How to Help Your Student Athletes Win On and Off the Field

I’d like you to reflect on a statement that four student athletes made to me in 2018. Perhaps it will spark a relevant conversation on your team:

“I feel my coach only sees me as an athlete, not as a human being.”

Whether we know it or not, we can be adding to this narrative student-athletes have. Even though we know they are first “students” before they are “athletes”—our sport often takes precedence over everything else. Here is the data:

1. Coaches may be exacerbating the student athlete’s mistaken identity as simply an athlete. One NCAA study reported that often, coaches do not follow the 20-hour per week limit on practice time set by NCAA law. More time in practice means less time in class and fewer opportunities to study, taking precious academic time from student athletes who struggle with schoolwork.

2. An NCAA study on the experiences of college athletes revealed that 60% of them reported viewing themselves “more as athletes than students.” Again, this is unfortunate, as upon graduation, they are much more likely to be faced with a traditional career than continue on as an athlete. The truth is, only one in 25 athletes will go pro in their sport. This is most sad when we consider that 43 percent of black athletes believe they’ll go pro.

3. Student life can be stressful enough, but according to Athletic Insight’s study, student athletes reported higher than usual stress in several variables, including: having lots of responsibilities, not getting enough time for sleep and having demanding extracurricular activities. They feel the pressure to be great at everything they do, both on and off the field or court.

Most of the Division 1 coaches I meet are good people, and many of them have a decent personal and family life that they consider a priority. Healthy people want a sense of balance, even though the demands of coaching and playing sports is high. But we often feel it is difficult to have both: a winning program and a balanced life outside of our profession. And if we feel this way—you can bet your student athletes that want to excel struggle as well.

So, what can we do to help our student athletes stay emotionally healthy?

They Wonder…

  • Can they win both on the field and in the classroom?
  • Can they excel at their sport and avoid mental health problems?
  • Can they be brilliant athletes and emotionally and socially healthy people?


Simple Ideas You Can Practice as a Coach

1. Find time to take a break and cut loose.

Be on the lookout for signals that your student athletes are mentally exhausted. No doubt you want them to work hard at practice, but when you observe they may be close to an emotional breakdown, find a time to do something fun. I know coaches who host entertaining outings playing dodgeball, Topgolf or scavenger hunts. At times, they just need to have fun and break free from the constant drills. It relays you see them as human beings, not just objects to help you win games.

2. Invest time listening and talking.

Student athletes tell me it means the world to them when their coaches sit down and really listen to their struggles, conflicts and personal issues. I realize you’re not their parent, but you are a “guide on the side.” Coaching them in the most important facet of their life earns you the right to have a voice. But you must first lend them an ear. Students do not have the innate need to get their own way, but they do have the need to be heard. If possible, have an open door policy or plan team discussions, using Habitudes® if it helps ignite the conversation. Make an effort to initiate these ideas.

3. Get familiar with their schedule.

Higher education can be demanding. When classes and projects become difficult, the hardship worsens when student-athletes feel their coaches have no idea they have a life beyond their sport. On the other hand, it speaks volumes to them when they see you know their schedule and keep it in mind as you schedule preparation for a game. Find out when exams are, when major projects are due and maybe even shorten practice during those times. You may find they give you extra effort the next week.

4. Invite them to chill at your house.

Depending on the size of your team, you may have to break the team up into groups to pull this off. I know several coaches that plan specific times to invest in their student athletes socially, with NO agenda but to get better acquainted. If you have a special talent for cooking or baking—all the better. Brag about your grilled cheese or your mom’s brownie recipe you want them to try. Relationships always lubricate friction and smooth out tensions for pressurized students.

5. Stay adaptable.

My guess is, you talk to your team about staying flexible. I think we should follow suit. This means, we adapt your leadership style and plans based on the realities we face each season. What if you gave your student athletes four to five mental health days this year? Many will not take them, but just knowing they can reduces stress. Adaptability and flexibility communicates you are aware of their busy lives and care for them as people. This will return to bless you in the end.

I believe you’ll have better performers on the team as you make them better people.

Back to School Special:
All Habitudes Books are $10 Each

It is officially 2019! As you start a new semester, we wanted to help you out by discounting all of the Habitudes books to be $10 each. That means now is the perfect time for you to give Habitudes a try for the first time or to restock on books for the semester.

If you’re not familiar with Habitudes, they utilize the power of image-based learning to help instill leadership and life skills in today’s students. Habitudes help educators:

  • Easily have real-life conversations with their students.
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  • Get more time back to focus on what they love and enjoy about their job.

Don’t miss out though, this special ends Sunday, January 27th at Midnight!

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How to Help Your Student Athletes Win On and Off the Field