Sunday, September 24, 2017

Athletics and the School: Expectations, Participation, Parents, and the AAU.

I like high school sports.  It’s kind of hard not to if you are a high school principal.  I appreciate the passion, intensity, and work ethic of our athletes.  I respect our coaches (I was a head wrestling coach for some time) and love what athletics can do to build a young person’s character, teamwork, and work ethic.  Athletics can and often is the reason some of our students come to school.  It motivates, it gives an outlet for kids, and can open doors to success for the talented.

It can also be one of the ugliest things about a school.  When the “me first” mentality takes a hold of athletics, and puts sports before academics, a school has a real problem on their hands.

Recently my football coach followed through with our athletic code of conduct, and a couple people were not happy when we lost a game.  They blamed the coach for benching eleven of his players. 

“They’re just kids.” 
“Teachers were too harsh”
“Why make the team suffer?”

Perhaps I am too harsh, but all of those are excuses for poor behavior.  When we put athlete before student, we’ve made a mistake.  As a wise man (Keith Davis, Superintendent of BCPS) said every year during our opening meetings: “Athletics enhance the mission, but are not the mission.”

A couple of guiding points I use in my practice:

Athletics are a privilege, not a right.  Say it again for those in the back.  As a principal I am under no obligation to give a student special treatment because they are good at sports.

As a principal I will happily have teams that never win a game as long as the kids we put out there are high character who are doing it right.  Having a winning team full of students that are taking advantage of the world around them isn’t conducive to a student’s real #futureself, just the moment.  In a perfect world I want high character students winning a ton of games.  That’s what we aspire to.

STUDENT-athlete.  The student comes first.  If a kid won’t get it done in the classroom, they will not play.  This is both academically or behaviorally.  If a student wants to not work, or act like a donkey, they don’t see the field.

I will not listen to, nor blame a loss on a coach who sits a student because they can’t be of high character.  Student that doesn’t rise to expectation needs to look in the mirror to see who is responsible.  The parent who is looking for a free pass because their kid is talented, needs to reevaluate their priorities.

I have to expect 100% of my coaches to get in line with this thinking.  If they can’t, we work with them.  If they still can’t we need to find a new coach.  If you ever want to really have parents at your door angry, part ways with a winning coach who doesn’t do it the right way.  Sleep well though, you’re doing the right thing.

I have to commit that this might make us lose some students.  If they can’t rise to the expectation, then be OK when they transfer.  They could have been the next Lebron James, but if they act like Terrell Owens in class, then you are better off that they went elsewhere.

I have to clearly communicate what our expectations are.  At my school we do this through our Athletic Code of Conduct, which is pretty stringent.  This code was written by our SBDM comprised of teachers, parents, and admin. 

Inevitably there is a parent who believes their kid will be the next D1 standout.  Perhaps they will be.  They will tie everything back to athletics, and seek favor or privilege because their kid is talented.  I’m looking at you Mr. Ball.  They will crow about how awesome their kid is, and how they need to focus on their sport because it’s going to pay for college.  We are not in the business of preparing students for athletic careers, we are in the business of education.  Remind them of these things:

Colleges don’t want:
-         Athletes who can’t make the grades
-         Athletes who have a me first mentality
-         Athletes who can’t be coached
-         Athletes who are lazy
-         Athletes who have a bad attitude

They want high character athletes who can get it done on and off the court.  I talked to a coach at FSU who told me “We don’t want to deal with kids and their parents who don’t understand academics comes first.  I have 1,000 kids who want to play each position for us, I won’t pick the kid who is a fool.”

In this same line of thinking you may encounter the AAU parent, or travel parent who will toss at your feet that their kid plays softball nonstop, and this is so very important to them.  We don’t control AAU or travel.  They can have high or low expectations, and it’s not our wheelhouse.  What we do have oversight over is scholastic sports.  Want special privileges because your kid is good at softball?  Then they better make the grades and do what they need to in class.  What they do in travel ball has no bearing on what they do in school. 

As an aside principals- STOP giving excused absences to kids who go play in the “Travel Ball state championship/ national qualifier” it’s a money making scheme and in my opinion, ruining kid’s sports as it is.  How is anyone a national champion when only 4 teams showed up?

On the subject of things in athletics that distract from the school and promote the ‘me first’ mentality: ranking services.  I laugh when I hear that a kid is “ranked #32 in the nation as an 8th grader in Outside Linebackers”.  Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?  I am extremely suspect of these services as they always seem to be tied to some “camp” that the student is then invited to.

Guess what?  The camp costs money.  It always seems to cost money.

So they pump up a kid with their “ranking” and then invite them to a “special camp” to get “exposure”.  It’s about making money off the kid and their family.  I cringe when I see the free and reduced lunch kid who is excited because of this stuff, and wonder where they will get the money if they decide to go.  As a general rule, I have nothing but contempt for these types of services that I see as preying on kids.  I’m sure there are some good ones out there, but I haven’t ran into many.  As a principal, I don’t want them to have anything to do with my school.

Lastly we all have parents/ spectators who take it too far.  Don’t let them.  Even if their kid is the best player you have.  If they are cussing refs, coaches, other students ask them to stop.  If they don’t kick them off campus, and send them a no trespass letter if they can’t behave in public.  They have no right to be at an athletic event if they are harassing people and acting the fool.  Do not tolerate it.  As a principal you have the ability to set the tone of what good conduct is at an athletic event. 

Beyond the athlete who may get a college scholarship, we’re foremost in the business of preparing students for their #futureself.  Holding them to low expectations, allowing them the privilege to play sports when they spend 7 hours in school not being a student doesn’t prepare for them for their next step.  Taking a stand in athletics is a direct benefit to the school.  It is frustrating for teachers to have the star QB in class acting the fool, and then root for them on Friday night.  It is frustrating to see lower expectations for those who are supposed to be representing the school.  I am 100% in favor of higher expectations for those who want to do sports, and the results from doing so with students who are oftentimes leaders far outweigh the negatives.  Promote a culture of high character for your athletes and after the initial grumbling is out of the way, you will see results.  Then do not backslide. Have the same expectations from the starter to the bench warmer, and be consistent in their application.

I encourage you to draw a hard line when it comes to athletics.  The students will benefit from it, as will your school culture.

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