By Ken Abramczyk
Richard Briggs learned early in his life that playing sports strengthens the mind, body and soul.
“The good habits and discipline learned through proper coaching and participation tend to ‘stick’ with you throughout your life,” says Briggs, athletic director and head basketball coach at The Cottage School. “Not only are athletics a stress reliever, but also they create social opportunities, provide an outlet for energy and develop competitive drive.”
Parents often look to sports programs for their children to learn discipline, teamwork and socialization. Athletic directors, coaches and physical education teachers at private schools in the metro Atlanta area recognize the importance of K-12 sports as a catalyst for students to grow and prosper into adulthood, getting a jump on learning life’s lessons about winning and losing. Here, we talk to several coaches and officials from Atlanta private schools who share their thoughts on the benefits of K-12 sports.
2000 Holcomb Woods Parkway | Roswell, GA 30076
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Coach and athletic director Michael Deubel says coaches at Atlanta Academy teach students to support each other regardless of the outcome. He says, “In turn, they learn how to have empathy for others as well as understanding and acceptance of challenges and decisions.”
He also notes that students are encouraged to try a new sport, stating, “Participating in a new sport teaches them not to be afraid to fail and may create an invigorated love for something they might have never tried.” Those students also build self-confidence. What’s more, leadership skills are nurtured and developed with the idea of coming together for a common goal. Commitment and responsibility towards teammates are emphasized, and students learn problem solving and communication skills.
Deubel notes, “We work hard to use sports to create a cohesive group of students where teammates rely on each other to build trust and navigate various life situations with reflection, strategy, empathy, encouragement, celebration and positive attitudes.”
Atlanta International School
2890 N Fulton Drive NE | Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 841-3840 | Visit Website
While children gain greater cardiovascular health and increased development of motor skills and spatial awareness, eye-hand coordination and musculoskeletal growth, it’s important not to overlook the socio-emotional benefits of playing sports, says Reilly Campbell, director of athletics at Atlanta International School (AIS).
“Through sports, children learn teamwork and a better understanding of others’ social cues, and there are proven links to reduced childhood depression and an increase in developing a positive self-image,” Campbell says. Coaches at AIS aim to teach student athletes about navigating the complexities of today’s world, and participation allows children to learn to work with others.
“By just showing up to practice on time, athletes learn the life lessons of timeliness, the discipline of sticking to your commitment and the understanding of personal sacrifice for a greater good,” Campbell adds. And as they acquire new skills and grow as athletes, children learn how to take instruction and sometimes criticism and channel positive energy and empathy by helping a teammate learn.
The Cottage School
700 Grimes Bridge Road | Roswell, GA 30075
(770) 641-8688 | Visit Website
Richard Briggs, athletic director and head basketball coach at The Cottage School, says student athletes learn goal setting, accountability, teamwork, patience and tolerance. He continues, “Relationships that can last a lifetime are forged during practice and on the court of play.”
Briggs’ notes that his own coaches were great examples for him. “I try to do the same for my athletes by teaching life skills that prepare them for the real world,” he says. “Overcoming challenges and being humble, open-minded and accepting of others is a natural byproduct of being part of a team.”
Additionally, Briggs says, analyzing plays and then executing those plays again helps students develop problem solving skills. “Discovering by improving interpersonal skills and becoming a valued team member and leader are as important as making the score,” he concludes. “Recognizing that the team is only as strong as their weakest member, and by encouraging the best from others and seeing the potential in one another, creates a collaborative mindset for a positive member of the team and in life.”
796 Lakeview Drive | Gainesville, GA 30501
(770) 532-4383 | Visit Website
Children benefit from sports in many ways, says Karen Towles, who coaches basketball, tennis and volleyball and teaches physical education to elementary-aged students at Lakeview Academy. “Individual sports allow children to challenge themselves by setting personal goals while working toward improving their skills,” she explains. “Team sports allow children to enjoy the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team—building trust and friendship while reaching for a common goal.”
Instilling good sportsmanship in young athletes as they are developing their own work ethic will help them learn to appreciate the game so much more, Towles says. And when children participate in competitive sports, they solve problems in new ways, which allows them to develop skills and build resilience. “It is sometimes difficult for children to accept that they may not always win or be first in the race and need to persevere to succeed,” she adds. “Through these struggles, children start to understand that discipline is needed to excel.”
The Lovett School
4075 Paces Ferry Road NW | Atlanta, GA 30327
(404) 262-3032 | Visit Website
Athletics develops discipline, time management, accountability and leadership that will benefit children throughout their lives—and not just in competitive sports, says Katie Johnson, assistant director of athletics and head volleyball coach at The Lovett School. Coaches were an integral part of Johnson’s development, so she tries to do the same in helping athletes develop.
She explains, “I encourage our students in goal setting and problem solving but also teach them to be accountable to themselves and their teammates, which helps encourage teamwork and self-motivation in each of them. Ultimately, we are trying to develop these student athletes to be their best selves and enhance the strengths they already have within themselves.”
These athletes learn leadership skills in their sport. Johnson continues, “It pushes you to be quick on your feet, encourages you to delegate and earn the respect of your coaches and teammates, but also to give that respect as well.” And when athletes work individually and the team works together towards goals, students gain confidence, which helps support strong mental health.
485 Toonigh Road | Holly Springs, GA 30188
(770) 926-0166 | Visit Website
Kevin Rein, who coaches cross country, basketball and softball at Lyndon Academy, says that children benefit through physical exercise, teamwork, responsibility, sportsmanship and discipline. “I try to teach them how to set goals and ways to work towards accomplishing those goals,” he says. “I try and teach them to balance their time and work ethic.”
Rein schedules events to help with team building, such as a retreat to St. Simons Island for the cross-country team to do a high/low ropes course and activities to help with team bonding. Rein also talks to them about nutrition. Additionally, the basketball team attends a game at the University of Georgia.
Volleyball coach Pam Bonitatibus says she tries to teach athletes dependability, responsibility, how to work through conflict, how to work with others and how to handle disappointment and exceed expectations. When they join the team, students know they make a commitment to themselves, the team, the coach and their parents. She says, “Building a team that is successful goes through ups and downs.”
Mill Springs Academy
13660 New Providence Road | Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 360-1336 | Visit Website
“We try to teach our students patience and how to support their teammates, effective communication, strategy and the importance of practice,” says Mill Springs Academy athletic director Taniah Jones. “We also strive to teach students how they can learn and teach each other lessons throughout each game and season.”
Jones notes that children benefit significantly from playing sports, adding, “They learn teamwork, they learn fair competition, they learn the grace to win well and to lose well, and they learn to work as part of a team.” And, of course, practice makes perfect. Jones concludes, “ learn through experience how to effectively use strategy and planning. Sports allow tremendous opportunities for learning and teaching. The students learn to work together and communicate well.”
Mount Paran Christian School
1275 Stanley Road NW | Kennesaw, GA 30152
(770) 578-0182 | Visit Wesbite
Mitch Jordan, athletic director and head football coach for Mount Paran Christian School (MPCS), observes that children develop life skills, particularly leadership, when they participate in sports.
“Leadership is a highly valued construct, and sports participation serves as a great environment for learning this skill,” Jordan says. “Coaches should allow young people to become active agents in their own development. Coaches should not try to dominate the sport environment.”
Sports teach not only basic skills to young people, ranging from simple forms of communication like eye contact to the more complex achievement of personal and group goals, but they also allow students to develop life skills through experiential learning. This includes working together. And Jordan believes, “Coaches should encourage players to develop a team vision and establish standards of behavior.”
North Cobb Christian School
4500 Eagle Drive | Kennesaw, GA 30144
(770) 975-0252 | Visit Website
Structured sports programs teach children perseverance, teamwork and grit, says Jimmy Keane, baseball head coach for North Cobb Christian School (NCCS). “Pushing yourself to set goals and to meet high expectations is a big confidence booster,” he says. “Student-athletes have the gift of looking back and saying, ‘That was challenging, but I pushed through with my team and achieved my goals.’ That’s a powerful life lesson.” At NCCS, athletes also are encouraged to keep Christ as the primary focus on and off the field.
North Cobb Christian School strives to bring players from all backgrounds together, modeling how to handle the pressures, peaks and valleys of being an athlete in today’s performance-obsessed society. Kristy Sanders, who coaches cross country and track and field, says sports lays a foundation to instill character traits, time management, discipline and team building. She notes, “The unique gift of running is that it’s a sport that meets children wherever they are physically. Cross country and track and field develop confidence within that, pushing children to do their best to compete and reach their next goal.”
5750 Long Island Drive | Atlanta, GA 30327
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PE Teacher Tiffany Orem points to a statistic from the Center for Disease Control that obesity affects approximately 14 million children and adolescents in the United States each year. “Playing sports can not only significantly reduce this number, but also instill a lifelong passion for movement and increase a child’s confidence,” Orem says. “In addition to the health benefits, playing sports encourages the development of new skill sets, which are sharpened as a child grows and advances. Children also learn critical life skills, such as self-discipline, teamwork, problem solving and how to interact amicably with their peers.”
Each day Orem works to provide opportunities for students to practice conflict resolution, problem solving, team building, socialization and self-discipline. She sets three goals in the program each year: personal fitness, learning new things and sportsmanship. “Taking the time to sit with your students and athletes during a loss and utilizing it as a teachable moment is, in my opinion, one of the most important roles I play,” she says. “So much growth can come from both winning and losing.”
4301 Northside Parkway NW | Atlanta, GA 30327
(404) 231-8100 | Visit Website
Coach Justin Cahill, who teaches first, third and fifth graders physical education and helps lead Fast and Fit, Trinity School’s after-school running club, says being part of a team builds self-confidence and a sense of belonging.
“The camaraderie, high fives, constructive criticism and words of praise from coaches help enhance self-esteem,” he says. “Children learn to socialize with peers and coaches. They create new friendships, which increase their social circle, which in effect creates more opportunities to socialize.”
Positive coaching and leadership help students understand that the experiences with the team and the coach, as well as the practices, are more important than the game’s outcome. Cahill continues, “This is when I have the opportunity to reinforce sportsmanship and integrity.”
Additionally, he says, “Children learn to negotiate and solve problems in real-time situations when on a team and during a game. Socially, kids learn to converse with friends, take turns and learn strategies to control their emotions when a game doesn’t go their way. All of these lifelong skills gain traction in their lives when they are transferred to the classroom, a playing field or home.”
The Walker School
700 Cobb Parkway N | Marietta, GA 30062
(678) 540-7229 | Visit Website
Sports prevents inactivity, which has only grown since the onset of the pandemic. “Sports offer a way to combat that , allowing students the opportunity to challenge themselves in preparation for their sports,” says Gary Nelson, head varsity football coach and middle school athletics director at The Walker School.
Sports offer an opportunity to learn teamwork, commitment and communication skills—and a time to unplug. “Because it is impossible to make a tackle, shoot a lay-up or hit a baseball with a device in their hand, one of the few opportunities students have to unplug occurs on the playing field,” Nelson states.
Furthermore, students who participate in sports are generally more engaged in their schools and communities, he adds. Student athletes participate in in-season and off-season strength and conditioning in every athletic program, learning nutrition and dietary wellness. And they recognize the value of their hard work in the context of a relationship with their teachers, coaches and mentors. Nelson says, “When they come to understand that their coaches genuinely care about them, they respond well to challenges.”
1662 West Rugby Avenue | College Park, GA 30337
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Sara Elliot, head varsity girls soccer coach and JV volleyball and middle school girls basketball coach at Woodward Academy, believes that sports help with both physical and character growth.
“Sports obviously are a great way for kids to stay active and develop coordination, but it is also a time for kids to develop perseverance,” Elliot says. “Our society is constantly trying to protect kids from failure. Sports are now one of the only areas in which a child can experience failure and learn how to bounce back from it.” Through sports participation, children can realize that overcoming setbacks and developing perseverance are possible and can bring “true signs of success.”
Athletics also allow students to discover their purpose, as they experience being a part of something bigger than themselves. Elliot says, “They not only get to work with a group toward a common goal, but they also get to learn how they influence others. It is really one of the only ways they can experience a sense of interdependence at a young age.”
Coaches at Woodward Academy strive to teach participants to display exceptional character, “do it and do it well,” show self-control and respect others.