping, and exercise
- Calmness and poise under pressure
- The ability to work with others towards a common goal
- The ability to sacrifice for the common good
- Pride and graciousness in achievement
- The ability to overcome adversity
- Later success in life
As Rutledge notes, the value of an athletic period is not found in the teaching of skills or strategies. It is, rather, the “intangibles.” Coaches have the opportunity to teach values and life skills in a way that few other educators can match. Within the daily structured educational setting of an athletic period, we will have the ability to help our student-athletes reach their maximum potential–not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and, at a Christian school like San Marcos Academy, spiritually.
–By Coach Les Davis, SMA Athletic Director