The Cambridge Christian School boys basketball team donating Christmas gifts and volunteering at the Boys' and Girls' Club of Tampa.
Successful athletic departments should strive not only to create productive members of society, but they should also have a plan in place to produce individuals who are prepared to serve their community. The best way to reach this goal is to provide student-athletes with hands-on community service experiences.
At Cambridge Christian School, serving the local community is explicitly mentioned in the school’s mission statement. The administration believes that community service is an integral part of a complete educational experience. In addition, athletics are an extension of the classroom and, therefore, it is vital to engage the student-athletes in community service projects to promote their growth and development.
The question then is what can be done to encourage and develop a sustainable community service culture in your school?
First, coaches must buy into the concept. It is impossible to implement a community service program if coaches are not supportive. The school’s athletic administrator may have to guide and encourage coaches to embrace the additional responsibility of community service. Just because the athletic director is passionate about community service does not mean that others will share that excitement.
Therefore, it is important to allow coaches to help take the lead when selecting community service projects. When the coach has the opportunity to select something he or she feels strongly about, it automatically creates the buy-in aspect.
Equally as important, student-athletes need to have a clear understanding of the purpose of community service and what exactly they will do. Coaches should offer detailed explanations of the activities and describe to the student-athletes how their service will positively affect individuals who they are helping.
At Cambridge Christian, the majority of community service projects are normally completed during the pre-season. This enables our teams to get to know each other and helps to build team camaraderie.
There are also times that service projects occur during the season. This is most often done if a need arises in the community that is brought to the attention of the administration or coaches. Service projects during the season can allow teams to disengage from the grind of a long season and can serve as a time to refresh and reconnect with each other.
When dealing with coaches and student-athletes, focus on the potential positive outcomes of volunteerism and community service. These outcomes can be communicated to the coaches in the annual coaches’ orientation at the beginning of the school year. The goals are also re-emphasized in weekly meetings and email updates. In much the same way, the coaches communicate these outcomes to their student-athletes in team meetings and email updates.
1. Health Benefits: A report by the Corporation for National & Community Service titled “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research” suggested that there is a relationship between volunteering and good health. In fact, it states that “those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.”
2. Team Building: As teams work together to complete projects, they get to spend time working toward a common goal outside of their particular sport. These projects allow the student-athletes to interact with their coaches and teammates in a different environment than they are used to and can gain a sense of achievement as a group. These outings can go a long way toward building team chemistry and a sense of commitment to the other participants, which can pay huge dividends throughout the season.
3. Leadership and Skills Growth: Community service projects give each individual a chance to rise to the occasion and assist others. Often during these projects, athletes can demonstrate and develop leadership ability even if that is not normally their role within the team. Volunteers also have a chance to showcase their talents outside of the given sport they are playing. Inevitably, there will also be some challenges when performing community service that allows for team members to work on problem-solving as a team.
4. Positive Publicity: Although publicity and recognition should not be the main impetus behind community service, it is often an outcome of giving back to the community. Community service projects help to build awareness and community trust. By doing a good job with community service projects, teams can have a direct impact on how members of the surrounding community view their school.
Coaches should attempt to find volunteer activities that pique the interest of their group. In much the same way that coaches are given input into potential projects, ideas should be solicited from members of each team. For any community service initiative to be sustainable, there must be an interest and investment from the key players involved.
Another way to create a culture of community service is to start a competition among teams in your school. Many coaches and student-athletes love competition since that is one of the reasons they are involved in athletics in the first place. A competition format for a community service program could be structured in several ways:
For these formats, the amount of hours volunteered would determine the winner based upon the highest number of average hours per team member. Every team could be encouraged to participate in at least one community service project per year.
When attempting to create a culture of community service, be sure to emphasize the benefits that can be gained not only by those you help, but also by the volunteers themselves. A strong culture of community service helps build robust teams and camaraderie within your program. A vibrant community service program will teach students to use the platform of athletics to give back to those who are in need.
Chad Goebert, CAA, is the athletic director at Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, Florida.