March 14, 2013 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Increasing athletic participation at your school

Five keys for encouraging non-athletes to take the jump into sports

Healthy athletic departments always have strong support from the school’s student body. You don’t want an atmosphere at your school where athletics is separate from the academic student body. When non-athletes are connected to your program, you have a better shot of encouraging more of those students to come out for sports down the road.

There are five ways to ensure the non-athletes in your school are just as connected to athletics as the people in uniform.

1. Win! 

Teenagers don’t want to spend their time in losing programs. They need to be a part of a winning program and culture. The sad reality is a vast majority of children 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, then don’t expect to attract students who are on the fence about playing.

2. Get your non-athletes to attend games. 

When non-athletes attend games on campus, you have a better chance of recruiting them for a sports team. Subsequently, the more students attending events, the more popular athletics becomes at your school, which leads to more participation.

One idea is to start a “Fan Of The Year” contest within your student body. This is something we did as we noticed dwindling student support for athletics teams. Go with a raffle ticket reward system. For example, going to a football game is a popular event, so reward students with one raffle ticket for attending. For less popular sports, give out more raffle tickets to those in attendance. Our girls tennis matches do not attract many fans, so we give three tickets to students in attendance at those events. Collect the tickets throughout the school year and host a raffle before summer break with cash and prize giveaways.

The school year after instituting the “Fan Of The Year” contest yielded our highest athletics participation rate in history. In the fall, we had 25 percent more students come out for sports than in the previous fall season.

3. Celebrate your athletes. 

When the students on your campus know athletics are valued, and you’re not just paying them lip service, then they feel appreciated. If they feel appreciated and respected, they want to play. If they feel as if the school is just using them, and they are just unimportant spokes in the wheel of your department, their desire to play dissipates.

Initiate an Athlete Of The Week program at your school. This is something I put into place at my previous employer (Capistrano Valley Christian School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.). Again, this is a way to promote athletics while making the student-athletes feel important.

Have coaches nominate a player from their teams based on the previous week’s contests. Make nominations due Monday morning. As the athletic director, you select the one athlete to recognize for the week. Announce the Athlete Of The Week in front of the entire school while bragging about this person’s accomplishments from the week prior. Conduct a short interview with the athlete and place a profile about him or her on your website for the week, which encourages the selected student to send the link to family and friends.

4. Market your programs in your community. 

When the community is excited about athletics, expect more students in your school to want to participate. When their families are discussing athletics in their homes, those students become motivated to be a part of this popular group. Quite simply, success breeds success, so keep your community informed of everything athletics-related in your school.

For better or worse, the community hears and knows about athletics more than math scores. Academic success rates aren’t published on a daily and weekly basis like sports results are. Understand that athletics serve as a phenomenal promotion tool for the school, so utilize it.

Here are some ways to market your athletic program in your community:

  • Have coaches report scores after every game to the newspapers.
  • Use social media (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) on a daily basis.
  • The community wants to see three things–people, action and results. Keep these three things at the forefront of your athletics marketing. Do this via pictures (people), storytelling (action) and scores/statistics (results).
  • Use posters and schedules to promote teams. There are programs out there that pay you to create a schedule poster by raising funds from local businesses via advertising. This is a great fundraising opportunity and a perfect way to promote your teams in the community.
  • Win games. Winning teams receive a lot of free coverage in the newspapers.
  • Host Community Appreciation Nights at major sporting events. Each of our home football games for the last five seasons has served as a community outreach event. For instance, we are situated close to a lot of military families in Temecula, so we host a “Military Appreciation Night.” All military and their families receive free admission to the game and we honor them at halftime.
    We do the same for teachers and invite the media to cover the event. This brings teachers and their families to our games who never have attended in the past. Don’t forget about the youngsters. Have the local Pop Warner football teams come and play at the halftime of your high school game. This gets youth players and their parents exposed to your program.
  • Brand your logo. You need the community to know your logo as soon as they see it. Think about the images burned in your brain–the golden arches, the Nike swoosh, the white text reading “Coca-Cola” on a red background or the Mickey Mouse ears. These logos never change. Is your school logo identifiable? Is it burned in the minds of your community members?
    Some schools have so many logos that it’s confusing to the people in the community. Ensure logos, colors and uniforms are consistent from team to team on your campus. When people see your logo on a hat, sweatshirt, T-shirt or bumper sticker, they should automatically know what school is represented.
  • Participate in community service projects. Have your athletes serve others in the community through service projects. This garners an appreciation of what your athletic program and school are all about by the people who are served.

5. Recruit the hallways. 

By following the first four steps, you have completed the hardest part of the job. Now, it’s time to actively increase the number of participants you have on your teams.

Teenagers desire to be a part of something larger than them. Most teenagers are thirsting to belong to a group because they are lacking connection and meaningful relationships in their lives. They have 800 friends on Facebook –yet feel lonely. However, they aren’t outwardly seeking to belong. A majority of them aren’t going to show and communicate this need to belong to a larger group, which means coaches and current players must reach out to them. Have players strike up conversations while also taking an interest in what the non-athletes enjoy.

Chris Fore, CAA, MA, is the former athletic director at Excelsior High School in Norwalk, California.

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