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The need for high school extracurricular activities.

As a high school athletic director, I see the importance and benefits of participation in extracurricular activities on a daily basis. Often, the public's image of an institution as well as its attractiveness to prospective students is influenced by the performance of its athletic teams. Athletic teams are the "front porch" to most school districts because they are the most visible.


For some time, however, there has been concern about the contribution of athletics to an individual's education. Student-athletes in the past have often been regarded as arrogant, cocky, and antagonistic. Throughout my tenure as a student-athlete, teacher, coach, and now athletic director, such remarks from the public have been heard many times. I have often defended the advantages of participating in sports and then wondered whether if what I said was accurate.

For many U.S. students, an important part of the secondary school experience includes participation in afterschool extracurricular activities. Such opportunities allow students to pursue areas of their interest beyond the curricular offerings of the normal school day and are often sources of great enjoyment and satisfaction. Extracurricular offerings in schools typically include fine arts, athletics, student government, hobby/activity groups, and academic clubs or organizations. It is estimated that nationally, 83% of students aged 6-17 participate in at least one extracurricular activity during their school career.

The marriage of academics and athletics specifically is a component of high school that drives the school year and in some instances sets the tone for the remainder of the school year. The importance in challenging students athletically as well as academically seems to be an attitude that is disappearing, and this is disappointing.

In today's society of "everybody needs to feel good about themselves," it has become too easy to quit and too easy to let somebody else do the work. Students and athletes want the teacher or coach to praise them all the time, even when the athletes are wrong!! Some feel that sports and other extracurricular activities have become the downfall of society, when in reality the complete opposite is true. It is in these arenas where the most valuable life lessons are being taught.

Education outside the four walls of the classroom is an important part of every high school today. The educational experiences that occur outside of the classroom are extensions the lessons students learn within the classroom, which is even more reason to encourage participation in these activities. In some cases, involvement in these activities is necessary to keep students interested in school.

Extracurricular activities connect students to high school. The wearing of the school colors, involvement in teamwork, and partaking in extracurricular activities establishes a sense of pride and responsibility not only in the student, but within the school and larger community as well.

This participation helps self esteem, promotes team culture and self image, all of which help students become engaged at the high school. Sharing in high school extracurricular activities is sometimes viewed as a nonessential part of a child's education and is often among the first programs to be targeted for budget cuts in times of financial constraints.

However, student involvement in extracurricular activities is associated with a host of positive outcomes, including increased school performance and effort, increase in community pride and involvement, and increased self-esteem and perception of self-worth (McNeal, 1995).

Athletics can affect the way participants learn about dealing with the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly aspects of life after school. In all sports, athletes develop certain skills in order to win, or in some cases lose. The pride that comes with mastering these skills can carry over to personal and professional endeavors. Students who take part in any sport get to experience the exhilaration of victory, but more importantly they also learn how to deal with losing. To discover how to live with success as well as with disappointment is a valuable skill, and sports can provide an intensive course in both lessons.

In team sports, players learn to accept a role--often a supporting one. Whether one is as a third stringer who has to work hard in practice but warms the bench in games, or an offensive lineman whose blocking job is vital but unglamorous, a team player learns to do what has to be done.

Having to play a role determined by coaches, whether it is exactly what a player hopes for or not, teaches the acceptance of authority, a lesson that seems best taught through athletics. One of the most important lessons young athletes learn is that those in authority (coaches like me) make mistakes, and students have to live with those mistakes and play their best despite the situation. Few people go through life without working for someone with whom they bump heads. A coach's bad calls can be excellent preparation for those situations when quitting is not always an option.

Those who play a team sport learn how to operate in an atmosphere in which there is no guarantee of equity. A coach may play favorites, or someone may not get the credit he or she deserves. The awareness that life is not always fair is a lesson that has its benefits.

The social elements of team sports have far-reaching effects as well. Team members develop the ability to communicate under stress. They learn to respect their teammates as well as officials, and if a team is ethically coached, its members also are taught to respect their opponents no matter how fierce the rivalry.

At a cost of only one percent or less of an overall school's budget, extracurricular programs, are one of the best bargains in education. These programs, whether it is sports, music, speech, debate, band or the fine arts, allow students to learn the most valuable lessons, lessons as valuable as those being taught in the classroom.

Unfortunately, there appears to be an attitude of apathy and lack of support for these high school activities on the part of the general public. Neglect of these programs undermines the educational mission of our schools and the potential success of our own communities. More now than ever, education and community leaders must be made aware of the benefits and need for high school extracurricular programs. From interscholastic sports to music, drama, and debate, these activities enrich a student's high school experience. These programs must be kept alive.

By Ron Kennedy, M.Ed, CMAA, Athletic Director, Donegal High School, Mount Joy, PA
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Title Annotation:A.D.MINISTRATION
Author:Kennedy, Ron
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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