The Right Focus

January 29, 2015

Getting a team to focus on academics can be a tough task for many coaches. Matt O'Brien, however, finds it a breeze ever since he's put in place a specific strategy. Head Men's Basketball Coach at Southwestern College, his squad has won an NAIA Team Scholar Award for the past two seasons and he has some great advice to pass on.

"It has been said by many coaches that you are what you emphasize, so I have chosen to emphasize academics," O'Brien says. "I address the team a few times every week formally in the locker room about their academics and have daily conversations with my players about their upcoming assignments and tests. I look at their syllabuses, put their tests on my calendar, and make sure I tell them good luck or ask them how they did."

He also gives his athletes some incentives. "If we achieve a 3.0 team GPA, they will receive new uniforms. I have found that even 21-year-old college players get excited about this," O'Brien says. "I also tell them the GPA they need to obtain in order to be recognized by the institution, by the conference, and nationally. It is amazing how many players strive to achieve a 3.5 GPA for a chance to be an Academic All-American. I make sure each player who achieves academically is praised and receives as much attention as possible via our Web site, local newspaper, and other campus media."

Study hall on Sunday nights is required for all freshmen and those who have below a 3.0 GPA, and O'Brien's players are required to complete grade check sheets throughout each semester. "Along with their current grade, we want to know a few key things about each student's progress in their classes," he explains. "Have they submitted all of their assignments? Have they missed or have been tardy to any classes?"

One more important element is relaying the why behind great academic effort. "We talk to our players about how we all have a continuing responsibility to be a part of the total picture of Southwestern College, which means strong academic and athletic performance," O'Brien says.
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