I’m going to do a two part series on one of the most important topics I can cover! INCREASING PARTICIPATION IN YOUR ATHLETIC PROGRAM.
In this day and age of declining enrollments at many private schools, and complete apathy with teenagers at all schools, I think that it is safe to say that all coaches and athletic directors face what could be an overwhelming challenge to increase participation from your student body. If you don’t have a plan, it is overwhelming. If you have a plan, it helps you not be so overwhelmed by replenishing your roster each year.
This two part series will feature 5 keys to increasing participation in your athletic program. I’ve been a high school athletic director for four years. I had to face this head on as the school I was at lost FORTY, 40% of our students in a seven year period! That is a TON of kids! It was depressing for our coaching staff and athletes. It was sad to eliminate levels, and some programs because we didn’t have enough kids.
I finally took it head on, developed a plan and we had success. We increased athletic participation by 25% in the fall season, 23% in the winter season, and it went down a bit in the spring season because of a major coaching change in one of the sports. This increased athletic participation led to a school record FIVE League Championships!
The year before I started as the AD, we had zero League Championships. In the four following years, we won: 1, 0, 3, and 5! Nine in four years when they only had three in the four years prior to me taking over. Listen, I hope you don’t get me wrong here, it wasn’t all about the Athletic Director in place. But it WAS about the systems and procedures and complete overhaul of the athletic department that we put in place. Remember, we had this success in winning League Championships while LOSING a ton of students, 40% of them!
Here are five keys to increasing participation, two today and three tomorrow!
1. WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN!
Kids don’t want to spend their time in losing programs. They need to be a part of a winning program and culture. A vast majority of kids in this generation don’t care to be a part of a team unless there is something in it for them.
In this day and age when everyone wins a trophy at the youth level, and there seems to be a “national champion” around every corner, if your program doesn’t win, it won’t attract kids who are “on the fence” about playing.
2. GET YOUR NON-ATHLETES TO ATTEND GAMES
Increasing your non-athletes at the games and sporting events on your campus is a key to turning them in to athletes and participators!
The more kids you get out at events, the more popular your athletics becomes. If athletics is popular, kids will play.
One idea I had a few years ago was to start a “Fan of the Year” contest among our student body because I noticed that we just didn’t have a lot of kids coming out to support our teams. It’s hard to quantify in numbers how many more kids came out to games, but we did see an increase across the board in student participation. We had a point system and gave kids tickets when they came to games.
For example, going to a home football game was popular and easy, so kids would get one ticket. Going to a girls tennis match was not popular, and not easy to get to. They got three tickets. These tickets were collected throughout the year. At the end of the year we had a raffle, and gave away cash and prizes.
The “Fan of the Year” contest was a popular thing for us. Interestingly enough, the very next year saw a record number increase in athletics! In the fall season alone, 25% more kids played that next year!