The smell of freshly cut grass on a football field. The exciting buzz of students cheering in the stands. There’s no feeling quite like representing one’s school on the court, on the field, or in the pool. And at Santa Fe Christian, student-athletes are putting the spirit back into “school spirit.”

For many children, participation in athletics is one of the defining parts of their school experience. In this article, Doug Miller, SFC’s Director of Athletics, shares what makes Santa Fe’s Athletics program so outstanding.

Whether a student’s goal is to play a sport professionally one day or just to have fun, SFC Athletics offers opportunities for every child to participate, be challenged, and grow.

What Purpose Do School Sports Serve?

School sports serve several important purposes, both individually for children and on a school-wide level. Kids who play sports at SFC reap countless physical, spiritual, social, and academic benefits, and they go on to make a positive impact on the wider school community.

Physical Health and Competition

One of the greatest benefits of athletics is that they provide students with an opportunity to stay active and healthy. Participation in sports can develop physical fitness, coordination, and discipline, which are important for overall health and well-being. “We have these amazing bodies that can do unbelievable things, and competition is fun!” Coach Miller explains.

But sports at Santa Fe Christian, he says, are a little different. Every physical challenge in sports points athletes to spiritual truths about themselves and their relationship with God. “We are put in situations where we can’t control the outcome. And all we’ve got to do is lay our very best out and give it to God and see what happens. I think athletics at Santa Fe allow our kids to test and prove their abilities, their talents, and what God’s doing in their lives.”

So, while playing sports at SFC offers plenty of physical advantages, it also encourages players to recognize the deeper spiritual realities associated with being an athlete.

SFC cross country students begin a race.

Develop Social Skills and Forge Community Ties

School sports also serve a valuable social purpose. Being part of a team encourages young people to develop teamwork and leadership skills that translate into other areas of life such as schoolwork and relationships.

Sports allow students to make friends and connect with others who have similar interests. Also, athletics can help children develop a sense of belonging and pride at school and in their community.

Aside from the connections players build with each other on their sports teams, they also form meaningful relationships with their coaches. According to Miller, “The relationship between the coach and the athlete is unbelievable.” Miller recalls countless instances of former SFC athletes returning to thank their coaches for lessons that have proven to be vital for success in college, in marriage, and in life in general.

Promote Academic Success and Achievement

On sports teams, youths rally together around a common goal and follow measured steps to achieve it. The level of discipline they bring to the court or field tends to become habitual, and as a result, they are more likely to achieve positive outcomes in other areas of life, including academics.

Studies have shown that students who participate in sports are more likely to have higher GPAs and are more likely to graduate than those who do not participate. Additionally, sports can help children develop time management skills, as they must balance practice and competition with academic responsibilities.

Overall, sports are a vehicle for developing essential skills, forming meaningful relationships, and growing personally.

Santa Fe Christian football team enters the field through a tunnel before kick-off.

What Athletic Opportunities Does SFC Offer?

Santa Fe Christian’s Athletics Department is committed to providing athletic opportunities to students of all backgrounds, whether they’ve played sports since they started walking or have never set foot on a field. On one end of the spectrum, SFC has had a Gatorade National Player of the Year in women’s volleyball – and on the other, plenty of kids show up simply to take advantage of a new opportunity.

As a small private school, SFC has been able to reach a remarkable level of athletic success despite not recruiting athletes or enforcing cuts. As Upper School Dean of Students Mike Siciliano puts it, “We play with the people who show up.”

Miller attributes this success to coaching. “You may be a freshman football player,” he says, “but you are being coached by the same varsity coaches that, in a lot of instances, have NFL talent and professional experience. So, whether you’re a 14-year-old in ninth grade or an 18-year-old as a senior, you’ve got that consistent teaching, mentoring, and loving relationship. And as a result of that consistency, the athlete is developing into the most that they can be.”

The coaches at SFC don’t just care about winning championships – they care about their athletes’ hearts. They form strong relationships with each player, and as a result, they listen, communicate, and perform better.

To help children get the most out of their school athletic experience, coaches encourage multi-sport adoption. Even if someone is an amazing volleyball player, the Athletics Department encourages her to try other sports. Thankfully, at SFC, there’s no shortage of sports to try.

“Even though we are, from an enrollment standpoint, a small school, we have virtually as many sports as any other school does in California,” Coach Miller says. “At the high school level, we have 55 different teams across 20 different sports. We have about that many at the Middle School level. And if you’re coming into Lower School, we also have clinics. Whether you are in Lower School, Middle School, or High School, you have an opportunity to participate in a program.”

Santa Fe Christian's womens volleyball team celebrate winning CIF division championship game with a spitired huddle.

What Role Does Faith Play in SFC’s Athletics Program?

Like everything else at SFC, sports are a way to glorify God.

Coaches lead by example and provide guidance and support for athletes in their spiritual lives. They also lead teams in devotionals, prayers, and reflections before and after games or practices.

In the past, athletic teams have gone on mission trips together to serve others in places like Thailand and the Dominican Republic. Opportunities like these help student-athletes become more outwardly focused, develop servant hearts, and bond as a team.

On occasion, coaches bring in guest speakers to present God’s truth and inspire SFC’s athletes. NFL quarterback Drew Brees once came to speak to the football team about what Christ means to him as an athlete, a father, and a professional. By giving players a chance to witness the powerful role Jesus plays in the lives of people they admire, they’re encouraged to develop deeper relationships with Jesus themselves.

In viewing sports through a lens of faith, students learn to share Christ with others and become positive role models in their community. Siciliano recalls a time when Miller’s son, Reed, was on SFC’s football team, and the team had made it to the CIF championship game. Despite a bitter loss to the other team, Reed walked over to shake every one of his opponents’ hands and congratulate them. Amid his teammates’ tears and disappointment, he was able to demonstrate respect and good sportsmanship, the fruits of faith-based coaching.

“That young man walking across the field shaking his opponent’s hand after he just lost was not because Doug Miller was a great dad,” Miller clarifies. “It was because of what this school had done for him for 12 years of his life.”

While SFC’s coaches aim to develop students into great athletes, their primary aim is to help them become Godly people.

How Can Students Balance Athletics with Their Other Commitments?

Participation in athletics is one of many extracurricular options. Our coaches want their athletes to experience everything that Santa Fe Christian has to offer because, as Miller reiterates, they’re “looking for the total development of the young man or young woman.”

So, whether student-athletes are involved in performing arts, broadcasting, or some other activity outside of school, coaches will be there to encourage those interests, even if it means needing to make some special concessions or accommodations.

Balancing athletics with other commitments can be a challenge, but with help and support from parents, teachers, and coaches, it’s not impossible. By meeting this challenge head-on, children can learn to manage their time effectively, prioritize the most important responsibilities, and communicate their needs.

SFC cheer team presents cheers during a football game.

How Does SFC Prepare Students for Collegiate Athletic Opportunities?

Some kids join sports teams at SFC with hopes of playing at the collegiate level after they graduate. The Athletic Department does everything it can to support these ambitions and to develop students into the best athletes they can be.

Beyond athletic training, coaches offer mentorship and guidance to prepare children for the academic and interpersonal challenges they’ll inevitably face as college student-athletes. “We do what we can to ensure that individual develops as a student,” Miller says. “We invest in the total human.”

Coaches also take steps to put college-minded athletes on track to get recruited and play college sports. For example, one coach takes half a dozen players on an Ivy League school tour every summer to get them interested in playing in that setting.

“We want to give our kids the very best and set them up to maximize their playing career,” Miller says. “If there’s anything that we can do – helping them accomplish things through goal-setting, helping them become the best physical specimen they can be, helping them be the smartest they can be – we’re very intentional as a coaching staff to promote our kids to continue their careers.”

And this approach seems to work – SFC has sent more athletes to play at Stanford University than any other school in San Diego in the last five years. Santa Fe Christian has also had graduates go on to play sports at USC, UCLA, Baylor, and many more schools ranging from small private universities to big state schools. “It’s unbelievable the opportunities and the things that our kids have been able to accomplish,” says Miller.

Final Thoughts

Coaches at SFC strive to mentor young people to become the highest-performing athletes they can be. But more than that, they help them become remarkable Christian human beings.

“We do things a little differently here at Santa Fe Christian,” Miller says. “We coach to the athlete’s heart more than we coach to their talent. If I, as a coach, only focus on a child’s ability on the football field or the baseball field, I’m missing out on the opportunity to capture the young man or young woman’s heart and speak truth to them about who Jesus Christ is.”

This faith-based approach to school sports leads to better outcomes for our students and our school. Miller emphasizes this: “What we have found is when we coach to the athlete’s heart versus coaching to the talent, we get just as many championships, but we also have a relationship that goes way beyond the season.”

No matter when or where someone’s athletic journey begins, the Athletics program at SFC will guide him toward becoming the athlete, student, and person God created him to be.