Athletics are a huge part of the daily life of military academies. Most military high schools require their students to be in a sport or a club every afternoon. Daily exercise not only builds health in this unhealthy world, but being a part of a team also helps cadets mature into more well-rounded adults.
We have interviewed coaches from five of the best military high schools to see what their plans are for this fall, both on and off the playing field.
The Military School I attended was a small school, which meant our teams were made up of more than just elite athletes that had been playing a sport for years. Cadets who may not have been able to play at their old schools were not only able to make the team, but to be a major part of it. Our coaches were also our teachers and had such an effect on our lives outside of practice and the classroom.
All Boys - Mexico, Missouri
Coach Kevin Farley is preparing his soccer team for a shot at the state title. Last year they made it as far as the state tournament. This year Coach Farley has scheduled harder regular season opponents to better prepare the team for the (very competitive) state title tournament.
As a former college player and college head coach who also played in the Navy, he knows the game but also knows his high school players and what they need to be successful. Success doesn’t just come from practice and stiff competition (though this helps.) Success comes from the teammates learning to trust each other and working together. They will have to overcome adversity as a team and this will make them better. This builds their self-confidence and helps them focus on the game and the game plan.
"Kids are afraid of failing and put too much emphasis on results, not the process."
"Kids are afraid of failing and put too much emphasis on results, not the process," Coach Farley remarks. "They need to learn from mistakes and failure. Athletics are a miniature model of life and you cannot walk away from tough times."
There is a huge difference between high school players and their college counterparts. College athletes have a purpose in being there and are very serious about the game. High schoolers have a lot more questions, and you have to earn their respect. He gives a lot of ownership to his players and treats them like young adults, knowing that sometimes they will fail. This helps the team believe in what they are doing. For the last few years the soccer team has been the most successful team on campus.
"Better today than you were yesterday, be better tomorrow than you are today."
As the Athletic Director who oversees all of the academy's teams, Coach Farley has two questions he continuously asks himself:
- Are the "Cadatheletes" safe?
- Are they getting a good experience?
75% of the new athletes are playing a varsity sport for the first time, and all cadets are encouraged to play multiple sports.
All Boys - Harlingen, Texas
Coach Elliot was a youth minister who was called to invest himself in young men at a very important time in their lives. As some people who are unfamiliar with military schools do, he thought cadets at a military school would be really bad kids, and he was concerned about his path drawing him there. As you well know, military schools are nothing like that, and he found himself at a wonderful school with great students. He soon found himself as the Athletic Director.
"Playing a sport for the first time is a defining time in their lives and the kid will never be the same."
At Marine Military Academy, all 250 cadets either play a sport or are involved in an afterschool activity. Many kids get to play sports that couldn't play at their old school.
Coach Elliot explains that "athletics prepare [cadets] for life. It teaches responsibility and leadership while providing growth opportunities. Most importantly it teaches one of life's greatest lessons, failure. They learn to adjust, they learn to keep on trying."
As Athletic Director, he works with his newer coaches to get out of the "public school mindset" where winning is everything. "It is about character," he says. "Playing a sport for the first time is a defining time in their lives and the kid will never be the same." Almost half of the football team in 2016 had never worn pads before.
As for his sports experience in high school, Coach Elliot relates that "I didn't notice until after I got into the real world, how much more I knew."
Coed - Woodstock, Virginia
The new Athletic Director at Massanutten Military Academy is a retired high school principal and is quickly building up the athletic program at his small school . Massanutten is well known for the strength of both its academic and military programs. Coach Michael Campbell wants athletics to model both of these strengths. To do this he has led a nationwide search to bring in successful experienced coaches.
All cadets must participate in a sport each season. For many, this takes them out of their comfort zone. Eight of the current twenty-one-man football team have never played football before. Research shows that students who play more than one sport become better athletes. According to Coach Campbell, "At the high school level, specializing in one sport hurts them [as athletes]."
"Athletics teaches cadets self-discipline, competition, teamwork, and hard work"
"Athletics teaches cadets self-discipline, competition, teamwork, and hard work," Coach Campbell explains. Being a part of a team helps the underclassmen build friendships with the older and higher ranking cadets. He does have an advantage over the day schools his team plays against: "They all live together and the team is more of a family."
At MMA, options for fall sports include football, cross country, soccer, raiders, military drill teams, and volleyball.
Coed - Front Royal, Virginia
Coach Frank Sullivan has been coaching at R-MA since 2008 and has been a coach since before his current players were born.
Speaking of his experiences, Coach Sullivan says, "Coming from a day school, I found lots of students who had never played football before. Playing a new sport with new teammates teaches them to deal with adversity." Five of his thirty-nine players had football experience before R-MA.
He tells me that his team is very competitive and definitely gets better as the season goes on, as they have more experience together. During the season the team gets to play three other military schools.
His practices are "pretty structured." The coaches explain the purpose of the practice and with input from the players, daily goals are set.
A recent international student from China had never seen football before, but was interested and went out for and made the team. His coaches and teammates have been spending a lot of time teaching him the fundamentals of football. He is starting on special teams in their first game. Coach Sullivan feels that as the young man learns the game, he will play a lot more downs.
R-MA football photo provided by Susie Shaffer
At these great small schools, students are given opportunities that would not be available for them at their old schools, and they get to work with coaches who truly understand and care for them. Athletics at military schools are much more than "just sports."