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Unpopular Opinion: Student-Athletes Should Be Treated Differently

In high school and collegiate sports, an age-old debate won't quit: Should student-athletes be treated differently? 

It's like a good-natured tug of war, with some saying, "Fairness for all!" and others chiming in with, "Let's get personal!"

Here's my take: Student-athletes should be treated differently, but not in a way that compromises their academic responsibilities. Instead, coaches and athletic departments have a duty, not choice, to provide the necessary resources and support to prepare student-athletes for the significant commitments and sacrifices that come with their dual roles as scholars and athletes.

Today, coaches can begin embedding a few development strategies into their team culture, starting with these four areas. 

1. Social Media and the Digital Age

In an era dominated by social media, student-athletes must navigate this digital landscape responsibly. Coaches can step in here, organizing seminars on responsible social media usage. These sessions can emphasize maintaining a positive online presence and teach athletes how to leverage social media for personal branding and marketing, especially considering the recent Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) opportunities that have emerged.

As coaches implement these social media sessions, they may notice athletes becoming more mindful of their online presence. Over time, athletes could experience improved personal branding and take advantage of NIL opportunities, adding value to themselves and their teams.



2. Academic Support and Professional Development

While they're athletes, they're also students. Coaches and athletic departments can ensure student-athletes get the academic support they need. That means setting up meetings between academic advisors and athletes to create personalized academic plans. Plus, connect them with career development resources so they can explore life beyond the playing field.

As coaches and academic advisors collaborate to provide tailored plans, they may observe a positive shift in athletes' academic performance


3. Wellness and Mental Health

The pressure to perform can affect student-athletes' mental and physical well-being. Coaches should step up and establish wellness programs. Encourage athletes to create a wellness plan that includes physical fitness, mental health, and stress management. Provide access to sports psychologists and counselors to ensure they have the resources they need to stay healthy and focused.


With wellness programs in place, coaches may witness an improvement in athletes' overall well-being. They may notice athletes becoming more resilient in the face of challenges and more focused on their goals, both on and off the field.


4. Athlete Identity

Being a student-athlete often means you're known primarily for your sport. Coaches and athletic departments can promote a well-rounded identity by organizing workshops encouraging athletes to explore their interests outside of sports. Encourage involvement in campus clubs, volunteer work, or internships to help them build a balanced sense of self.


 Treating student-athletes differently means acknowledging their commitment and the challenges they face. It's about giving them the resources and support to excel athletically and academically. 

With social media guidance, academic support, wellness programs, and an emphasis on a well-rounded identity, coaches and athletic departments can empower student-athletes to thrive in all areas of life. This holistic approach benefits athletes and their teams, fostering a culture of excellence and personal growth.

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