Are you a teacher who gets discouraged when the coaches pressure you in to passing an athlete? Are you a coach who feels frustrated when a teacher does not understand the time constraints and pressures your athletes are under?
What if I told you that you are both WRONG! But, you are both RIGHT!
There is a delicate balance between academics and athletics that is difficult to maintain. I listed the two in this order for a reason: we are talking about how to properly care for student-athletes (notice which word comes first). This debate is almost as old as the chicken or the egg argument, but when looking at statistics, the chances that your high school athlete will go earn to earn a living through the playing of that sport is minuscule. Even going on to play college sports has daunting odds.
But what coaches understand that some teachers do not is that for many of these student-athletes, if athletics is taken away, they have no interest in being a student. For better or worse, athletics is the carrot to the academics stick.
How do we fix the divide between academics and athletics? COMMUNICATION.
Teachers and coaches must be willing to have an open and honest dialogue between the two, but also have honest conversations with the student-athlete. The student-athlete must be made brutally aware that the professional sports career that they dream about is that, a dream. But by focusing on their education, they can be successful in life. This is not easy for the student-athlete to hear, being a professional athlete is what many have been told is their only option to improve their lives. As educators and coaches, it is our responsibility to re-educate these student-athletes on what is their best option for changing their lives: a degree.
If playing sports keeps students engaged in education, then it is extremely necessary to provide these students with that opportunity. And if athletics is their only avenue to college, even a partial Division II or a non-scholarship Division III school, then this is the path they should pursue. But they should do so with the knowledge that athletics is helping them to earn a degree to better their future, it is not the pathway to a professional sports career and classes are in the way.
Students should be informed that college, when completed correctly, is a 4 year sacrifice to better the next 44 years of their lives, and influence the next 4 generations of their families’ lives. We owe it to our student-athletes to be honest with them, to tell them what they NEED to hear, and not what they WANT to hear. As educators (and coaches are educators), our students success should always be our top priority, it is time that we get back to remembering this.
About the author:
Dr. Billy Jack Ray is the Undergraduate Program Coordinator in the Sul Ross State University Kinesiology Department and holds the rank of Assistant Professor. He played football at the collegiate level at Texas Tech University and Tarleton State University, having completed his Bachelor Degree (Kinesiology), Master’s Degree (Kinesiology), and Doctorate Degree (Educational Leadership and Policy Studies) at Tarleton State. He has 6 years of professional football experience in arena football and 15 years coaching experience in the collegiate and professional arena field. He has been teaching at the collegiate level for 7 years.
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