This is Part 2 of a 2 part series titled “Increasing Participation In Your Athletic Program.”  Click here for Part 1!

The first two keys are:




If the kids on your campus feel and know that athletics is truly valued, and not just lip service, they will feel appreciated.  If they feel appreciated and respected, they will want to play.  If they feel as if the school is just using them, and they are just a spoke on the wheel, they won’t play.  Do you value your athletes?  If so, how do you show them that you do?

Celebrating Scholar Athletes.

One program I started at Capistrano Valley Christian was an Athlete of the Week Program.  Again, it was another way to promote the athletic program, while at the same time making kids feel important and valued.  Every Monday we would announce an Athlete of the Week from the prior week’s contests.

Coaches would nominate these athletes to me by 9:00 am Monday morning, and I would choose one.  Then, we would present them with an Athlete of the Week shirt in our 11:00 am homeroom, right there in front of the whole school.  We would brag about their accomplishments from the week before.  I would also do a short interview of them and put a profile about them on our website for one week.  They would be able to send this to all of their families and friends.

Athlete of the Week Sample Profile

Athlete of Week Sample Profile #2 – I would use this profile to create a document with pictures of the winner!


If your community is excited about athletics, the kids will want to be a part of what is going on.  If their family is at home talking about your athletic teams and programs, they will want to be a part of it.  If your athletic teams and department is respected in the community for pursuing excellence and winning championships, kids will gravitate towards that success.   Success breeds success.  Once that train gets going in your community, the kids at your high school who aren’t a part of it, will want to get on!

The community at large has GOT to know about what is happening at your high school in terms of athletics more than anything else at the school.  Athletics really does serve as the greatest promotional tool you have, and you must take advantage of it.

People hear and know more about athletics than your kids’ math scores and their homework; academic success rates aren’t published on a daily and weekly basis like your athletic scores and results are!          

A few ways to market your athletic program in your community:

  1. Coaches need to make sure they are reporting their scores after every single game to the newspapers.
  2. The athletic department needs to use social media venues like Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis.
  3. People want to see three things – people, action and results.  Make sure to keep these three things at the forefront of your athletic marketing.  People (pictures), Action (pictures and storytelling), Results (scores, statistics, storytelling).
  4. Use posters and schedules to promote your schedules and teams.  One program I’ve worked in the past will PAY you to create a poster and schedule by raising funds from local businesses in the forms of ads on those posters (see below).  This is a great fundraising opportunity, and a great way to promote your teams in the community.

    We passed out 1000s of these to our community to promote athletics. I had them made for free, while raising money for our program at the same time!

  5. Win!  Winning teams receive a lot of free coverage in the newspapers in the forms of stories and stats. The more you win, the more you will be in the papers.
  6. Community Appreciation Nights at major sporting events.  For about the last five seasons, I’ve had each home football game serve as a community outreach event.  For instance, we had a lot of military around our area in Temecula so I had a “Military Appreciation Night.”  All military and their families got in free to the game, and we honored them at halftime.  I’ve had a “Teacher Appreciation Night” where we honored our teachers and invited the media to cover the event.  This got teachers and their families to our games who had never been before!  I’ve had local football Pop Warner teams come and play at halftime.  This gets kids and their parents exposed to your program because they come to watch the game.
  7. Branding your logo.  Logo recognition in the community is a very important aspect of building your athletic program and identity.  Think about the images that are burned in your brain.  The golden arches, the Nike swoosh, the white coca-cola on a red background, the mouse ears.  Those logos don’t change, ever.  Is your school logo identifiable?  Is it burned in the minds of your community?

This is my alma mater's logo! I love it! Been the same logo since the early 90s!

My college alma mater's logo - Azusa Pacific University. Seeing this brings back great memories!

I’ve seen some schools have so many logos that people in the community have no clue who they are.  Logos, colors and team uniforms should be consistent from team to team on your campus.  When people see your logo on a hat, sweatshirt, t-shirt, bumper sticker, they should automatically know what school is represented.

8.  Community service projects.  Get your kids serving others in their community by helping to take          care of it.  This will garner an appreciation of what your athletic program and school is all about by those we serve.


A few of my football players serving the community in a warehouse where we were getting an event for Christmas ready for poor families.



Girls are notorious for joining a team just because their friends are playing. You must harness that approach!

Now that your program is: winning, getting kids to the games, celebrating your athletes and making your athletics an important part of the community, the hardest part of the job is done!  However, if you don’t get kids out on your teams, you have failed in one major area – that is participation!

I’ve been working with teenagers for the last 16 years, and one thing I’ve learned about them: Teenagers desire to be a part of something larger than them.  Most teenagers are thirsting for a group to belong to because they are lacking connection and meaningful relationships in “real life.”  They have 800 friends on Facebook yet feel lonely.

However, they aren’t outwardly seeking to belong.  A majority of them aren’t going to show and communicate this need to belong to a larger group.  Therefore, coaches must reach out to them, and encourage their players to reach out to the other kids in their own hallways.  Most often, the kids on your teams will be able to recruit the hallways better than the coaching staff.  But they usually need to be taught how to do this.


I’m going to do a two part series on one of the most important topics I can cover!  INCREASING PARTICIPATION IN YOUR ATHLETIC PROGRAM.

In this day and age of declining enrollments at many private schools, and complete apathy with teenagers at all schools, I think that it is safe to say that all coaches and athletic directors face what could be an overwhelming challenge to increase participation from your student body.  If you don’t have a plan, it is overwhelming.  If you have a plan, it helps you not be so overwhelmed by replenishing your roster each year.

This two part series will feature 5 keys to increasing participation in your athletic program.  I’ve been a high school athletic director for four years.  I had to face this head on as the school I was at lost FORTY, 40% of our students in a seven year period!  That is a TON of kids!  It was depressing for our coaching staff and athletes.  It was sad to eliminate levels, and some programs because we didn’t have enough kids.

I finally took it head on, developed a plan and we had success.  We increased athletic participation by 25% in the fall season, 23% in the winter season, and it went down a bit in the spring season because of a major coaching change in one of the sports.  This increased athletic participation led to a school record FIVE League Championships!  

The year before I started as the AD, we had zero League Championships.  In the four following years, we won: 1, 0, 3, and 5!  Nine in four years when they only had three in the four years prior to me taking over.  Listen, I hope you don’t get me wrong here, it wasn’t all about the Athletic Director in place.  But it WAS about the systems and procedures and complete overhaul of the athletic department that we put in place.  Remember, we had this success in winning League Championships while LOSING a ton of students, 40% of them!

Here are five keys to increasing participation, two today and three tomorrow!


Kids don’t want to spend their time in losing programs.  They need to be a part of a winning program and culture.  A vast majority of kids in this generation don’t care to be a part of a team unless there is something in it for them.

In this day and age when everyone wins a trophy at the youth level, and there seems to be a “national champion” around every corner, if your program doesn’t win, it won’t attract kids who are “on the fence” about playing.

My coaching staff celebrates our 2010 League Championship; one of five our school won that year. A record for the 35 year old school. Photo by


Increasing your non-athletes at the games and sporting events on your campus is a key to turning them in to athletes and participators!

The more kids you get out at events, the more popular your athletics becomes.  If athletics is popular, kids will play.

One idea I had a few years ago was to start a “Fan of the Year” contest among our student body because I noticed that we just didn’t have a lot of kids coming out to support our teams.  It’s hard to quantify in numbers how many more kids came out to games, but we did see an increase across the board in student participation.  We had a point system and gave kids tickets when they came to games.

For example, going to a home football game was popular and easy, so kids would get one ticket. Going to a girls tennis match was not popular, and not easy to get to.  They got three tickets.  These tickets were collected throughout the year.  At the end of the year we had a raffle, and gave away cash and prizes.

The “Fan of the Year” contest was a popular thing for us.  Interestingly enough, the very next year saw a record number increase in athletics!  In the fall season alone, 25% more kids played that next year!

My first game at CVCS, I could count the students at the game on two hands! By the time we implemented some of these keys, we would have a hundred kids line up to make a tunnel to welcome us back to the field after halftime!


I left a school in 2006 for a great administrative position at another school who had been recruiting me for a few years to coach their football team.  The good thing was we had nowhere to go but up as they went 0-10 in 2005.  The bad thing was that nobody cared about football there!  It was most evident at the first game of the year!

I had been accustomed to two great schools and programs where every Friday night was an event unto itself!  Families and townspeople and students and teachers and grandmas all came out to those games at those two schools.  We didn’t really have to do much to get people there.

When your program isn’t winning, you have to do something gimmicky to get folks out!  At least that is how it is here in Southern California, especially in Orange County where this school is.  There are 1,000 things to do every weekend.

So, I worked hard to give every one of our home games a different type of “theme” and outreach.  It turned out to really help booster attendance at our games.  For instance, our High School Teacher Appreciation Night – I had a few teachers that had never even been to a football game at their own school!  It blew me away.  Their first game was because we decided to honor them at half time!

Our school was a K-12 private school.  We worked hard to get those K-8 families out but it wasn’t until we had a K-8 Appreciation Night where we let them in free that we saw the biggest jump in fan attendance from that segment.

Check out the 2008 schedule to see what nights we had for our community!  I challenge you to do something yourself like this to bolster attendance at your games!  For those who don’t have to do anything like this, I’m jealous!


Sept 6 –  PRE-GAME BASH – 5:30  PM                                                                                                                Come enjoy some great  food and fun for the family to kick off the school year, meet some other families at the school and see the football team play.

Sept 27TEACHER APPRECIATION NIGHT                                                                                                                                                   Our Varsity Football Players show appreciation to their high school teachers!  Come learn more about our great teachers as they are presented with a gift at halftime.


Oct 3CHURCH/PASTOR APPRECIATION NIGHT                                                                                                                                                  Invite your church friends to attend the game for free to see your pastors appreciated at halftime                                                                                     

Oct  18CVCS ELEMENTARY AND JUNIOR HIGH APPRECIATION NIGHT   Come watch the elementary and junior high flag football teams play at halftime!    All CVCS Elementary and Junior High Families will be admitted for free!                                                                                     

Oct  25SENIOR NIGHT                                                                                                                                                                                    Show up early for a pre-game celebration of our senior football players and cheerleaders.   

I love the way we do Senior Appreciation Night. Here is Andrew Sears with his brother and folks. Photo by


Oct 31HOMECOMING                                                                                                                                                                                      One of our finest and proudest moments all school year.                                                                                                             Come early for the game, get a great seat for the half time Homecoming celebration!