The world of athletics is rapidly changing. The establishment and growth of “pay to play” club sports opportunities at a young age promotes performance-based development and success. Many club sports programs are transactional in nature, focusing on winning results, college recruiting, and NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals. It seems that professional sports have bled into college sports and high school sports are now replicating the level of professionalism of Division I college athletics. Now, more than ever, it is critical to maintain focus on education-based athletics and developing student-athletes holistically.
I became the Athletic Director at Bishop’s in June 2021 shortly after our Board of Trustees had approved our new strategic plan. As I transitioned from being a public school athletic director to an independent school athletic director, I realized that our strategic plan and Episcopal values would be my “North Star” for developing our athletic department programming. Education-based athletics focuses on the development of the complete student-athlete at every level and is not results-driven. At Bishop’s we are very clear about our values of integrity, compassion, inclusion, and justice. These values are rooted in our Episcopal identity and inform all aspects of our program include athletics.
From an outsider’s perspective, high school athletics is a daily grind of practices and contests. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to integrate the School’s mission and values into our athletics program. My head of school often tells our students, “In order to do well, you need to be well.” Well-being is at the core of the Bishop’s strategic plan and is the cornerstone of our athletics program as well.
From our website, Bishop’s describes well being:
WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WELL-BEING? A state of being associated with high life satisfaction, a sense of purpose, and ability to manage life’s ups and downs. It allows one to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, form positive relationships with others and themselves, and contribute meaningfully to society.
At Bishop’s, there are four components to well-being for students:
- Emotional stability and satisfaction
- Meaningful relationships and connection
- Physical health and wellness
- Spiritual belief by which mean a connection to something greater than oneself, and that helps guide one’s actions to align with their morals, beliefs and values
In our attempt to focus on the well-being of our student-athletes, we decided to focus on their daily eating habits. Bishop’s provides a healthy snack and school lunch daily to all of our students, but we realized that we needed to also provide a healthy snack option after school for pre- and post-practice and competitions. We now offer a “Grab and Go” fueling station along with educating our coaches, parents, and student-athletes regarding healthy eating habits for athletes. To foster our second layer of development, we have created a “Captains’ Council” to work on team culture, building relationships and community. Intellect is one of our school’s core values and integral to adolescent learning and development. We have made a commitment to develop our student-athletes with the use of video technology and analysis through the use of AI coding and analytics.
There is so much more to high school sports than just the wins and losses. Creating an athletics department culture that aligns with the mission and values of the school is an impactful way to support all student-athletes at any age and performance level.
Paula Conway is Director of Athletics at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, CA.