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Eight Ways to Use Your Student Athletes as Positive Role Models

and Why It’s Important

Whether they want to be or not, athletes are role models in our society despite the 1993 ad that Nike ran with Charles Barkley declaring, “I am not a role model.” Sorry, Sir Charles. Yes, you are. Barkley was attempting to emphasize that being really good at something did not make him a role model. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation disagrees. Of the children surveyed, 73 percent ranked famous athletes among the most admired people in their lives. Athletes followed parents, the very most admired.

coachThere are two kinds of role models— good ones and bad ones. There are no perfect ones. Even good role models are sinful and in need of the forgiveness that Jesus Christ so freely offers. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22–24).

Coaches and administrators can and should use the older student athletes in their schools to mentor the younger students. However, let’s not forget the pressure that those expectations put on middle school or high school students—students that are 12–18 years old. Students with brains that are not fully developed—especially that decision-making part of the brain. The trick is in finding a successful mix of utilizing the right athletes at the right time for the right tasks. Let us not forget that, in the process, these student athletes will require mentors of their own—mentors for the mentors. Being a mentor will be a learning process for these middle and high school students. And, when it all works out, it is a fantastic experience for everyone involved. You can use athletes from within your school or who have graduated (i.e., students in high school that attended your K–8 school; or college students too).

Consider these eight ideas.


Once you have identified your older student athletes for specific tasks, make sure they understand the characteristics of their new role. It’s fair to say that not all student athletes will be a match for these roles. If you are crazy and love to put out fires, by all means, launch your young athletes to mentor and volunteer without any adult supervision whatsoever. Expecting them to handle any of these situations on their own is setting them up for failure. It’s a fantastic way to lose your young volunteers and upset parents and probably some of your colleagues.

"Encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.” Titus 2:6–8Paul wrote a letter to Titus, a church leader, which explained the duties of young mentors. What follows is part of Paul’s direction, but you should take the time to read the entire second chapter of Titus. It’s seriously great stuff! “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Titus 2:6–8

Notice that Paul tells Titus to “encourage the young men.” He doesn’t tell Titus that these men will automatically have these characteristics. We must TEACH and ENCOURAGE them. Your student mentors should be able to accept responsibility for being present at scheduled times and for using appropriate language and behavior at all times. The young mentors will need someone to clarify what is age-appropriate for the group they will be working with and what kind of expectations to have for them. It might be helpful to provide them with techniques to manage the behaviors of the little ones, like simple positive reinforcement. Reminding the mentors to establish respect for the younger students will go a long way as they develop relationships. Many of the mentors have not experienced confidentiality matters either, so fill them in on the policies.

When coaches and athletic directors turn to their older students as role models, many great things can take place. As with all of our tasks, in order for it to work to the benefit of all, it’s imperative to take time to do the preparing and put the right people into the right spots. Take advantage of those fantastic student athletes with whom God has blessed your school, and watch great things happen.

Jill Schmitzer is a preschool teacher for 50 families at Trinity Lutheran School in Davenport, Iowa. However, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help direct the athletic department for the upper grades and spend time with the middle school students too. Jill has been blessed to be on all sides of the athletic arena…athlete, athletic trainer, coach, parent, and co-athletic director. Each day is still a learning experience.

Quoted Scripture: NIV®

Photos © iStock/FatCamera, asiseeit.