Athletic Directors and a Culture of Student-First Athletes

William Woods EDU

In one National Collegiate Athletic Association advertisement, the NCAA famously states, “there are over 400,000 NCAA student athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.”

One goal from this ad: to promote the academic and professional opportunities provided to student-athletes. Secondarily, to educate viewers on the academic achievements and success of its student athletes — higher SAT scores, higher likelihood of graduation, and more.

Do athletic directors find stressing the importance of student-before-athlete mentality a part of their job responsibilities? One study found a resounding yes.

The study, of junior college athletic director leadership and management responsibilities, published in The Sport Journal, found an unexpected theme in student-athlete importance — one they hadn’t even set out to cover.

In fact, the article says, “The ADs placed academics above athletics. According to Participant 16, ‘The student-athlete should manage time by first looking at their academic responsibilities then sports.’”

One goal many athletics directors strive for is building a culture of student-first athletes — realizing that, maintaining eligibility to play is key to athletic administrator success, but also the personal and professional success of each student athlete. William Woods Master of Education (MEd) in Athletics/Activities Administration students take a number of courses, including EDU 508 Practical Aspects of Athletic/Activities Administration or EDU526 Developing Character & Citizenship, in which they learn the skills to address these concerns and build strong character in their athletes, no matter which level of sport that they work.

A culture of student-first athletes can be emphasized in the students’ athletics program even from a young age. And much of this depends on the academic culture of the middle or high school the athlete is attending —a perception that, when embraced by the school’s athletics leadership, could have a hugely beneficial influence.

One article in Time magazine found a few things about athletes’ perceptions of teammates’ prioritizing school.

“When student athletes were asked how much they care about athletics,” the article says, “they rated their interest a healthy 8.5 on average, on a scale of 1 to 10. But when asked the value they place on academics, the result was higher than 9 on average. If anything, the average student athlete cares more about his studies than his sport.”

On the other hand, the same article found that “When asked to assess how much their teammates cared about athletics, the athletes were close, guessing 8.8. However, when asked to evaluate how much their teammates cared about academics, those same athletes guessed only 7.8 – far below the 9+ average.”

This shows that student athletes don’t think their teammates take academics as seriously as they do, says Daniel Oppenheimer, article author and psychology and marketing professor at UCLA.

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