Last week, we considered the “why” behind mission-aligned ancillary programs. This week, I’ll share a personal example from the cross country and track and field programs I currently lead or have led.
While this post is narrowly focused on a running program, the overarching ideas can be applied broadly.
My hope is that you’ll be inspired and given fresh ideas for how to intentionally integrate any program — whether sports, drama, business clubs, music programs, or anything else — into a Christian school environment.
Intentional Mentorship And Discipleship
Discipleship is a crucial part of what we do each day in our running programs.
Parent satisfaction survey after survey shows that discipleship is super important to parents in Christian school environments and is key to the school’s long-term success. Discipleship is also important to me personally as it is part of my life mission. You better be passionate about helping others get closer to God through whatever your gifts are if you want to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Mentoring and discipleship of students is a core value in all Christian education. Therefore, like other ancillary services, our running programs must provide unique opportunities to disciple students day in and day out.
Christian schools that focus on discipleship not only survive; they thrive. Years of evidence-based survey data support this critical point. Discipleship-based schools are stronger in the long run than schools that primarily focus just on more evangelistic matters.
Discipleship – helping student-athletes develop their faith – is the primary reason why I coach. Many studies show that students are much more likely to keep their faith in college and beyond if they attend Christian schools. Some evidence-based data even shows that the high school years in particular are critical for students’ faith formation, just before heading to college or the workplace. Said another way, if a child attends a Christian high school (or homeschool), they are more likely to retain their faith as an adult.
After doing detailed research on this crucial subject myself, I chose to coach and use my gifts at the high school level.
Supporting Classroom Learning, Strong Academics, And Faith
Before the cross-country race season each year, we set spiritual, academic, and athletic goals at the team camp. I tell the kids what I think their potential as a team is, and then the Captains of the girls and boys have a goal breakout session where they discuss their team and individual goals for the season. I don’t set the goals for the teams; team members set the goals after a group discussion with their peers in breakout sessions.
Inevitably, the teams set high academic, athletic, and faith goals each year on their own. Each team member agrees to go after their goals during this annual team camp. Individual and team accountability is established at this session among peers. However, much more than simple accountability results from these sessions. Belief, confidence, and faith in the team and individual goals grow stronger as teams bond.
For example, our girls’ team set high standards in all areas mentioned above in the summer of 2021—spiritually, academically, and athletically. They all agreed to the goals and came up with ways to support each other through thick and thin to reach their goals. Each day and week, the team prayed together, worked out together, and encouraged each other verbally and with specially written encouragement notes or small “secret sister” gifts at times.
The girls’ team won the state academic championship for cross-country in their division in 2021, and they won the state cross-country running title. The team GPA of our girls was 3.96.
Winning state championships in academics and athletics is never easy. The girls leaned on the Lord, worked hard, had strong faith, and encouraged each other all season long. Many life lessons surface when students go after an important goal as a team.
Team members also talk about growing in their faith at camp each year. This often takes the form of praying for each other, praying as a team, praying for other teams, and discussing strengthening their relationship with Jesus. Working in a team environment also builds character, teaches sacrifice for teammates and others, and encourages each student to lean on the Lord through all of the season’s trials, mirroring the challenges in life.
The point in bringing these things up is that the running program supports and reinforces academic achievement and other parts of the school vision and mission, as an “ancillary program,” a support function, if you will. Having formal ways to “live out” the school’s mission is essential, especially in high school.
We reinforce and do our best to support the strong academics, classroom learning, and most importantly, spiritual growth outlined in our school’s mission throughout the season and school year.
Keeping Emotional, Social Health, And Strong
The benefits of a running program go far beyond winning ribbons at a competition. It can actually lead to higher test scores.
Research shows a strong, positive correlation between aerobic exercise (such as running and swimming) and learning. In short, aerobic exercise increases circulation in the body which improves brain functions.
This academic benefit is not a theory to me. I’ve seen and documented the positive connection between running and classroom outcomes year after year. Aerobic exercise and a solid academic focus go hand in hand.
Consistent aerobic exercise also helps with ADD, ADHD, and even depression. I’ve had many ADD and ADHD students over the years who benefitted from our running programs.
Other reasons to consider running and aerobic exercise in school support programs include helping students…
- Sleep better at night
- Find relief from anxiety and stress
- Connect socially with friends
- Get a boost in energy and productivity
- Cope better with daily frustrations
- Develop confidence and self-esteem
Aerobic exercise through running helps students stay on track with more than competitive goals. Aerobic exercise helps students in many aspects in and outside the classroom. Even though it seems small, working out each day is another way ancillary services can help support the school mission.
Teaching Barrier-Breaking Performances
As future leaders, learning how to become a barrier breaker is essential. Learning specific strategies about changing the status quo is vital for leadership in all careers. Sports, including running, can help students learn how to break through personal barriers that instill confidence and leadership skills for a lifetime.
Next week, I’ll share with you a story I often tell to my students to help them break their barriers and see the real impact of a breakthrough performance.
What About Your Programs?
Perhaps your school doesn’t have a running program or any sports programs at all. While I am, of course, a huge proponent of aerobic programs, my goal is not to convince you to build a field or hire a coach. The goal is to help you see new ways to use any ancillary program to support your school’s mission.
I would be interested to hear from you. How are your ancillary programs (be it drama, music, sports) supporting your school’s goals? Or what ways could you imagine adapting your programs to be more mission-aligned?