Revealing School Counselors' Perspectives on Using Physical Activity and Consulting with Coaches

Added September 15, 2017

Revealing School Counselors' Perspectives on Using Physical Activity and Consulting with Coaches (Featured Research)

This study reveals school counselors’ perspectives on using physical activity and a consultative process with coaches to provide school-based support for youth. Emerging from this exploration is how school-based physical activity might be used to help students develop life skills and how to remove barriers to systemic integration of socio-emotional development through physical activity into the school system. Practical implications focus on system-based change and collaborative opportunities using the ASCA National Model.

To better understand school counselors’ opinion on using physical activity for positive youth development and the corollaries of such engagement, the researchers developed a survey intended to explore school counselors’ positions, asking various open-ended response questions, including:

(1) Why might you (not) choose to use sport or physical activity to support youth?

(2) How have you used sport or physical activity to support youth?

(3) If applicable, what successes/challenges have you faced when using sport or physical activity to develop life skills among youth?

(4) What experiences have you had in working with coaches to address the needs of students?

(5) How integrated do you think your coaches are into the school culture?

Using a consensual qualitative research approach, the researchers analyzed data from 228 (51 male and 287 female) survey respondents by developing and coding domains through inductive analysis, constructing core ideas from emergent data, and developing categories describing consistencies across cases.

In exploring school counselors’ perceptions of positive youth development through sport and physical activity, findings emerged in two distinct domains: using sport and physical activity for socio-emotional development in school and how collaboration with coaches might promote positive youth development within an existing school structure. In using sport and physical activity for socio-emotional development, respondents identified barriers to integrating sport and physical activity into school systems, including a lack of resources available to school faculty and a lack of support from stakeholders. In collaborating with coaches, respondents shared their belief that collaboration would center on coaches’ interest in life skill and character development and students’ academic success.

While the overall sentiment by school counselors is favorable in relation to using physical activity, concerns emerge as barriers to this initiative. However, concerns are not identified by a large subset of respondents, with 16% identifying lack of time, 14% indicating limited access to resources, and 7% indicating inadequate training to using physical activity for life skill development. Respondents also indicated a lack of support from stakeholders, with 20% concerned about lack of student support in engaging in sport and physical activity, 7% indicating families might not want their children playing sports instead of engaging in academics, and 7% concerned that school-based personnel would resist system-based incorporation of physical activity.

While these barriers are real, they are also maneuverable. In relation to lack of time, resources, and inadequate training, school counselors can integrate physical activity into their existing jobs without massive realignment of the existing structure. In response to lack of support from stakeholders, school counselors can assure families that time engaged in physical activity does not detract from academics. Rather, engagement in physical activity is positively correlated with academic achievement (e.g., Castelli, Hillman, Buck, & Erwin, 2007), and improved cognitive abilities and executive functioning at high intensities (e.g., Ellemberg, 2010).

Finally, in relation to respondents’ concerns about school-based personnel not wanting system-based change, given school counselors’ large caseloads (i.e., 470:1 students per counselor (U.S. Department of Education, 2013) compared to the maximum recommended caseload of 250:1 (U.S. Department of Education, 2013), the lack of physical education within schools, and the need for a system-based change, this can be seen as an opportunity to effect system-based change through a relatively modest proposal with already established positive consequences.

Respondents overwhelmingly indicated that coaches are very invested in students’ socio-emotional and academic development, presenting a unique opportunity to modify existing school structures to allow enhanced collaboration between school counselors and athletic coaches. McGowan, Brady, & Despres (2012) purport that collaboration between school counselors and coaches can yield positive consequences for youth, as sharing information allows coaches to deepen their understanding of youth development within a positive environment. This research, coupled with Gould, Collins, Lauer, and Chung’s (2007) discussion of the importance of coaches identifying deliberate strategies for life skill development (i.e., facilitating students’ active involvement in goal setting activities), indicate that coaches have valuable insight to offer into school counselors’ professional repertoire. Through school counselors and coaches receiving school-based professional development opportunities, system-based change and collaboration may emerge to best support youth.

Laura E. Hayden is an associate professor, University of Massachusetts—Boston. Meghan Ray Silva and Kaitlin Gould are doctoral students at the University of Massachusetts—Boston.


Laura Hayden, Ed.D., Meghan Ray Silva, and Kaitlin Gould