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How Community Service Can Benefit Young Athletes

Being a student-athlete involves a great deal of time and commitment, especially at the high school level. If an athlete is one of the chosen few to play in college, that commitment becomes even greater.

So, when the subject of being active in the community to help others comes up, the initial reaction might be, “When would I find the time?”

Student-athletes may have a lot on their plate, but many still find the time to volunteer in their communities. Studies conducted by the NCAA in 2016 show more than 80 percent of college athletes volunteer at least once a year, while 44 percent give a few hours a month of their time to local and national organizations.

The list of opportunities for working in the community is as extensive as an athlete’s imagination. Athletes of all ages have pitched in to organize food drives for the needy, raise donations to buy Christmas gifts for less fortunate children or do chores for their elderly neighbors.

Some NCAA schools work with Team Impact, an organization that pairs chronically ill children with college teams. Children get to sign “letters of intent” and even receive uniforms, creating a special bond with their favorite players and coaches. One 11-year-old boy got the opportunity to sign a letter with the University of Kentucky, complete with his own press conference.

Many high school athletes are following the examples of their college peers. In recent years, athletes at Salem High School in Salem, New Hampshire, have helped raise funds for cancer research for Coaches vs. Cancer, and conducted clinics for athletes with special needs. Each team at the school chooses a service project. Once it’s approved by the athletic director, they can begin volunteering.

Rachel Denning, a 2014 Salem graduate, said coaching 10-and-under softball was one of the best activities she’s ever taken part in.

“It was very rewarding to share the passion I have for sport, and to serve as a role model for young athletes,” she told the National Federation of State High School Associations.

At Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, serving the community is part of its mission statement. The school believes since athletics are an extension of the classroom, student-athletes should engage in community service to promote their growth and well-being. Chad Goebert, Cambridge’s athletic director, believes it’s imperative coaches buy into this concept.

“Just because the athletic director is passionate about community service does not mean that others will share that excitement,” Goebert wrote in an NFHS blog post. “Therefore, it is important to allow coaches to help take the lead when selecting community service projects.”

Goebert adds that it’s equally important student-athletes be made aware of what they would actually be doing in their service work and the specific positive outcomes they’ll receive. These can include health benefits, team building and leadership skill development.

Since coaches and athletes love competition, Goebert recommends having contests among players and teams to see who can volunteer the most hours. No matter how you go about it, remember to emphasize the benefits of not only the ones being helped, but the volunteers themselves. Creating a culture of helping others is a win-win scenario for the athletes and the communities they serve.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

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Youth sports, team building, ethics in sports, high school sports, amateur sports, Coaches and Parents