Bronze figurine of Lady Justice with her scales

University and Athlete Development leaders must react and prepare for a new tomorrow today. Student-athletes are seeking accountability for the promises made to them and their parents by coaches and university officials who, during their recruiting visits, promised that their education and safety would be the university’s first priority. The recent reactions from student-athletes around the country to the responses from their athletic departments regarding their health and well-being due to the Coronavirus pandemic as well as racial injustices in society and sport are clear outcries of their frustration regarding those promises.

Student-athletes are not only reacting verbally; they are taking action. A group of Pac-12 football student-athletes recently threatened to opt out of fall camp and game participation unless their demands for greater safeguarding of their health, fairer treatment and increased focus on racial justice for college athletes were met by the conference. University of Texas football players have demanded support for racial justice issues on campus, in part an assurance that a portion of the athletic department proceeds would be earmarked for Black organizations including Black Lives Matter.

Some colleges and universities are acting quickly as a result of the changing climate. In direct response to student-athlete concerns, several universities, including the University of Maryland, University of Washington and University of California, have created positions within the athletic department to create and implement diversity, equity and inclusion plans, initiatives and programs for staff and student-athletes. The Big East and Big Ten conferences have already launched new initiatives to support the mental health and wellness of their student-athletes.

While these, and other reactions and responses by athletic administrators are commendable, we should not lose sight of the fact that today’s “New Age” student-athletes have high expectations… and that is a good thing. They understand their value and power and are passionate about using their platform to help make America a more just nation. Higher education institutions are to be commended for reacting and responding to this remarkable and courageous group of young people. But these institutions must first look inward and address how they can more effectively equip student-athletes to best use their individual and collective powers to create sustainable change for themselves, sports and our society as a whole.

It is critical that as athletic administrators, coaches and student-athlete development professionals, we apply a 360-degree approach to their education. That requires that we utilize innovative strategies and implement interdisciplinary elements into their ecosystem to provide the framework for their holistic development. Examples that can achieve this goal include:
creating engagement and follow-up structures within the athletic
department and on campus that allow student-athletes to express their
concerns and issues on an ongoing basis
requiring that coaches create plans to address the interests
and concerns of their student-athletes and allow them to participate in
activities with non-student-athletes, faculty and staff that would enhance
their knowledge, growth and development
augmenting the student-athlete life skills curriculum with components
that will better enable student-athletes to maximize their educational and
athletic opportunities while preparing them for future leadership
positions in society with programs/classes including:
○ Athletic Identity
○ Social Justice and Social Responsibility
○ Career Development and Transition
○ Physical and Mental Health and Wellness

The clock will never turn back. Today’s athletes expect more, demand more and are willing to take responsibility for more. As athlete development professionals, the proverbial ball is now in our court. Are we prepared for the responsibilities that accompany those expectations… and acting on the new promises we will make regarding them?

At Hilliard Solutions, our proprietary 360 framework for athlete development helps you help your student-athletes be successful in their educational, sports, career and life pursuits. The framework integrates multidisciplinary perspectives that support both your personal development and that of your student-athletes. Through consultation, career, and curriculum services, we help you build and implement a success plan that addresses the challenges that all student-athlete development professionals face today. Contact us today for a free consultation  and let us help you and your organization create a game plan for success!

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