[Part 3 of 3. You can find Part 1- Stop Treating Coaches Like Adjunct Professors, and find Part 2- Stop Treating Collegiate Athletics Like High School Sports here.]
The concept of integrating athletics and student-athletes into the overall campus experience is discussed often, and more often it is misunderstood. Much of the misunderstanding is caused simply by a resistance to acknowledge the role athletics plays in the lives of student-athletes. To realistically expect true integration, we must keep student-athletes at the heart of the discussion.
What Student-Athletes Already Know
Student-athletes already have mastered the concept of integration. It is how they manage their busy lives, how they gained admission to their institutions and how they successfully navigate educational goals. Their competitive nature equips student-athletes to handle more demands that most students.
Their lives are structured, and their identities largely shaped, by athletics participation. But that doesn’t make student-athletes one-dimensional or less committed to their overall educational experience.
Too often institutions undervalue athletics participation and expect student-athletes to spend equal time in other campus activities. This is unrealistic and tries to force-feed programming to students who may not want it.
“The process of combining things together to become a whole.”
Few people really understand what integration means when it comes to athletics and student-athletes. It requires an understanding the overall educational experience, its ultimate desired outcomes and shifting perspective about the role of intercollegiate athletics.
True integration requires collaboration. There must be some give and take on all sides. This is easy if everyone keeps the ultimate purpose in mind: helping student-athletes succeed.
Square Peg Syndrome
Too often student-athletes are expected to compromise the one element of their educational experience that they are most passionate about. They are told to spend less time on athletics or prioritize athletics differently.
The impact is contradictory to integration intentions. It is the classic problem of trying to force a square peg (student-athletes) into a round hole (traditional academic and student life).
The Formula for Integration
Integration requires two key elements- synergy and integrity.
- Synergy- “The interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects.”
- Integrity- “The state of being whole or undivided.”
Key concepts for successful integration:
- Synergy is about interaction
- Interaction is about teamwork
- Teamwork is about roles
- Roles are about clarity
- Clarity facilitates accountability
- Accountability requires Integrity
Joint Accountability for Integration
Integrating athletics depends upon everyone at the institution, not just the athletics department. Discussions need to take place to define what integration looks like, its goals and strategies for implementation and agreement on accountability.
- Clarify outcomes for student-athlete success
- Acknowledge required athletics commitments
- Establish realistic expectations for co-curricular participation
These discussions must involve the Athletics Director, coaches, student-athletes, faculty, student life staff and others that are responsible for the overall campus life experience. Regular review and assessment will provide campuses with a better understanding of student-athletes and their overall educational experiences.
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