The Ninety-Seven Percenters

Last week, I listed some of my favorite numbers to share with our “over-active” parents and coaches as they relate to high school athletics.  To briefly summarize:

6.7% of high school athletes compete in their sport in college (at any level)
2.3% of high school athletes earn college athletic scholarships (most of those are only partial scholarships)

On the surface, it’s easy to interpret those numbers: very few of our athletes will play college sports, which should be enough of an incentive to focus our coaching efforts on some other aspect of adolescent development.  Of course, there are some obvious and inherent difficulties with that ideal.
First – regardless of why kids choose to participate (see my thoughts/observations here),  adults love to win.  Since adults are in charge of youth sports, we tend to push our goals on to the kids who participate.
Second – coaches in particular love to win.  Most coaches have an extra level of competitiveness that was, in part, responsible for their decision to coach in the first place.
Third –  (and this is the one I speak to coaches about most often) There are many high school coaches who were part of the 6.7% of kids who played college sports.  Many of our coaches – and I was VERY guilty of this as a young coach – assume that all of our kids play for the same reasons that we, as coaches, played.  Specifically, we assume all kids want to be the best at [your sport here], want to win every drill/contest/tournament, and want to generally be hailed as the best [your sport here] player in the history of the universe.  Even though we can look at data that shows us otherwise, we still want to believe that’s why kids play.

In an effort to give our coaches another thing to focus on (other than just winning), I like to give them some additional statistics.  These are from the 2010 US Census:

97% of North Dakotans over the age of 18 are employed
51% of US residents over the age of 18 are married (This % obviously gets higher as kids/adults get older)
61% of US residents over the age of 15 are parents (This % also gets higher as kids/adults get older.)

To put that all into a kid-by-kid perspective, I’ll give some generalities.

If we had 500 kids playing high school sports last year, we can assume that – statistically speaking:
485 of those kids will have a job
255+ of those kids will get married
305+ of those kids will be parents some day

Some of you are probably already thinking of the question that I sometimes get from coaches: “Why are those stats something that I need to consider?”  Some coaches would prefer to focus on skill and scheme, insisting that they were hired just to coach [your sport here].  I’d argue that because of our role as coaches, we have a higher level of accountability towards the growth of our athletes for two reasons:
1.  In a traditional high school setting, kids spend more than twice as long per day with a coach than with any single teacher.
2.  Kids choose to participate in the sport.  They don’t always choose to take the classes in which they are enrolled.

Speaking to reason #2, as a former English teacher and multi-sport coach at a small school, I saw during which time I had more influence on the majority of kids.  Most of the students in my English classes were there because they were required to take the course in order to graduate; most of the athletes on my teams were there because they enjoyed the sport.  When at practices and games, they wanted to learn what I was teaching and modeling; when in class, they just wanted the final bell to ring!

So how do we, as coaches, translate this knowledge into action?
First and foremost, we need to speak and act the way we want our athletes to speak and act.  There’s a quote from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson that’s often used by character education teachers: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”  As coaches, it’s up to us to model the behaviors we want our kids to pattern.
Secondly, where is your focus during practices and games?  As a coach, are you focused just on winning, or are you focused on whole improvement and playing/performing to potential?  Athletics remains a fantastic place to teach morals, work ethic, persistence, dedication, time management, etc. etc. etc…all skills that will eventually translate into being a good employee, spouse, and/or parent.
Lastly, look for opportunities to teach more than just your sport.  In Grand Forks, we’re in year 3 of implementing the nationwide Coaching Boys Into Men program.  This program was brought to us on a Safer Tomorrow‘s grant sponsored by the local Community Violence Intervention Center.  The focus of the program is teaching boys how to foster respectful, positive, and productive relationships.  I particularly like this program because high school athletic teams tend to be made of stereotypical “Alpha Males” who often need extra guidance in learning how to communication with everyone.  On the whole, it’s been a positively received program throughout our district.

Regardless of how coaches address those statistics, it remains important to remember that most of our high school athletes will not be college athletes.  They will, however, become adults that need the life skills that coaches have the perfect platform to teach.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, by their nature, we’re going to reach and connect to the 3%ers; what are we doing to reach and connect to the 97%ers?

As always, if you have a question, comment, or suggestion, please comment or send me an email!

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