Ask any student what their favorite part of high school is, and more often than not, their answer would be ‘sports.’ It brings the school together, it adds excitement, and some may even argue that athletics can even help keep students focused on their future.

At Chandler’s Hamilton High School – one of the most athletically talented public schools in the state of Arizona – sports are more than just sports. They help students guide themselves through the stress of high school, and the school’s athletic program helps keep them on the right track.

Most of the time, high school is the last chance for athletes to participate in their chosen sport, while some go on to play at the collegiate or professional level. Students know that this could possibly be their last time to participate in a game or a meet, and they are aware of how important athletics are to themselves, not only physically, but mentally as well.

Athletics Motivates Students

Statistically, high school athletes do better in school and are more prone to stay out of trouble. Usually, there is an academic and conduct rule that prevents students from failing classes or getting in trouble too many times and still being allowed to play or compete.

“Many of the extracurricular programs have requirements for grades, attendance and conduct, and that helps encourage and guide students,” Camille Casteel, Chandler School District Superintendent, said.

Student athletes are also more likely to participate in more than just one activity in high school, whether it be another sport, club or community service.

“The high school student athletes do community service in the junior high and elementary schools, and are wonderful role models as well,” Casteel continued. “Students who are engaged and more involved in school beyond the classroom are typically more successful in the academics.”

At Hamilton, student athletes are expected to have grades no lower than a C, and to be present in all classes unless they are excused. The administration implemented these policies in order to increase active student participation, both in the classroom and on the field.

Coaches Do Matter

The argument isn’t necessarily whether the coach is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but whether the coach makes an impact on the student athlete.

Schools are quick to replace their coaches if there are a couple bad seasons or if the coach doesn’t click with the team, more so in college than in high school, but it does cause an impact on student athletes. They form a bond with their coach that is never really seen in any other type of relationship.

But coaches aren’t just there to make sure a team wins games. They help shape their players into great athletes and great students. They try their hardest to make sure their athletes are succeeding not only in a game or meet, but in the classroom and out in the community as well.

“My varsity lacrosse coach was the best coach I ever had in my whole career of any sport I was involved with,” Marissa Hill, ASU lacrosse student athlete, said. “For the time I had with her, she challenged me to be a better person, student, athlete, teammate and daughter. She had given us tasks that were very tough, but still were capable of reaching if we were willing to work hard for it.”

Countless coaches double as teachers, especially in public schools, and they use that opportunity to connect with their athletes outside of practices and games. They help make sure that student athletes are actively participating in class and getting good grades, while also staying out of trouble and being able to play and compete. Many coaches hope to see their athletes go on to play at the collegiate level, which is exactly what Marissa Hill is doing.

“In college sports, they expect you to know what is coming your way and you don’t really get a warning of how difficult it’s going to be, but having experience and that I was already aware of what was expected of me, my coach in high school had me well prepared for the things that were coming for me in my years of playing in college,” she continued.

Coaches also can serve as an outlet for many student athletes, allowing athletes to come to them to talk about issues without any pressure.

“There’s things that you can tell your coach that you’re embarrassed to tell someone else,” a Hamilton athlete said. “You can get something off your chest without having to go too far out of your comfort zone.”

Athletics Build Character

By simply participating in school sports, students are exposed to different types of people and attitudes from all backgrounds. The coaches might be tough, and the teammates might beg for a day off, but by working through hardships – whether they be a hard practice or a discrepancy within the team – student athletes are left with more life lessons and greater experiences that they would otherwise not get if they were never involved in athletics in the first place.

“People had always told me that sports in high school will shape you to be more disciplined with whatever I decided to do later on in my life,” Hill said. “I think sports in high school made me a better person as time went on.”

Especially in high school, students in general are experiencing some of the rockiest years in their lives. They’re going through changes, both physically and mentally. School can be hard, and there can be drama within friend groups. Athletics can serve as some sort of anchor to help student athletes keep life in perspective, and to remind them what is actually important to them in the scheme of things.

“I still remember the long and late night practices that I had spent with my teams and coaches,” Hill continued. “I had learned so many life lessons from those practices alone.”

Not only does athletics help expose student athletes to more experiences, but it also helps them grow mentally as both a student and a person. Hamilton is overwhelmingly successful in their athletic program, and student athletes realize this. They use it to their advantage, channeling that success into their personal gain.

“Success does breed success,” Ken James, Hamilton High School Principal, stated. “Success is a motivator for many of our teams.”

Athletics Brings in Recognition

Many students begin to participate in athletics in hopes of furthering their athletic career, either in college, going into the professional leagues, or even coaching. It is the hope and dream of many, and high school sports are a good stepping stone for them to begin to follow their dreams.

At Hamilton, recognition comes easy. Multiple sports have successful seasons year in and year out, and it’s simple to have some sort of community fan base. Many restaurants and stores show their support for the Huskies, and multiple news outlets pick up stories on a Hamilton team’s success. The positive impact of athletics on the school can prove that there are more to schools than just fights and disruption, which often make headlines. It shows that student athletes can still do good and make their school and team proud.

Family and friends also tend to rally around student athletes, which helps them keep on track and remember what is important. When family members or close friends are watching them succeed and doing well in their sport, student athletes want to keep up their performance, and they generally would be less likely do anything to put their reputation in jeopardy.

Athletics Promote Accountability

Accountability is something that is instilled in children beginning in elementary school, but participating in athletics helps students be accountable for not only themselves, but their team as well. By joining a sport, and thus a team, student athletes have more than just themselves to look out for. They have their team to also lean against, and even use as a type of crutch if things get hard for them.

“Students are more accountable for their actions while being part of a team,” James said. “Being part of a team helps students understand the importance of being responsible and helping others.”

Because athletics put a tight time constraint on students, with practices and games or meets, students need to be able to properly complete their assigned tasks, such as assignments, practices or even a job.

“Students have to learn to manage their time to be productive.” James continued.

The responsibility of a team can help prevent student athletes from getting in trouble, possibly in fear of missing a game or letting their team down. Usually, athletics is a pretty powerful deterrent to keep students out of trouble, preventing them from making the wrong choice.

In many situations, athletics help serve as some sort of ‘saving grace’ for students, giving them a reason to stay out of trouble, and to work harder at bettering themselves than they normally would, if not for their team.

Athletics are more than just ‘athletics’

For most, sports are their livelihood. It’s the reason why they stay out of trouble. It’s why they work so hard for what they want. Athletics promotes skills that otherwise are left untapped, and it’s about more than just winning games. It’s about the behind the scenes, where student athletes skip a party for a game, or go to the library instead of a friend’s house, or even get off the streets for practice. Sports can save lives, and give students a second chance at turning their life around to become a better person.

There’s a reason why sports mean so much to student athletes. It’s become a part of them, and they’re more than willing to own up to it and tell you all about it.