Keep the focus on fun.
That was one of the main takeaways Oregon School District administrators and board members said they got from a spring survey of parents, guardians and students on athletics in the district.
The board discussed results, conclusions and next steps during its July 8 school board meeting.
District communications director Erika Mundinger said around 1,200 parents/guardians and 500 students responded to the electronic survey sent out in February to all district families and students in grades 4-12.
The survey was created to help the district improve equity in its sports offerings. Among the results were that 12 percent of socioeconomically disadvantaged students participate in sports and 3 percent of special education students participate.
But during the board’s 80-minute meeting, the board mostly focused on the reasons students choose to participate and to stop participating. And much of that had to do with the overall experience.
The results showed Oregon is similar to local and national trends on school athletics, OSD athletic director Mike Carr said, with having fun listed as “the No. 1 reason” to participate. He cited a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison study to back that up.
“Our kids aren’t that different than most kids around the country, they want to have fun and to improve their skills,” he said. “(We must) keep that at the focus of why we offer either sports at a club level or in the high school or middle school.”
Carr said for kids, winning isn’t the only thing. Or even the next-best thing. He said survey results showed too much emphasis on winning turns kids off to sports – something parents need to be mindful of.
“(Kids) wanting to succeed or win is the lowest-ranked (why they join), but it’s also the No. 1 reason why kids quit sports,” he said. “So I think we really have to dial back … and really talk to our kids about why you want to play sports … because a lot of times, adults, we’re the ones that talk about why you should do something instead of really talking to our kids.”
Mundinger said many reasons for not participating in sports focused on time, with students citing academic commitment, time conflict and stress.
“It seems like time was one of the things that came up consistently,” she said.
Another issue that “really bubbled to the top” in the survey, Carr said, was competing in multiple sports during a given year.
He noted that half of students reported feeling they didn’t have enough time to play more than one sport. Around 30 percent of parents said they felt pressure to have their child specialize in one sport a year, with a similar percentage stating they don’t believe their kids can “physically and emotionally” manage multiple sports during the same season.
Carr said it all comes back to understanding why kids get involved in sports in the first place.
“It’s stressful and it shouldn’t be, because if we go back to why kids play sports, it’s to have fun,” he said. “Are they playing a lot because as parents, we want them to do that, or are they playing because they just want to have fun?”
Last month, the 13-member Youth Sports and Athletics Task Force the district created to guide its drive for equity focused on parents’ role in adding to that pressure. It has been working on slogans and marketing materials to remind parents to back off.
Mundinger said the district will share the survey information with parents, coaches, students and community members and work to create new programming and opportunities for families not involved in sports.
Board member Krista Flanagan said the district has a “real shot to help move the needle here” with the emphasis on equity and access.
“Like so many other things, we can be a model for communities around us, because this is really important stuff,” she said. “Not everyone has to be a ‘sports kid,’ but just physical activity and just how we view that educationally (is important).”
Board president Steve Zach, citing the OHS girls soccer state championships in the past few years, said good sportsmanship and winning are not “mutually exclusive.”
“And that’s the message we want to get out,” he said. “Facts will go a long way toward changing the culture, which is what we want to do. When the school gets behind it and a group of parents get behind it on a consistent, early, systemic basis, then we develop than ongoing culture that will change.”