Bulldogs News · What Success Really Looks Like In Education-Based Athletics


It is our hope that this message will help better define what success really looks like within the Woodridge Athletic Department. However, before we define success, we must first realize that we are an education-based athletic department.  Remember that the education-based approach to athletics revolves around the idea that the coaches and leaders of our after-school athletic programs emulate and align their policies, procedures, and teaching practices with those emphasized by our teaching staff, tutors, counselors, and administrators each school day.  That way we are able to reinforce the values and skills which prepare our student-athletes for success beyond high school.

In education-based athletics, the definition for a “successful” season is much different than any other type of athletic experience.  Joe Ehrmann of the InsideOut Initiative refers to education-based athletics as “the space between competitive youth sports, and professional sports, and that space is seeing increased pressure from both sides to become over competitive and value the wrong things.”

When the experience of participating in a school sport is paired with what a student learns throughout the school day, a unique opportunity presents itself for our coaches and administrators. It is at that point where we’re able to impact our students’ lives in a positive way – that is, impact beyond the sole purpose of winning or even revenue production. Education-based athletics helps instill the values and soft skills (responsibility, teamwork, accountability, communication, leadership, empathy, problem solving, and more) that will help our students succeed beyond the classroom or field.

In athletics, the most immediate and clear-cut feedback is a win or loss from a specific contest or competition. The initial (and incorrect) thought when we discuss the education-based athletic approach is that winning – or even competing – becomes insignificant.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Winning has always been and still is important; with that, competitiveness is a real, usable, life-related skill. Our students need to learn the value of both. Whether a job, scholarship, or life event, at some point in our students lives, they’ll need to compete for something.  The ability to compete and perform in the midst of a stressful and arduous atmosphere is a legitimate, develop-able skill that is life-relatable.

Though, it’s important to remember that this act has to be balanced. While winning is extremely important, it’s not our only barometer of success when we look at a given season, program, etc.  As an education-based athletic program, we assess the overall program and look at many factors when determining that success. This is fundamentally different than professional organizations who make business-based decisions on how much revenue is generated.  This gives us the unique, yet somewhat daunting task, of assessing what our programs offer to our students outside of competition. Furthermore, a sports environment is dynamic and unpredictable. In part, that is the reason we love them so much! But, it can also – at times – give us a distorted view of success … if we only base success on wins and losses. The reality is that we don’t know how the weather will affect a contest, or how an official may officiate a game, or how one, two, or any number of variables may adversely affect the outcome on the scoreboard.

That is why it’s increasingly important for us to develop other criteria for success.  With this in mind, we encourage all of you involved in our athletic programs to keep the following in mind when coaching young athletes:

  • Focus on building relationships
  • Intentionally work to build high purpose environments
  • HAVE FUN. Promote the idea of having FUN while playing the game
  • Communicate effectively
  • Build trust by communicating clearly
  • Act in a consistent manner every day
  • Physically and mentally prepare for competition
  • Focus on improvement over perfection
  • Promote: character development, problem solving skills, and game-based learning
  • Transformational over Transactional Coaching

If these are our barometers for success (and countless others that are impossible to accurately describe in just a few words) and are combined with developing competitiveness and the will-to-win, then our students will develop into well rounded individuals equipped to succeed beyond high school.

Sometimes our success can be measured immediately.  Sometimes it may take some time for us to understand the impact athletics has had on us.  In a world of instant gratification, this is not necessarily the norm any more. In reality, it may take 5, 10, or even 20 years for those early life-lessons to come to fruition and maintain sustained relevance.   

There is one thing we should all agree on: when our students know that the emphasis is on the right measures of success, plus they’re involved in education-based athletics, then we’ll be able to better prepare our students for success after they’ve graduated from Woodridge High School.

Thanks for your time. Have a great day!