The NCAA recently conducted a well-being study with over 37,000 student-athletes on the impact of COVID-19. The study intended to understand the impact of COVID-19 on their current physical and mental well-being. Though a number of subjects were covered in the study, I want to touch on the takeaways learned about the important role college coaches and athletic departments play in ensuring their athletes are kept up-to-date and have a continued sense of community and purpose. More importantly, how this should factor into your recruiting process.
THE COACHING STAFF
One clear take away from the study was the important role coaches play in the minds of their athletes for information and support. Of the ten different areas athletes were asked to rank who they look to for education and support, the majority of athletes ranked their coaches number one in five of the ten and second only to the athletic department in several other areas. While coaches ranked top in several areas you’d expect like fitness plans, training and ideas for eating healthy what was surprising was the importance the majority of athletes placed on their coaches to provide guidance on mental and social health. This raises serious questions about the preparedness of coaches to deal with the complicated subject of mental health and how the NCAA is providing the guidance and resources to coaches to prepare them to take on this subject. What’s noticeably absent in the survey is how the NCAA plans to assist coaches and athletic departments proactively engage their athletes during this time. The following quote was included in the survey feedback and speaks to the athlete’s state-of-mind:
Reports of coach and teammate communication were similar across divisions, while the reported rate of communication with academic advisors and athletics staff was highest in Division I. Generally, the more frequently participants communicated with teammates and athletics staff, the more likely they were to report feeling positive about such communication. Eighty-two percent of respondents reported feeling positive or very positive about the support they were receiving from their coaches during this time, as compared with 64%, 61% and 37% feeling positive about support from their athletics department, university and the NCAA, respectively
As a high school student-athlete or parent of one, you should be asking questions of coaches and the athletic support staff about how they are engaging their current athletes during this time. You will gain a lot of insight into the structure, level of consistency and focus placed on the well-being of the current college student-athletes in their care. If a coach can’t walk you through a very detailed communication and engagement strategy, you should question their ability to lead your son or daughter for the next four years. On the flip side, a coaching staff that proactively and enthusiastically lays out for you their current regimen and the goals they have for their athletes while away from campus should give you a lot of confidence and comfort in their ability once we resume to some semblance of normalcy.
The student-athletes surveyed indicated strong interest in receiving a range of educational resources during the current pandemic. As stated earlier, in terms of resources specific to their training and physical well-being, participants indicated they would generally look to coaches as their primary source for information. Many reported they would look to their athletics department in terms of academic support (highest in Division I), career planning and financial assistance resources. The only area that athletes tended to think of the NCAA as primary source of information was regarding COVID-19 and planning. One athlete summed it up below:
“It would really help my mental health if the NCAA updated student- athletes about what they are thinking for next year’s athletics. I understand that at this point no one knows if we will be able to go to campuses in the fall, but it would help me plan better and relieve a ton of (most of) my mental stress and anxiety if I knew the NCAA was considering accommodations for fall athletes.” -Division III, women’s field hockey
The lack of the NCAA being seen as a primary source of support in most areas for student-athletes is quite concerning. The NCAA answers it’s own question of “Who is the NCAA?” as “The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.”
Wouldn’t you expect that if they truly believe in that definition, their outreach and support programs during the COVID-19 pandemic would lead more athletes to believe in the NCAA as a primary source of information? Maybe this makes sense if you believe the NCAA is in place more to drive the financial well-being of its member schools through the athletic activities of the student-athletes vs as a support mechanism for the athletes themselves.
Coaches & their staff are by-in-large doing a good job of being the primary source of information and support for their student-athletes during the COVID-19 environment. As a recruit, the more you can learn about how the coaches at each school you are considering have handled their current athletes during this time will give you a good window in to the type of program they run day-in and day-out.
The NCAA, needs to either do a better job of educating student-athletes on the resources and tools available through it’s organization or needs a greater focus on building the infrastructure to successfully carry out its mission. Either way, let’s hope the recent mental-wellness survey results are a wake-up call to the NCAA and it’s member schools about what athletes say they need during this unsettling time.
To read the full survey please click here: NCAA_Working AI File_51520_sc_DRAFT_521_FINAL