Reasons Why I Coach High School Student-Athletes 

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Photo Credit: Steven Abraham

This article is a rather long post that outlines my reasons for coaching at a Christian-based school, in my case, JPII. 

Everyone is called to something different in this world. Each coach has a different mission when helping to serve others.                                                                                         

Here is my mission: “Help high school student-athletes reach their God-given potential in a Christian environment physically, mentally, academically, and spiritually through Cross-Country and Track and Field sports.”

Coaching is a calling, not a job, so I do my best to devote a lot of time to student-athletes.                                                              

None of the items below are ever done perfectly. Each day is a work in progress. And each year, we attempt to improve by evaluating program and community strengths and weaknesses.

REASON #1:  LIVING  FAITH OPENLY DAILY

Stopping what I am doing if students are struggling is very important to me and my coaching. I stop what I am doing and pray on the spot with a student if they are struggling and comfortable with me praying with them.

Praying like this is not possible in most other educational environments.

Being in an environment that allows you to practice your faith and prayer is life-changing, transformative, and a significant way to show others they are cared for and loved for who they are, not what they do.

Sports are a small part of the day that should be full of encouragement, care, and prayer for all aspects of a student-athletes's life, not just the next athletic event.

I am thankful we have the freedom to pray for others at JPII.

REASON #2 KEEPING THE FAITH

The most significant impact of a Christian school is the eternal one – students remain more faithful and church-attending after college – usually regardless of the college attended.

The 8,000-pound elephant in the room, though, is the sobering fact that 60-70% of kids – Church going, Sunday school/youth group attending who attend Government schools – are no longer engaged with Church upon graduating from college.

Some studies reveal the number leaving the Church is closer to 80%.

Five different researchers have found this percentage getting worse each year.

There Is Good News

For some church-going kids who attend a faith-filled Christian school, the number of “church-going drop-outs” is a fraction of that – less than 10% in some cases in the proper educational environment.

Understanding how to create an environment where faith flourishes is essential and mission-critical to faith retention. I spent many years researching why young people either lose or keep their faith through an organization I volunteer at still today. It’s that important to me as a coach and retired school superintendent.

Based on the information in this post, I decided my time was best used where faith is more likely to grow now and for a lifetime. It is an intentional choice to coach in an environment like JPII where faith can flourish.

Helping to keep faith strong is the number one reason why I still coach.

Although other issues unquestionably come into play, three significant factors contribute to long-term faith retention in an educational environment during the teenage years and beyond.

Factor One: Faith-Based Groups Or Teams Who Are Intentional About What They Teach

Weekly activities like a faith-based youth team (our faith-based JPII running group is an example) that focuses on having Christ at the center of activities are mission-critical to faith retention—having peers with similar values matters in groups and teams.

So does having written Christian Mission, Goals, and Values statements that you strive to implement each day.

Writing down what you believe and then pursuing those goals makes a difference in faith retention.

With a written road map, it is much easier to reach your destination. Goals, when written down and shared with the public, are more likely to come to fruition.

Accountability is for everyone to see when you share your mission and goals. People know if you are hitting your goals or not. You never do everything perfectly, but each day you strive to improve with a written road map for the present and future.

Government schools (even though some who work there would love to have a more opened faith-based environment) are not allowed to publish the type of mission, goals, and values statements described in the JPII Running link by state and federal statutes.                                                                                           

Private, faith-based institutions can post what they believe and then go after those goals with all their heart and soul.

Factor Two: The Availability Of Other Adults

The availability of other adults (people outside of parents with a similar worldview), i.e., a coach at a faith-based school, catechesis teachers, and other adult teachers at a Christian school who regularly attend Church to discuss faith matters a lot.

Worldviews matter in faith retention. Who you spend the most time with matters in life, especially in faith retention.

Factor Three: Proving Meaningful Spiritual Experiences Where Faith Grows

The third key factor is finding ways to provide deep and meaningful Spiritual experiences where faith is put into action.

We are very intentional about putting faith into action at JPII running.

We try to break personal and team barriers that seem impossible at first by putting our faith and belief in action through prayer, encouragement, hard work and leaning on the Lord.

We've had some unique and meaningful experiences in the last several years that had never been done before in several sport-related activities at the school.

Team prayer, stepping out in faith, and believing in each team member's God-given potential has helped create many personal bests, individual state championships, and team state championships. The credit and glory go to the Lord.

The environment at JPII enables a faith-based approach to sports and other areas of life—personal growth, service, academics, and so much more.

Learning to lean on God during significant challenges and goals is critical for faith formation. Faith has to find its way home from the head to the heart. Faith is typically sharpened amid a formidable storm when the going gets tough to reach a meaningful goal.

Keeping The Faith Summary 

Helping students understand and navigate their faith in their formative high school years is much more important than many realize.

Some studies indicate that high school is the most crucial time to help kids develop a strong faith and retain it for a lifetime just before they leave for college or start a career.

There is a much greater chance of retaining and growing faith if the three factors mentioned above are in place within an organization.

Coaching in a School like JPII enables the environment to help retain and grow a student’s faith.

Offering one small contribution to help build faith in a school was reason enough for me to coach in a faith-based school.

REASON #3: EVIDENCED-BASED CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

The character became quite the hot topic years ago with Paul Tough’s 2012 bestseller How Children Succeed. This book is entirely secular and explains why you should consider sending your kids to Christian schools. Yes, public and Charter schools are trying, but Tough notes:

"A national evaluation of character education programs published in 2010 by the National Center for Education Research, part of the federal Department of Education, followed seven popular elementary-school programs over three consecutive years. It found no significant impact from the programs -not on student behavior, achievement, or school culture". (Paul Tough, How Children Succeed, p. 60).

The challenge in government schools is getting policymakers, parents, and community members to agree on what character means. There is much more agreement about what character means in faith-based schools.

Another 2012 meta-analysis of 88 studies by Dr. Jeynes showed that only Christian schools on a macro level consistently deliver life-changing character traits such as self-control, optimism, gratitude, zest, curiosity, and perseverance..."

While America's Government school system gyrates from one academic and social reform to the next, the main reason Christian school kids lead college graduation rates is mainly agreed-upon character formation combined with consistent academic rigor.                                                                                                 

Academics + Character = College graduate.

REASON # 4: THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP IS ALREADY SOLVED IN CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS

There is much talk about the achievement gap in Education. The mainstream press rarely mentions this, but many Christian schools have already solved the achievement gap. I want to shout this from every mountain top. Solving the achievement gap, which is top of mind in education circles, is a big deal.

I've seen this first-hand for years, and this statement is backed up with plenty of evidence-based research. It is another reason why I work in Catholic schools.                 

Every person is a valued member of the community. This is huge for me as a Christian, coach, and community member. I am not talking about perfection here; that won't happen on this side of heaven. However, when I researched why kids generally succeed more in a Christian school environment, I was astounded on many different levels.

Stronger Academic Achievement in Christian Schools

To resolve essential questions in social science, meta-analysis studies are done. Meta-analyses are studies of studies. In the case of William Jeynes in Religion, Education, and Academic Success (above), 134 academic research studies were analyzed by statisticians at Harvard and the University of Chicago.

Jeynes' critical conclusion is that all traditional academic achievement gap issues (income/race) go away in Christian schools in intact families. In the case of a single parent, achievement gap losses are mitigated about halfway.

Jeynes attributes these achievement gap gains to the fact that religious schools will NOT lower their standards.                                                               

Why are these achievement gaps overcome in Christian schools? Jeynes' meta-analysis found four key reasons:

(1) More challenging curriculum / more complex classes

(2) Higher expectations of student diligence

(3) Solid overall student work habits/learning habits

(4) Spiritual and moral emphasis

So what is the opportunity for Christian Education? Graduates of Christian schools are better prepared academically, and the lower-income groups are 2-3 times more likely to graduate from college.

The Achievement Gap Solved

Let's dig a little deeper into one of the most talked about issues in all of Education. The so-called achievement gap.

The simple fact is that traditional achievement gap issues of race and income DO NOT MATTER in Christian Education with an intact family and are negated halfway in a single-parent home:

Jeynes (1999, 2002a, 2002b, 2003b) analyzed the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) and found that not only do religiously committed African Americans excel. Hispanic students do better scholastically than their less religious counterparts, but when one examines these religious minority students who are in intact families, the academic gap versus white students disappears (Bryk, Lee & Holland, 1993; Demo, Levin, & Siegler, 1997; Gaziel, 1997) International Handbook of Christian Education, p. 33.

This information comes from a “study of studies”: a meta-analysis is a correct methodology to resolve the big questions in social and other sciences.

To repeat: Achievement gaps go away in Christian K-12 education if the family is intact and mitigated halfway in single-family.                                                                                              

The fact that well-run Christian schools solve the achievement gap issue is enormously positive for individuals and society. Solving the achievement gap builds a true community for all people.

REASON # 5: There are Significantly Higher College Graduation Rates

In 2014, a major 10-year longitudinal study of over 15,000 high school sophomores by the U.S. Department of Education (N=15,000+) found that college graduation rates for Catholic schools were about twice that of sophomores in public school:

2002 High School Sophomore in Percent with 4-Year College Degree 10 Years Later

Public School 31%

Protestant School 59%

Catholic School 61%

Thus, Catholic-schooled young people in the example above are about twice as likely to graduate college with better life prospects due to some of the REASONS outlined in 1-4 in this post.

To summarize, every school type is different, with specific missions and goals. There are significant differences in the mission, goals, and objectives of educational institutions and even at the program level within those institutions.

Finding what's most important for every child rests in parents' hearts and hands. Choose wisely.

Blessings,

Coach Weber 

Philippians 4:13

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irratioal: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Cardus Education, every school type is different with Duncan, Greg J., and Richard J. Murnane (eds.), Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2011.

Ham, Ken, Britt Beemer, and Todd Hillard, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do About It. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009.

Jeynes, William, American Educational History: School, Society, and the Common Ground. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2007. 

Cardus Study, 2011

1.39 DH 10; cf. CIC, can. 748 # 2.

Adaptations from the work of Dan Krause, Grace work Ministries, including information from one of the most comprehensive surveys of parents of students ever conducted.


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