Leadership always has been one of the most valuable and applicable life skills developed by student-athletes participating in educational athletics. To assist in that development, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) have partnered to produce an online Student Leadership series designed to provide the latest research-based instruction to high schoolers throughout the United States.
The Student Leadership series is provided as part of the web-based NFHS Learning Center and includes two free courses focused on students – “Becoming a Leader” and “Leading Others” – with a third installment for coaches currently in production. All three are inspired by the latest research on how youth-aged athletes learn to lead.
This latest work builds on the MHSAA-produced “Captains Course” developed in 2015 with Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS). The “Captains Course” has been taken more than 100,000 times and is based on in-person “Captains Clinics” that MHSAA staff and ISYS conduct with thousands of students across Michigan each year.
Each student-focused segment of the new Student Leadership series takes 30-45 minutes to complete and includes frequent and quick activities designed to help students understand how they would apply leadership skills in real-life scenarios. Course instruction was created primarily in coordination with the MHSAA by a pair of nationally-recognized authorities on the subject: Jed Blanton, an assistant professor in kinesiology, recreation and sport studies at the University of Tennessee; and Scott Pierce, an associate professor in kinesiology and recreation at Illinois State University.
Both Blanton and Pierce have vast experience with youth athletics; both also formerly worked for the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports and served as graduate assistants at the MHSAA during their time at MSU, playing large roles in more than a decade of research conducted through coordination with the MHSAA’s 16-member Student Advisory Council. High school administrators, student leaders, and other researchers and mental performance consultants also contributed to the lessons taught in these courses. The NFHS produced the content, including all of the visuals and digital features, and the student-focused courses went live on the NFHS Learn website in mid-summer.
“We’ve taken a good program, and made it even better,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Andy Frushour, who coordinates the Association’s student services programs. “This is a program we do in person in Michigan, but our reach now is across the country – and these courses are free, hopefully allowing us to contribute to the development of even more student leaders.”
The “Becoming a Leader” course defines leadership styles and builds skills to help students consider themselves as leaders. “Leading Others” details how leaders put those skills into practice including during challenging situations. Blanton and Pierce worked closely with student advisory groups from various states to make the research content relatable to school sports participants. All voices heard in the courses belong to high school students – including athletes from Michigan, Illinois and Washington who provided 30 testimonials that describe leadership in action.
The “Coaches Course” will provide the same information as presented to high school students, but in a way that explains how coaches can use these tools to personalize leadership training among their athletes as they seek to recognize which types of leaders they have on a team, and which types are missing and need to be developed.
“The NFHS is grateful for the opportunity to work with the MHSAA as well as Dr. Blanton and Dr. Pierce,” said Dan Schuster, the NFHS’ director of educational services. “We believe these student leadership courses will provide valuable information across the country and will contribute to the improvement of the interscholastic experience for young people.”
Michigan continued to rank 10th nationally in high school-aged population during the 2022-23 school year and continued to best that ranking in participation in high school sports, according to the annual national participation study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Michigan ranked ninth for overall participation nationally, based on a total of 268,070 participants who competed in sports for which the MHSAA conducts postseason tournaments. The total counts students once for each sport played, meaning students who are multiple-sport athletes are counted more than once.
Michigan also ranked ninth nationally for both girls (111,569) and boys (156,501) participation separately, while ranking ninth for high-school aged boys population and 10th for girls according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Michigan’s national rankings in seven sports improved from 2021-22, while nine sports saw lower national rankings than the previous year. The biggest jumps came in girls volleyball and boys soccer, which both moved up two spots – volleyball to fourth-highest participation nationally, and boys soccer to eighth. Girls golf (fourth), softball (seventh), girls track & field (seventh), girls swimming & diving and boys swimming & diving (both eighth) also moved up on their respective national lists.
Participation in several more MHSAA sports also continued to outpace the state’s rankings for high school-aged population.
For girls, participation in bowling (fourth), tennis (fourth), cross country (sixth), basketball (seventh), competitive cheer (ninth) and soccer (ninth) all ranked higher than their population listing of 10th nationally. Among boys sports, bowling (second), ice hockey (fourth), tennis (fifth), golf (fifth), basketball (sixth), track & field (sixth), cross country (seventh), football – all formats combined (seventh) and baseball (eighth) exceeded that ninth ranking for population.
Only 11 states sponsor alpine skiing, but Michigan ranked third on both the girls and boys lists for that sport. Wrestling, with boys and girls totals counted together, ranked eighth.
Participation nationally rose more than three percent from 2021-22 to 7,857,969 participants, the first upward movement in participation data since the all-time record of 7,980,886 in 2017-18, which was followed by the first decline in 30 years in 2018-19 and the two-year halt in data collection by the NFHS related to the pandemic. (The MHSAA continued to collect and report its data during this time.) The national total includes 4,529,789 boys and 3,328,180 girls, according to figures obtained from the 51 NFHS member state associations, which include the District of Columbia.
Eleven-player football remained the most popular boys sport, and most popular participation sport overall, with the total climbing back over one million participants. The total of 1,028,761 participants marked an increase of 54,969 and 5.6 percent from the previous year. This year’s increase was the first in the sport since 2013 and only the second increase since the all-time high of 1,112,303 in 2008-09. There also was a slight gain (34,935 to 35,301) in the number of boys in 6-, 8- and 9-player football.
Next on the boys list were outdoor track & field, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross country, tennis, golf, and swimming & diving, respectively.
On the girls side, outdoor track and field (up 6.5 percent) and volleyball (3.6) remained in the top two spots, while basketball reclaimed the third position. Cross country ranked fourth, followed by softball, soccer, golf, tennis, swimming & diving and competitive spirit, respectively.
Texas remained atop the list of state participation with 827,446, but California closed the gap in second adding 25,000 participants to climb to 787,697. New York is third with 356,803, followed by Illinois (335,801), Ohio (323,117), Pennsylvania (316,587), Florida (297,389), New Jersey (272,159), Michigan (268,070) and Minnesota (219,094), which climbed into the top 10 past Massachusetts.
The participation survey has been compiled in its current form by the NFHS since 1971.