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Are College Athletes Really Prepared for Success?

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Courtesy photo: College of DuPage / Flickr

By Dr. Elizabeth Dotson-Shupe |

It is Tuesday evening on the basketball court, Wednesday morning on the lacrosse field, Friday afternoon on the baseball diamond, or Saturday morning at the football stadium.  Whatever the day or time of the college sporting event, one question is paramount.  Are college athletes truly prepared to step into the arena of college sports and the demands of the classroom?  

From my perspective as a former public-school language arts teacher and current education department college professor, I would answer with a definitive “not entirely”.  To be sure, many of the college athletes with whom I have worked in my college classroom believe they are prepared for the academic rigor of college while at the same time ready for all aspects of the sports focused commitments.  Yet, the student athletes in my classes at times face struggles that involve time management as well as energy maintenance.   I witness the personal struggles that impact their class performance as well as their achievement orientation to their college, their teammates, and themselves as individuals.   Our college students who are also interscholastic athletes face a unique challenge; they must learn to balance academic demands of college courses; practice, conditioning, travel, and game play obligations; and personal goals as well as friend and family time.   The goal for personal, academic, and athletic success can be daunting, and I have spoken to several students about seeking that balance.  Oftentimes, classes must be skipped, assignments hastily prepared, family or friend time sacrificed, all with the goal of a successful career as a college athlete taking precedence.  I often counsel our athletes, both men and women, to remember their obligation to themselves as well as their goals for their specific sport at the college level. 

College athletes promote both their sport and schools, and they are generally a role model to many individuals for physical fitness and personal commitment during their time as an athlete.  However, without a balance as to obligations, the personal support and rapport of professors, a coaching staff that monitors the physical, mental, academic, and social health and well-being, then our college athletes may suffer the consequences of a breakdown in any of these aspects.  A balanced approach that is supported by many at the college level may help to alleviate these concerns. 

For my student athletes within my college classroom, I have found that a personal connection, a dynamic relationship that connects the course to the athletes, and a true interest in them as a person goes a long way toward establishing a reliable source of support.  The interscholastic sports program is a vital component of colleges, yet the engaging and informative classroom element is just as critical to the life success of our athletes.  I believe that a strong commitment to our athletes and to their life-long success in their future endeavors can be in tandem to goals on the sports field.  Working together in a responsible manner will increase the likelihood of success.

Dr. Elizabeth Dotson-Shupe is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

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