July 31, 2010

Improving Athletics

A good athletic program is built on a secret ingredient. 

The secret ingredient is high academic expectations for all students.

As a young athletic director about 15 years ago, one of my first assignments was to upgrade the athletic expectations. The process I used then was to survey students, parents, teachers, coaches, and others to find out what we believed our expectations should be.

The school used the MHSAA's guidelines for grades, meaning students could fail a class and have all Ds in other classes — and still participate. The expectations academically were low, but the expectations as far behavior were lower.

Before I was AD, one star athlete through a nickel in the hallway, hit the counselor, and his punishment was a "talking to." It seemed that there was an epidemic of apathy — among everyone. Athletes knew expectations were low, so they met them.

After our meetings, discussions, surveys, etc., we set out to re–write our athletic expectations. We created an Athletic Code Book, with a focus on athletic training rules, academic expectations, and a behavior rubric.

Student–athletes were students year round and bound by athletic training rules. Students were expected to maintain a 2.00 grade point average with no failing grades "at all times," and if a student–athlete broke a  rule, he or she was held to a "higher" standard, than no standard at all.

The changes were rolled out to the Board of Education in November, and approved as a phase in for the second semester and the following school year. While the academic changes were tougher, we phased them in. If a student–athlete's grades were at the point that the student would be ineligible under the new standards, we counseled with them and explained that the standards would be higher "next year," and helped them focus on improving their academic performance.

The way you create a better athletic program is to raise the academic standards and behavioral expectations FIRST.

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