In Their Words

August 7, 2017

This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Athletic Management

To better understand what its student-athletes valued about their experiences, Regis College polled them, with interesting results.

By Liz Conant

 

Liz Conant is Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Regis College. She previously served as Head Women’s Soccer and Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach at Regis and as an independent school athletic director while coaching soccer, squash, and lacrosse. She can be reached at: Elizabeth.Conant@regiscollege.edu.


 

If you’ve chosen athletic administration as your career, you undoubtedly agree that there are many positive aspects of being a student-athlete. You can quickly tick off a list of the mental, physical, and social benefits of sport participation.

But are your beliefs regarding the value of the student-athlete experience similar to those who are currently wearing your school’s jerseys? Do you know what your student-athletes consider to be the best parts of combining athletics with academics?

During this year’s NCAA Division III Week, I was asked to serve as the keynote speaker at Regis College’s Scholar-Athlete Excellence Luncheon. As part of my presentation, I decided to answer the above questions. I wanted to find out what being a “scholar-athlete” actually means to the students at our institution.

My talk was titled “In Their Own Words: The Regis College Scholar Athlete Experience,” and it centered around the results of a simple survey I conducted. My findings were a nice way to celebrate Division III week, but they also uncovered a treasure trove of information that we are hoping to use in athletic recruiting and marketing materials, as well as at admission events.

At Regis College, student-athletes in their sophomore, junior, or senior years with a 3.4 GPA or higher are invited to the scholar-athlete excellence luncheon. This past year, we had 61 student-athletes meet the criteria. After I was asked to be the keynote speaker, I requested that our Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Welfare provide me with a list of these student-athletes. I invited them to answer four open-ended questions on Survey Monkey, which were as follows:

1. What is the best thing about being a Regis College scholar-athlete?

2. What does being recognized for Scholar-Athlete Excellence at Regis College mean to you?

3. In what ways have people or resources at Regis College helped you to achieve success as a scholar-athlete?

4. What advice do you have for other student-athletes or incoming recruits about balancing school and sports?

I was pleased to get a 43 percent response rate, and reviewed all answers carefully. For each question, I highlighted the various topics that emerged. I was able to come up with three or four themes for each question.

In terms of what they felt was the “best thing” about being a student-athlete at Regis, many mentioned being able to continue to play the sport they love while having enough time to also concentrate on academics. One student likened it to “having the best of both worlds.”

Another theme was that hard work pays off. Students conveyed that they felt good about being successful in two areas, and that one area fed off the other. A third theme was connections, and this covered the camaraderie of being on a team as well as the ability to meet mentors by being involved in athletics.

The second question was about being recognized for “Scholar-Athlete Excellence,” and four types of answers emerged. First, many students stated that they were honored and proud to be invited to the luncheon. They also appreciated the fact that someone is paying attention. One student said that “it lets athletes know that their hard work and dedication does not go unnoticed.”

A third theme came from our students majoring in nursing, who are immersed in a challenging curriculum. Several of them spoke about the pride they felt in being able to balance a tough major with sports. A final answer related to being role models. Many students mentioned that this recognition reminded them that they have upheld a high standard.

The third question was about the people and resources that have helped them succeed. Many students noted that their families were a huge source of support. They also credited their coaches—one nursing student expressed her gratitude by saying, “Had it not been for my coaches, I don’t think that I would have made it through the nursing program.” Professors were also mentioned, and student-athletes appreciated their wisdom, support, and flexibility.

Having a variety of available resources was another theme. Students referred to our Academic Center for Excellence as well as to tutors. In addition, respondents specifically singled out their academic advisor, their team mentor, and the Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Welfare. A final answer was that student-athletes had the sense that Regis wants them to succeed. “Regis genuinely cares about each athlete and their potential to be great,” was one response.

When it came to advice for other student-athletes or incoming recruits, time management was frequently mentioned. Students recommended making schedules of practices, games, tests, and assignments to stay on top of everything. They also stressed the importance of planning ahead and being organized.

Another recurring answer related to communication. Scholar-athletes had learned to always let coaches and professors know when their classes would conflict with practice or games. They also strongly recommended asking for help when needed.

A third theme was seeing the big picture. The student-athletes repeatedly mentioned the importance of academics over athletics.

The feedback from the keynote was overwhelmingly positive. Student-athletes remarked that they found it interesting and relevant to learn how their peers had answered the survey questions. Administrators at the luncheon were pleased that their student-athletes had so many positive things to say about their overall experience.

In total, this endeavor was well worth it and could be replicated easily. It took five to six hours of my time, from the creation of the online survey, to analyzing the responses and identifying themes, to creating the PowerPoint. It proved to be a meaningful speech for everyone in the athletic department.

And the best part may be yet to come. Having specific comments from student-athletes about their positive experiences can be a great marketing tool in recruiting. We hope to compile and use their survey responses in the future as we talk about what Regis has to offer.

From New World Of Coaching
If you are straightforward with young people, they will usually respect you. This is much better than fabricating something on the spot, and your athletes will usually understand and accept this approach.
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