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Offseason Review of Programs Leads to Future Success

By Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA on April 16, 2019 hst Print

The closing night of the play, the winning shot of the final basketball game or the final lines in the last debate contest brings students to culminating celebrations. These are moments when students realize how their work and dedication has led them to their outcomes.

Leaders of high school activity programs may also feel a variety of emotions including anxiety, excitement and relief; however, coaches and advisors must not only provide closure to seasons, but they also must create routines that leave programs prepared for the next season. Establishing end-of-season routines allows programs to maintain their effectiveness, create smooth annual transitions and promote a sustainable culture.

Evaluate Inventory and Capital Needs

Probably the most important step in creating a sustainable program is generating an itemized inventory list to identify the condition of all materials. In nearly all programs, uniforms can become huge expenses, especially if they are not well-tracked. When schools issue textbooks, students have to sign them out and note the condition received. If the book comes back in a less-than-appropriate condition, new ones have to be ordered.

The same philosophy applies to team uniforms. Depending on how much use and wear occurs over a season, schools can create regularly scheduled replacements rather than emergency expenditures that are much harder to account for in school budgets.

There may be other capital materials that need to be assessed. Gym sports may have to examine the state of volleyball standards, basketball rims, scoring tables and scoreboards, while music programs may have to analyze wear on instruments and choir risers. What is important is to create a list of every possible program item so that it can be properly inspected. The goal is to make sure all materials are accounted for and safe so they benefit future participants.

When inventory is found to be lacking in terms of safety or appropriate usage, it is important to report it to administrators quickly so that they have time to help remedy the situation. Equally important is to identify long-term needs. For example, if the track pole vault pit has an average life of five to seven years and the wear after the third year seems excessive, this is the time to notify administrators so they can properly forecast future purchases or help design team fundraisers to offset costs.

Review Both Paid Workers and Volunteers

There are a number of adult leaders who assist with high school athletic programs. Whether they are paid or volunteer, it’s important to evaluate how these individuals work with your students. A few questions to consider: Do these leaders treat students respectfully? Do they demonstrate that they believe all students can improve and have a place on a team or club? Do they communicate effectively when student issues arise so that they turn into teachable moments for all?

Educational leaders need to establish a culture where everyone improves. This does not mean that leaders need to point out every flaw of every person, but rather work with them to identify areas of strength and potential areas of growth.

One of the benchmark questions when conducting an evaluation is to ask a coach, “What would it feel like to be coached by you?” This question can encourage reflection in coaches and activity leaders and can lead them to see their actions more objectively. In addition, collaboratively identifying one to three areas of improvement for activity leaders and coaches creates realistic, attainable goals that support a growth mindset of improvement.

Review Qualitative Data: Exit Interviews to Determine Health of Program

As stated in Charlie Campbell’s “Exit Interview” article (High School Today, September 2017), gathering information from students to review the state of an activities or athletic program can be beneficial. Asking students simple questions – “Did your coach show you he or she cared about your contributions?” – can reveal key characteristics of a sport or club.

If seniors are interviewed, they can share their four-year perspective. Interviewing seniors also gives program leaders an opportunity to collect relevant contact information to create an alumni database to keep them connected with the program.

Review Quantitative Data: Analyzing the Numbers

This portion of program analysis is sometimes overlooked, but it can provide key insight into sport and school student trends. It all starts with numbers questions:

  1. How many participants were in the program and how many tried out for the sport? This question can give an idea on whether a program needs to grow or collapse in levels of participation during the next season or at the very least encourage more current student recruitment.
  2. How many completed the season or left the team during the year? This question can lead you to identify any weaknesses in team morale.
  3. How many injuries did a team face? This can lead to additional sport-specific training for coaches to help prevent injuries.
  4. What was the team GPA? Finding the answer to this question and then comparing it to individual participant data may allow for coaches to create an academic mentoring program so that advanced students can be paired up with those students who struggle. In this scenario, both students have a vested interest in success as they both want their team to succeed and thus create a relationship that promotes academic growth and leadership.
  5. Were there any discipline or negative social media issues that arose over the course of the year? Analyzing this type of data allows coaches to reflect on the team culture and if there needs to be support in citizenship and character instruction.

Quantitative data is not nearly as fun to study, but it can provide a clear, objective viewpoint to create measurable goals. For instance, the robotics team may have an abundance of male participants. Making coaches and advisers aware of this type of data may give them more insight in how they can recruit additional students to better represent the school population.

Acknowledge and Recognize Those Who Help the Program

Running successful programs does not happen without a team of supporters. Parents, teachers, school leadership, community and even local businesses are connected to high school programs. These connections are valuable assets that leaders must cultivate so students can experience current and future success.

Acknowledging contributors can be as simple as drawing attention to parents at an awards night or having teammates create thank you cards for various supporters, but the importance lies in making sure the students have a voice in this process.

The Final Step – Reflection

Regardless of the role individuals play within a program, devoting time to reflect on a season’s challenges and accomplishments sets the stage for everyone to grow. When educational leaders create environments that allow people to meaningfully reflect and collaboratively create future goals, they allow all stakeholders to have the opportunity to find success and maximize their potential.