on the Team?
Maximizing the Academic Performance of Student-Athletes
Bussie, TRC Graduate Student Associate and Department of Religious Studies
are difficult to teach in discussion sections because of the constraints
on their time, and their frequent absences. Because of the need to travel
with the team, they frequently miss section and lectures; and, because
of their practice schedule, they cannot make my office hours. I wish that
we had more flexibility in working with them." -U.Va. Religious
most difficult thing about being a student-athlete is having so little
time, and having my time occupied from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. nearly every day.
I never knew it would be this tough." -U.Va. Student-Athlete
student athletes is difficult because typically they are trained to seek
their identity in non-intellectual pursuits, which means that the majority
of their focus is on their sport. The University tends to prioritize athletics
over academics, and this can present a serious problem." -U.Va.
are not eligibility brokers. We help each student-athlete become a self-sufficient,
successful student. The goal is to make our services obsolescent."
-Academic Affairs-Athletics Official
Missed classes. Exhausting schedules. The construction of a $150-million
basketball arena in a time of unprecedented budget cuts. Teachers at the
University of Virginia are familiar with the concerns and controversies
swirling around student-athletes. Yet for teachers who strive to maximize
the learning of all students, the central question remains: How best to
teach the student-athletes in class?
Because I wear
two hats regarding student-athletes, I see that the right hand often does
not know what the left is doing. By day, I teach in the Religious Studies
Department and have served as its Head Teaching Assistant. By night, for
the past five years, I worked as a tutor and mentor for the Department
of Academic Affairs-Athletics. I find that while many instructors acknowledge
the potential problems concerning student-athletes, few provide practical
advice or prevent those problems. On numerous occasions, I have been asked
by faculty to clarify both my role as a tutor and the Academic Affairs-Athletics
structure. Faculty and teaching assistants often lack the tools necessary
for addressing the issue of student-athletes-namely, a comprehensive awareness
of student-athletes and their responsibilities, the resource network surrounding
student-athletes, and the role that network can play in supporting both
teachers and students. Below, I provide an introduction to those tools
by offering four practical guidelines for maximizing the performance of
student-athletes in class.
student-athletes and their diversity.
information, bias based on stereotypes can seep into one's teaching and
attitudes. Instructors should first strive to understand the facts about
student-athletes and their diversity.
The 653 student-athletes
at U.Va. (370 men, 283 women) are as physically, ethnically, and socio-economically
diverse as their non-athlete colleagues. They comprise nearly 5% of the
student population. Although many think of basketball or football players
when imagining the stereotypical student-athlete, the majority do not
play a high-profile sport. Student-athletes may not sand out in class,
particularly if they are out of season and not traveling. At the University
224 student-athletes (34%) receive no form of athletic scholarship. SAT
scores for athletes range from 800-1500, with an average of 1100. All
athletes train year-round, spending between 30 and 40 hours a week on
is no such thing as a "typical" athlete at U.Va., they follow
much the same schedule. The normal day of a student-athlete involves waking
at 6 a.m., training at 7 a.m., classes in the morning, and practice throughout
the afternoon until dinner. Study hall (Sunday through Thursday from 7
p.m. to 9 p.m.) is mandatory for all first-year student-athletes and may
be required for others. Study halls are supervised, and athletes required
to attend must log a certain number of hours per week in order to participate
in their sport.
your awareness of the resource network surrounding student-athletes.
members do not know about compulsory study halls, nor about the tutors
available during that time. Each year, Academic Affairs-Athletics employs
about 30 graduate student tutors, who are recommended by the faculty from
their respective departments. Tutors receive a copy of NCAA regulations
addressing appropriate forms of assistance, training by Honor Committee
Members, and instruction by the Academic Affairs Compliance staff. Tutors
are monitored and evaluated. They do not serve as editors or proofreaders;
indeed, tutors are forbidden to write on a student-athlete's paper. For
writing assistance, student-athletes are directed to the English Department's
Writing Center, a service available to all students.
do not know the details or content of all the courses they tutor. I serve
as the tutor for many courses that lie outside my specialty. My job is
to help students develop the skills necessary to learn the material on
their own. I review students' class notes and daily readings with them
to assess comprehension. I then provide study skills advice and reading
strategies. After each student's tutoring session, I submit a written
evaluation of her/his progress and a description of the session's content.
I tell my tutees that seeing me does not replace interacting with their
TA or professor.
In my department,
where the chair has made it known that I am the Religion tutor, it is
not uncommon for a professor to encourage a struggling student-athlete
to meet with me. Doing so conveys to the athletes that the faculty member
knows about the relevant resources and intends to hold student-athletes
accountable for taking the initiative to exploit those resources. Open
communication between faculty, tutor, and student has improved student-athlete
performance in numerous cases.
TAs are often unaware of the general structure of the athletic program.
In Academic Affairs-Athletics, the Director answers to both the Director
of Athletics and the Provost, and also serves as Association Dean. Five
Academic Coordinators are assigned to different sports, one of whom is
also a Learning Specialist at the Curry School. While a majority of student-athletes
do not need monitoring, a few fall into the high-risk category, owing
more to the time constraints of their sport than to lack of academic preparation.
and formal avenues of communication exist should an issue arise with a
student-athlete. Early in the semester, the Academic Coordinators send
faculty members a letter asking if they have an interest in further contact
from Academic Affairs-Athletics. Some faculty members prefer not to know
who the student-athletes are in their classes, a prerogative honored by
the Athletic Department. To those who welcome further contact, the Academic
Coordinators identify the student-athletes who are being monitored and
ask for performance feedback. Many faculty members request the names of
all student-athletes. They pass this information along to their TAs, who
in turn send a quick summary to the Athletic Department, a tool that helps
anticipate and prevent problems. Kathryn Jarvis, Associate Director of
Academic Affairs-Athletics, states unequivocally that their communications
do not represent an attempt to garner better grades for athletes. The
goal of Academic Affairs-Athletics is the same as that of the University's
instructors-to help student-athletes become better students. The purpose
of their early communication is to assess performance while it is still
possible to improve. With regard to performance evaluation, "no surprises"
is the unofficial motto of Academic Affairs-Athletics, an attitude consistent
with that of the University's teachers. The Academic Coordinators' aim
is to help student-athletes develop time management skills and learning
strategies toward the goal of becoming self-sufficient, self-motivated,
thriving students at U.Va.
issues particular to student-athletes and implement appropriate policies.
the situation of student-athletes does not imply preferential treatment;
it merely involves anticipating issues and developing policies to deal
with them. For example, student-athletes may have numerous excused absences.
How can you best grade participation on days absent, and how will absences
figure in to the computation of the final grade? Is offering make-up work
appropriate? Convey your expectations clearly and in writing on your syllabus.
Express to the class that it is each student's responsibility to contact
you with a written excuse (student-athletes are provided a letter from
their coach) and to arrange for the rescheduling of missed exams and homework
consider that if you have late afternoon office hours, student-athletes
may not be able to attend. Similarly, if you have films or review sessions
in the evenings, know that these might conflict with study hall hours.
One option is to contact the Academic Coordinator to arrange for student-athletes
to receive study hall credit for attending extra-class activities.
Be a team
player, and use the resource network to your teaching advantage.
to instructors, student-athletes are accountable to Academic Coordinators
and mentors. If a student-athlete is struggling, instructors can help
connect that athlete to the resources they need to become better students.
With one quick e-mail notice, a student might be referred to a Learning
Needs Specialist, or be required by their coach to set up a weekly tutoring
appointment. Keeping the lines of communication open with those who work
toward the same goals can help maximize students' performance. "No
surprises" is a desirable goal for both academics and athletics.
In the end, we might just discover that we are on the same team after