Why Playing for a Greater Cause is More than Just a Game

Education-based athletics are about the human growth and development of all participants. Often times once a coach and the program have a purpose statement in place the question we hear is: “But how do I actually bring my purpose statement to life?” One of the simplest strategies is to play for a greater cause than just the outcome of the game. Now, while there are thousands of examples of games played for a charity, I would challenge every coach to examine how they intentionally impacted their athletes as a result of participation in such an event. If it was simply raising money, they may have missed the message.

The lesson of servant leadership is one of the most valuable any coach can share with their players. Real leadership in all walks of life is about serving others around us to make their lives a little better. Imagine a house, a school, a team, a community, a nation, or a world where everyone operated with this mindset. Creating an opportunity for your athletes to experience servant leadership is something you will never regret.

A few successful examples from local teams in our area are a “Dedication Game,” a Senior Citizen Clean-up Project and a Tackle Cancer game. These are just a few of the many that have had an impact far beyond the scoreboard. I have seen the dedication game concept done a couple of different ways and both have been extremely powerful. The first is the idea that, as a team, each home game was dedicated to a different cause. The student-athletes were instrumental in selecting the causes most meaningful to them. Throughout the week the team spent time with local resources learning more about the cause and how they could make a difference. On the night of the game the representatives of the local organization were the special honored guests of the team and at halftime, a fun activity was held in conjunction with awareness recognition information shared with all fans. The other way teams have done a similar activity is had individual players pick someone they are choosing to dedicate their game to for any number of reasons. For some, it is an opportunity to thank a loved one who has supported them and for others, it is a chance to share a cause they are passionate about. In both cases, the fact that the team was playing for something beyond themselves often brought out the best in all of them.

A second example is from a team doing spring clean-up work along with other special yard projects for senior citizens in the community. Of all the different activities this one involves the most physical work and also comes with the most appreciative recipients. This now annual tradition has created such a positive buzz in the community they are signing up earlier and earlier each year and the homemade cookies or glass of ice water serve as some of the best rewards possible. This activity is also a great teamwork lesson as each of these tasks requires all involved to play many different roles in order to complete the project.

A final example is a joint effort between rival schools who have annually come together to raise money and awareness for cancer research. In order to build on this opportunity, teams have joined forces in their own communities to host a number of fun activities the week of the game. In addition, the coaches and fans from both schools dress in the same T-shirts for the game in a show of unity. The messages shared throughout the week creates a great sense of camaraderie in addition to showing all involved that the real winner of the game is those who will benefit from their efforts—regardless of the final score on the scoreboard. This annual tradition has now grown to be one of the highlight events of the year for both schools!

So, when trying to bring your own transformational purpose statement to life consider some of these ideas and keep the focus on the cause—your athletes will most definitely remember the impact much longer than they will the score of any individual contest.