Brett McFadden: High school sports aren’t just about sports
According to the ADs
I asked athletic directors from three of the high schools within the Nevada Joint Union High School District to weigh in on the role of athletics in the high school curriculum:
Nevada Union High School Athletic Director Dan Crossen: “One of the most influential factors to a student’s academic success is their connections to their school, the student body, and the professionals that are there to service their educational experience. Athletics, like all curricular and extra-curricular activities, strive to develop and deepen connections for students to their school, thus becoming paramount to a student’s academic success and fostering a positive school culture.”
Bear River High School Athletic Director Scott Savoie: “Athletics is an extension of the classroom where hard work, responsibility, character building, and learning takes place. Providing solid athletic programs is not only essential to the development of our athletes, but aids in the over-all climate and culture of our schools and community alike.”
Ghidotti Early College High School Athletic Director Tyler Smith: “Sports contribute to student success by teaching them life lessons necessary to guide young people through life. Sports build school culture by balancing the stresses of being a student in today’s world.”
— Brett McFadden
As an education leader, I not comfortable admitting this, but I have to be honest. It is likely that I learned more from my youth sports experiences than when I took trigonometry.
Along those lines, I want to explore the relationship between sports, academics and student enrichment.
I view athletics as an instructional program more than a physical education program. School sports programs are an effective strategy to help youth develop athletically, academically, socially and even morally. This is equally true for other vital programs like visual and performing arts, speech and debate, and student clubs. I also participated in these during my high school years.
Student-athletes learn persistence, patience and the value of practice. They will acquire time-management skills, self-discipline, confidence and self-esteem. They learn accountability, teamwork, when to take risks, and how to handle pressure. Some can even earn scholarships for college.
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Students who participate in team sports are less likely to make poor lifestyle choices. Years ago, the district implemented the “Athlete Committed” program, which promotes all aspects of a healthy lifestyle among our district athletes. The program has since expanded to include all students, who pledge to avoid substance abuse, get adequate sleep and pursue a nutritious diet.
Scientific literature is filled with studies showing student-athletes have better academic outcomes compared to their peers who do not participate in sports or other school sponsored electives and activities.
A report by the National Federation of State High School Associations reveals students who spent no time in extracurricular activities in high school were 49% more likely to use drugs and 37% more apt to become teen parents. Another study showed student-athletes missed less school than their non-athlete counterparts, with a total of 7.4 days and 8.8 days missed, respectively.
Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, indicates students’ participation in sports has a positive association with their Advanced Placement (AP) math, AP science, AP foreign language, and overall AP enrollment rates.
Playing sports helps the brain grow and work better. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps the body build more connections between nerves. The result is increased concentration, enhanced memory, stimulated creativity, and better critical problem-solving skills.
Our schools require a minimum grade point average of 2.0, and no more than one “F” in a class, to compete on a team. While we would love each student to be interested in English, history, science and math, that is not always the case. Students are people, and people have varying interests. Sports can be a “hook” to inspire students to excel in classes they might otherwise be tempted to coast through. The same is certainly true for other school sponsored activities and programs.
We are fortunate that our district offers a wide array of athletic programs, which we have been able to maintain despite 17 consecutive years of declining enrollment and contracting budgets. Sustaining our sports programs, as well as our visual and performing arts programs, is something everyone should be proud of.
Communities — and school campuses — are unified by competitive sports. Parents engage. Businesses advertise and support. Residents rally. Spirit and pride are tangible.
We continue to make additional investments in our athletic programs. Ghidotti Early College High School has formed a partnership with the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and joined a sports league offering basketball, soccer and flag football. The Bear River track and field facility was upgraded last year and made safer thanks to Measure B bond funds. There’s a new scoreboard at Nevada Union, purchased with help from boosters and community leaders. NU also boasts an all-weather track and synthetic turf on its football field, and tennis courts will soon be resurfaced. Later this school year, the gym floors at Silver Springs and Nevada Union (West Gym) will be replaced.
Investments in athletics, as well as other school programs and activities, translate into investments in our youth. For students to be effective in high school, they need to have a link to their school. Sports can serve as one of those vital connections.
Sports can also connect families, as parents take an active role in their student-athlete’s school experience. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers specific recommendations for parents: attend games and discuss them afterward, have realistic expectations, model respectful spectator behavior, and help student-athletes learn to handle disappointment and loss by praising their efforts to compete and improve their athletic skills.
The value of competitive sports cannot be overstated, and I’m proud that our high school district provides so many athletic opportunities for our students.
See you at the next high school game!
Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett W. McFadden writes a monthly column for The Union. He has more than 28 years of education leadership and policy experience statewide. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column.
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