Classroom Perspectives

Using Sports Analogies to Motivate Students

Using Sports Analogies to Motivate Students

By Jeff Styles


It has struck me over the past few years working with senior secondary school students that an ideal approach to guiding them through their academic year is to liken the student group to a sporting team that you are ‘coaching’ through to a successful season.

For the past two and a half years, I have served as the Study Centre Supervisor and Academic Tutor at MacKillop Senior College in Port Macquarie, New South Wales. Students go to the Study Centre during their free periods to catch up or get ahead with their work. My job has been to keep students on task and maintain a quiet, productive environment. This role has been highly beneficial, as it has allowed me to supervise large groups of students and work one-on-one with individual students who require assistance with particular problems. I often liken my role to that of a sports coach, guiding my students through the school ‘season’ as a team. They will ride the high tides and the lows; they are working towards a ‘championship trophy’ at the end of the year.

At the start of the school year, educators expect students to turn up ready to work and ‘hit the ground running,’ but there’s a lot to be said for utilising an approach that inspires students to pick up the pace progressively as they strive towards their academic goals. It is important to establish with students a starting point so that they have something on which to build and improve. Students understandably want to excel in all areas, but there’s limited value in blitzing through tests at the early stages of the year only to wilt at the final hurdle. Just as an athlete improves with each game, a student should build the quality and quantity of their work each week.

Similar to athletes who possess particular playing styles, I also encourage my students to adopt an overall study approach that suits their own personalised learning style.

Students need to consider that the school year is a ‘marathon’ and not a ‘sprint.’ As an educator, I constantly remind myself that I am working towards seeing students achieve maximum results when it matters most. I would. prefer to lose a match early in the season than to lose a final playoff game. The beauty of a team suffering an early loss is the ability to regroup, learn lessons from the defeat, and go through a process of personal and collective growth. The same can be true of a student who may struggle early on in the academic year.


Just as a good sports coach should know an athlete off the field, a good educator should make an effort to know the person as well as the student. Knowing a student’s characteristics and habits enables the educator to facilitate the environment and materials needed by the individual to excel, much the same as a coach needs to understand the athlete’s personal strengths and weaknesses to get the best out of them. For example, I sat down with a student a few months ago and discussed the concept of colour coding a subject timetable. I had gotten to know this student outside of class and knew he would respond well to visual tools.

The sports analogy tends to be more applicable to male students than females, though this is not always the case. Male students are typically into sports more and an educator can apply this approach with a greater chance of capturing academic interest and building motivation. I have used the sports analogy with female students and received a positive response, so it can be a versatile approach. It is important to remember that it’s all about the values and attitudes exhibited by athletes, not the sport itself. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not a female student is interested in a given sport.

I will go forward in my teaching career using values and traits illustrated in the sporting world and adapting them to my classroom. I have confidence that it is a useful guide as I strive to ensure the success and personal development of my students.


Jeff Styles is a recently graduated teacher, achieving a Graduate Diploma in Education from the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. For the past two and a half years, while I engaged in studies to become a high school Geography and History teacher, he has been employed as the Study Centre Supervisor and Academic Tutor at MacKillop Senior College in Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

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