Creating an Athletics Handbook that Reflects School Values

Corrie Mizusawa

The Brandeis School of San Francisco is proud of its athletics program and the contribution our student-athletes make in building a strong community. Athletics are an integral part of our educational program. Our athletics program is designed to help student-athletes develop the tools necessary for healthy competition, collaboration, teamwork, lifelong personal growth, and self-fulfillment. The Brandeis School of San Francisco Athletics Handbook


In 2010, I was brought in to The Brandeis School of San Francisco (formerly Brandeis Hillel Day School) as athletics director. As a lifelong avid athlete, I understood the important role that athletics can play in student development. At Brandeis, I found a community of like-minded colleagues and parents. However, at that time the school did not yet convey the way that its philosophy shaped its sports program as effectively as it could have.


One of my first tasks as athletics director, therefore, was to spearhead the creation of an athletics handbook. I did a lot of research to understand what other schools were doing, knowing that our handbook would need to share our department and coaching philosophies, expectations for coaches, athletes and parents, and key policies. Most of the handbooks from other schools were not as robust as we hoped ours would be. There were many ideas and questions our handbook needed to answer:

·         What do we expect of our athletes, coaches and parents?

·         What is our individual and team assessment policy?

·         What is our playing time policy?

·         How do our athletics department values and philosophy reflect the school’s values and philosophy?

Many stakeholders were involved in the design and creation of the handbook to help answer these and many other questions. Athletics staff, the head of middle school, parents, and the Brandeis marketing department all came together to share valuable information, ideas, energy, and commitment.


Overall, the primary goal for our athletics handbook was to establish the value of our athletics program. We needed to showcase how the school’s core values of integrity (ometz lev), kindness (chesed) and service (tikkun olam) complemented the character-building and life skills that come with athletic competition. When we laid these values out, this is what we determined.


Integrity – Ometz Lev

School’s core value: We act honestly and responsibly, even when it is difficult.

Athletics’ value:

·         Commitment: Our students will stay true to their word and compete honestly and fairly.

·         Goals: Our students will set individual and team goals and strive to achieve them.


Kindness – Chesed

School’s core value: We treat one another with empathy and compassion.

Athletics’ value:

·         Sportsmanship: Our students will win with humility and acknowledge defeat with grace while representing Brandeis in a positive manner.

·         Teamwork: Our students will work together to achieve a common goal and treat their teammates and opponents with respect.


Service – Tikkun Olam

School’s core value: We embrace our responsibility to serve our communities and help repair the world.

Athletics’ value:

·         Work ethic: Our students will develop a strong work ethic that will help them succeed.

·         Effecting change and growth: Our students will experience the positive impact their efforts can have on their team, their school and their community.


In addition to reflecting how the athletics program goals integrated with the school’s goals, we also dug in to articulate some other goals. For example, we ensure that our team sizes remain small so that we optimize student participation and playing time. These small teams allow students to participate with those of similar skill sets. We want our student-athletes to feel comfortable and be in an environment conducive to their success.


Once we had established the values and goals most important to the school and athletics department, we discussed key policies regarding participation on a school-sponsored athletics team. We felt it was pertinent to include information regarding team selection, skill assessment protocol and evaluation, commitment, the value of winning and losing, and playing time, among many other topics.


Throughout the creation and implementation process, we have gained a lot of insight into the value of this handbook. Perhaps most importantly, the handbook provides a foundation for everyone involved in our program—administrators, coaches, parents and athletes—that ensures that we are all on the same page with regard to our athletics philosophy. It establishes the value of the athletics program within the school and for our students.


The handbook has also been exponentially valuable in resolving conflicts, complaints or concerns. While we understand that not every situation is covered in our handbook, it provides a resource for resolving any issue by applying its philosophies, principles and guiding practices. Our coaches feel more confident in their decision-making knowing that there is a handbook they can use as reference. And each year we take parent feedback and revise our handbook appropriately. This is a living document that must constantly evolve to fit the needs of our athletic program and our school.


Here is some guidance for schools that want to create their own athletics handbook.


First, take a good look at your school’s overall handbook. What school values do you want to include/reflect in an athletics handbook? What does the school handbook say about your athletics program?


Then, clearly determine the goals for your athletics program. Is it to win? Is it to provide an activity for students that enhances their physical, social and emotional wellbeing? These goals are critical to guide how you craft the handbook.


As part of the goal setting, clarify what athletics means to your school. What is the purpose of having athletics? Why do you offer it as a school program? Offer your answers in the handbook to solidify the role athletics plays in your school.


Take a look at who else in your league has a handbook. What do theirs say? We compete in athletics leagues with schools that have similar school philosophies. As a result, their athletics programs very likely adhere to their schools’ visions, just as ours does. Articulate key messages and make sure that multiple stakeholders read through the handbook for clarity and consistency. Include the marketing department from the beginning to ensure that values are intertwined and that key messages are clear. Focus on connecting athletics goals with the core values of the school.


We at Brandeis know that our athletics program is an important extension and reflection of the school’s approach, philosophy and practice. Going through the process to create the handbook helped us clearly articulate how we want our student-athletes to approach both athletics and academics at Brandeis. It was an important process for us to go through together, and has helped us, as a community, reaffirm our values and commitments that will serve us today, tomorrow and in the years to come.

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HaYidion Athletics Winter 2015
Winter 2015