By David Paling
David Paling has been the Director of Athletics, Health, and Physical Education for the Middleboro (Mass.) public schools for the past 15 years. He is a frequent contributor to Athletic Management magazine.
Athletic Management, 15.3, April/May 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1503/oneidea.htm
How many times have you come across a good idea during the course of your duties as athletic director, yet failed to follow through on it? Ideas, programs, and approaches abound that can serve to enhance, promote, and strengthen your department. And quite often these program are affordable and easy to apply. All it takes to implement them is the right amount of focus and follow through.
Below is a sampling of successful ideas gleaned from several Massachusetts athletic administrators and coaches. Perhaps you’ll find one or more of them suitable for your program.
Triple Crown Award
According to Mike Horne, Athletic Director at Mashpee High School, one of the major obstacles coaches face today is specialization—when athletes play only one sport during the course of a year. “Pressures from non-school sports teams and coaches outside the school have driven many athletes to concentrate on a single sport rather than playing two or three throughout the year,” he says. “This decreases the overall pool of participants and can limit successes coaches might otherwise enjoy.”
The Triple Crown Award at Mashpee High School was established to recognize those athletes who have earned varsity letters in three sports in a single school year. A plaque is awarded to these high achievers, and the award is viewed as very prestigious.
“This small investment does a lot to promote participation in multiple sports,” says Horne. “The kids who have received this award have been genuinely excited by it. I think it makes a difference in providing some encouragement to focus on more than one sport.”
Site Manager ID
In some sports it is common for high school athletic directors to schedule contests at off-campus facilities. Local golf courses, swimming pools, and ice hockey rinks, for example, are used as home sites when such facilities are not available at the school. Problems arise at these off-campus sites when crowd control is necessary and administrators and site managers are not easily identified. At Duxbury High School, this problem was solved when Assistant Principal Ron McCarthy produced identification badges to be worn by the Duxbury athletic administration on these occasions.
“An ugly situation was created at an ice hockey game when a fan from another town either refused or was unable to recognize our school people and the authority they had as supervisors at that competition,” McCarthy explains. “Looking back, we honestly felt we were partially at fault because there was no way for our personnel to authenticate who they were.”
Produced the next day at the school, these badges cost essentially nothing and rectified this particular problem. They include the person’s name, title, and name of school, are laminated, and include a lanyard so they can be worn like a necklace.
Track & Field Scoreboard
A novel idea that can generate some excitement and interest among track and field participants and spectators is to construct a scoreboard for use at your outdoor track ovals. When no such scoreboard exists, there is often confusion about who won particular events and which team is leading. Posting results event by event increases the level of involvement and interest of everyone at the meet.
Similar to the scoreboards used at high school softball and baseball games, hanging numerals are placed under home/visitor columns alongside names of events. This provides athletes and fans with an overall view of meet results.
Track scoreboards could be constructed in-house with the help of woodshop and art department students. Materials needed are minimal, and most students are eager to produce something that will benefit a team of their peers. On meet days, the team manager could gather and post the event results as they occur.
One criticism we have received from parents at Middleboro High School over the years is about lengthy end-of-season banquets. Long, sometimes boring speeches and slow dinner lines have them enduring, rather than enjoying, the culmination of their sons’ or daughters’ athletic seasons. The “participation night” was born to rectify this problem.
“We invite our kids and their parents to go bowling at a local alley,” says Brian Rounseville, a winter and spring Track and Field Coach at Middleboro High. “We reserve the building for our exclusive use for about a two-hour period of time. We usually bowl for an hour, eat some pizza in this informal setting, and then sit down and do our awards. Parents have been overwhelmingly in support of this kind of function as compared to the more formal, scripted approach. Everyone has a lot of fun. At this point I don’t see us going back to the traditional banquet.”
Other Middleboro High coaches have followed the track team’s lead. Female volleyball players and parents squared off in friendly volleyball competition before potluck dishes were served in the school cafeteria. A parent-player basketball game has been played. And this spring, the baseball team played softball against a team comprising parents and coaches. The game (won by the adults!) was followed by a cookout on the fields. This participatory form of season-ending gathering has added new appeal to what was becoming, to some, a tired tradition.
A digital camera, a little technological expertise, and a small amount of time are the necessary ingredients for this public relations tool that will reap large dividends. Using a digital camera, have action shots randomly taken of athletes at their various competitions. Then import the photos to a template that has been set up on your computer as a greeting/salutation card.
These cards could include the date, place, name of opponent, and game score, as well as any message you think would be effective. One such message could read, “We hope you are as proud of your son/daughter as we are here at the (name of school) athletic department.” Or, “As you can see, (name of athlete) always represents our school well.”
Print the card and send it to the athlete’s home in care of their parents. These cards show parents how much you care, and will particularly be appreciated by those parents who are unable to attend scheduled athletic competitions due to conflicts with work schedules or transportation problems. The cards also make great keepsakes for scrapbooks and can be shared with friends and other family members.
When coaches establish point clubs, it encourages athletes to go beyond minimal expectations. It can also benefit the school and community in various ways.
The first step is for the coach to consider the goals of the point club, Next, he or she builds a particular point system that corresponds to how the athletes may achieve these goals. For example, athletes could accumulate points for: participating in more than just a single sport in a school year, achieving specific academic goals, performing successfully in conditioning programs, attending games to support athletes in other sports, and/or doing community service and related tasks.
The coach monitors the accumulation of points during the prescribed time limits and then recognizes those athletes who earn enough points to be considered full-fledged members. Recognition can come in the form of some reward, such as special T-shirts or hats.
Usually the point clubs are in operation during the off-seasons, but may be done at any time if properly established. The idea is that the incentives keep athletes active, involved, and on task for success.
Middleboro High School Baseball Coach Bill Lawrence runs such a club and he has seen good results. “You can’t make them mandatory,” he says. “But peer pressure usually works to bring most kids into the fold. The point clubs are motivational and something that high school athletes respond favorably to.”
Carver and Mashpee High Schools have established captains’ councils within their athletic departments. These councils are made up of the captains from each sport team who meet at least seasonally with the athletic director and other school administrators. At these meetings, expectations for captains are laid out, and their roles as leaders are discussed.
“The main purpose of having a captains’ council is to establish a line of communication between the athletic department and the student-athletes,” says Carver High School Athletic Director Rocky Gomes. “When we meet, I let them know what is going on with athletics in general, and they can get the word out to their peers at least as effectively as I can. An example of this would be when we instituted our user-fee structure. I kept the captains informed about what we were proposing in advance of charging a fee, and the captains kept the kids on the team informed.
“But the councils are not a one-way form of communication,” Gomes continues. “They are also a good way of finding out what is going on internally with our teams. I’ve found a lot of honest dialogue takes place between the team leadership and the school administration. The athletes will open up and let you know what the issues are specific to their teams. Sometimes this helps you to anticipate and avoid a problem before it grows and gets out of control.”
Mashpee High School takes the concept of captain councils even further. “A few years ago my high school was in the unique position of having started as a new school,” says Horne. “Our athletic program started with sub-varsity teams and evolved to varsity level gradually, so initially we had an issue with team leadership. We found that our appointed captains had no models to emulate because we didn’t have existing programs with varsity level captains to follow.
“To help them I put together a series of meetings for captains where we discussed what the qualities of a good leader are,” he continues. “They met with town selectmen, the fire and police chiefs, the school superintendent, coaches at Mashpee and coaches from other schools, the local special Olympics director, and others.
“Little by little, I have seen our captains take on more responsibility with our teams and conduct themselves in a more responsible manner. Issues such as substance abuse, maintaining good grades, and classroom deportment have become concerns of the captains and not just the coaches. They’ve become ambassadors of good sportsmanship, and are a positive influence on their fellow teammates and even the fans at our games.
“I give our captains a pass to attend our home games throughout the year, and their presence in the stands rubs off on those around them. Some of our captains have taken their positions as leaders in another direction and have visited our elementary schools to help younger kids in their classes. The captains have become more than just coin-flippers at the beginning of games. They are role models for others and serve as a liaison between the coach and the team.”
Video Highlights Film
Barnstable High School Athletic Director Steve Francis has found an easy way to promote his school’s athletic programs while entertaining his constituencies at seasonal awards functions. His school’s media people put together a highlights video of all teams in action during the fall, winter, and spring seasons, and these videos are shown to athletes and parents as a standard part of award-night ceremonies.
“These videos have been a shot in the arm for us,” Francis says. “We cut back on the speeches and run these 10-minute montages, accompanied by music, for our audiences. The response to them has been outstanding. Not only do athletes enjoy seeing themselves on these videos, but for many of them, it’s the first and only time they get to see their peers doing their sports. They’ve really been a hit here.”
At Quincy High School, the tennis team mentoring program “began out of necessity,” according to Athletic Director Ed Miller. “One year we had a lot of foreign exchange kids out for tennis,” he says. “Our coach took the time to have them assigned to a faculty member who served as their mentor for the year. Any language barrier problems were overcome via the mentors, and the players were able to receive help with homework through academic counseling. Basically, the program was established to help them adjust not only academically but socially as well.
“The program grew and eventually each tennis team member, male and female, had a teacher partnered with them,” Miller continues. “The players knew they could find and rely on these teachers for help. Justification for the program, in fact, was so substantial that eventually it led to a grant award for support.”
Officials Web Site
When the Patriot League Commissioner of Soccer Officials Pat Donovan established a Web site to facilitate smooth lines of communication with member schools regarding the assignments of boys’ and girls’ soccer officials, it was an instant success. Using his home computer and his family’s help, he set up this site and provided all the athletic directors in the league with access.
At the click of a mouse, athletic directors can find out who their soccer officials are, and what changes in assignments might have been made in the event of postponed games. This use of technology has allowed schools to get information faster than they would over the telephone.
“The number of telephone calls I got at night at home was reduced,” says Donovan, “and the amount of time I was spending trying to communicate this information to all the schools and officials was reduced. This really streamlined the process and made it more efficient. I would encourage other high school-level commissioners to do the same.”
Youth Education Through Sports
At Rockland High School, Athletic Director Bob Fisher has conducted annual “YES” nights for athletes for the past several years. “YES is our acronym for Youth Education through Sports,” Fisher notes. “It’s a condensed way of addressing many important subjects without losing our kids’ interest levels through a long, slow program.
“What we do is have our coaches and other school personnel stationed in rooms,” he continues. “Kids are split into groups and move from room to room in 15- to 20-minute intervals. In one room, they’ll hear a coach address the subject of drugs and alcohol. In another room, a second coach will speak about our school’s academic requirements, state association rules, and so forth. Another coach will talk about weight training. We have our nurse address nutrition. Our athletic trainer talks about care and prevention of injuries. A guidance department person will explain the NCAA Clearinghouse procedures. Citizenship is another one of our topics. We emphasize the fact that our athletes are expected to strive toward a higher standard.
“When rotations have been completed, the night culminates in a message from myself and the principal,” Fisher says. “This year, he and I are going to use the theme of not having a second chance at making a first impression.”
Fisher feels that there have been several tangible advantages to the program. “The kids don’t have to listen to just one person, they experience a variety of presentations,” he explains. “It’s also nice that they get their information from a number of coaches, not just their own. This presents a unified front from the athletic department. We can touch upon any number of subjects, and change them as the times and situation dictates. It’s really been a successful approach.”