No Sidelining Here: Sports is Education

Traditional education often sidelines sports and extracurriculars, but IMG Academy prioritizes holistic development, shaping well-rounded individuals for success in sports, academics, and life.

Topics in this article
Confidence , Focus , Handling Pressure , Resilience , Commitment

Why is it that we are so often led to believe that academics = education? Who decided this equation for education? Is it right?

As a former student-athlete, as a parent, and in my role now at IMG Academy, I see the equation very differently. “Traditional” and certainly “elite” education groups, have a habit of assigning sports (and other important “extra-curriculars”) a significantly lower priority than core academic curriculum. Case and point, we’ve all been led to call these activities “extra” curricular. Recently, savvy educators have decided “co-curricular” is more apt language, but the reality remains that most K-12 schools define “education” as largely synonymous with “academics,” and the rest being “extra.”

Yet, ask college admissions officers or corporate hiring managers, and you will hear all the reasons why athletes and performers of all backgrounds are valued and sought after in all kinds of college and career environments. Student-athletes being sought after is more than anecdotal; student-athletes have been studied and show better academic, career and life satisfaction outcomes and better mental health outcomes than their peers.

So, what is it about sports that produces these strong outcomes? I often ask parents this simple question, and I have found that most parents intuitively know the answer. The answer almost always comes as a discussion around critical life skills attributes.

The second question I ask parents: are these life skills being intentionally taught, or are you hoping they’ll happen to be caught through a sports environment? When pushed, I have found that very few schools, coaches or parents believe that these skills are being actively and intentionally taught, measured, and improved. What if schools approached algebra in this passive way, how would it go?

No doubt, sports are a great environment to “catch” life skills. I certainly believe that IMG Academy provides the most intensive and unique sports-education environment on earth, but environment alone is not enough. In addition to our one-of-a-kind on-campus environment and our hundreds of amazing coaches, academic teachers, and other teammates, we are the only K-12 school in the world with 100+ dedicated staff whose sole job is to focus on developing the mind and body of our student-athletes. Developing life skills. We call it “athletic and personal development”, or APD for short.

We are on a mission to name and define some of life’s most important skills, create curriculum, and reinforce learning through direct application on the field of play. We are on a path to teach and measure life skills the same way we do for core academic programming. Teaching algebra and teaching resilience are both possible; the education world does one very well and the other almost not at all.

We are so passionate about intentional development of life skills that we have invested in online products allowing families anywhere in the world to access this education online via IMG Academy+, and we are working with global education leader Nord Anglia Education to make this IMG Academy curriculum more widely accessible.

In this effort, I believe we can form important bridges between sports and academics, to create great educational outcomes.

Intentional Life Skills Development

Through decades of research, the performance experts, coaches and teachers at IMG Academy identified five key attributes that are especially vital for student achievement and well-being. These attributes include (1) commitment, (2) confidence, (3) focus, (4) handling pressure and (5) resilience. Our approach to developing these attributes is intentional and structured; we do not take any chances when it comes to ensuring student-athletes are getting the most out of their sports education experience.

When I walk the halls of IMG Academy, I see classrooms with mental performance coaches giving student-athletes concrete advice on how to manage emotions. I see leadership coaches with a team in a circle, working on understanding identity: who am I? Who do I want to be? I see nutritionists explaining the fundamentals of nutrition and the definition of a “performance plate.” When I walk the fields of IMG Academy, I see soccer teams doing drills that increase pressure and likelihood of failure, and I hear a mental performance coach working hand-in-hand with a soccer coach to teach tactical mental tools that student-athletes can use to better handle pressure and failure. And, when I talk to parents who work with an IMG Academy+ online coach, they tell me how these tools transcend sport and translate to better academic performance, anxiety management and confidence in their kids.

When student-athletes utilize any of IMG Academy’s on-campus or online education experiences, our purpose is to help them win their future. That extends well beyond the field of play, and into the game of life. We want our student-athletes to feel confident that they can manage and thrive in the game of life; that they have the ability to overcome setbacks and remain optimistic in the face of pressure or doubt; that their voice, agency, and purpose are established and expressed with intent.

Winning their Future

Behind my desk is a handwritten note from the first week I joined IMG Academy, reflecting what I hoped IMG Academy could stand for, and it aspirationally reads “we can be the most important sports education brand in the world.”

The “sports” qualifier to “education” is something the traditional academic universe gave to us. When I joined IMG Academy, it felt to me that the education world wanted to qualify our IMG Academy offering as something other than great education. It was an asterisk. But why?

Today, I believe that IMG Academy is one of the more unique offerings in global education, and I simultaneously believe that we are providing among the best holistic education experiences in the world. We are seeing the outcomes to back that up. With 100% graduation rate and 80% of our student-athletes (15x national average) finding college roster spots as our base, we are also perhaps the only school in the world that sends 5-10 students to the professional leagues and 5-10 students to the Ivy leagues each year. From our boarding school, we routinely send 25+ graduates to top ranked academic universities annually, and inclusive of our NCSA college recruiting platform, we are helping 30,000(!) student-athletes find a roster spot each year. Across our products, we are providing an education and a matriculation pathway for all student-athletes to find a great college fit that suits who they are and what they want to achieve in college and in life. Everyone is on their own path.

We have seen an embrace of our approach to holistic education. With boarding school applications and enrollment at record levels, with the addition of new sports on our campus, and through our sports camps and IMGA+ online coaching and NCSA college recruiting offerings, we are now enrolling 100,000+ student-athletes each year under the IMG Academy brand. Families are telling us that their equation for education is evolving, too.

As a fellow parent, executive and on behalf of the entire IMG Academy team and our mission, I am proud of the education we are providing at our world-class boarding school, and I could not be more motivated to continue to increase the accessibility of our brand, impacting more lives, via camps, IMGA+ digital coaching and NCSA college recruiting products. Our purpose is to empower student-athletes to win their future, and I am proud to be doing that every day with this incredible team.

Brent Richard

Chief Executive Officer, IMG Academy

Brent Richard’s vision as president of IMG Academy is to transform IMG Academy into the world’s most impactful education brand, with life-changing experiences, available to any student-athlete who believes in the power of sport as a platform for life. He is passionate about the value of holistic education through the lens of sport and improving and growing IMG Academy’s heartbeat boarding school experience, while simultaneously creating new student-athlete experiences online and internationally. Through its suite of connected sports education experiences, all under the powerful IMG Academy brand, all benefiting from IMG Academy’s half-century of expertise, IMG Academy is now helping families and student-athletes all around the world.

Want to learn how to improve your ability to handle pressure, focus better, and become more resilient? Explore IMG Academy+ mental performance coaching.

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