Accommodating Student Athletes in the Classroom

We all have student athletes in our classes. Many of them are expected to succeed in dual roles. As faculty we can make special considerations that can promote more positive classroom experience for student athletes. Many are first-year students learning to manage their time and study habits, a challenge that other first-year students with jobs, family obligations, strong involvement in student activities or other competing demands on their time also struggle to figure out. It should also be noted that not all student athletes have classroom anxieties, as some are superb athletes and superb students. It should also be recognized that student athletes who do struggle academically are overwhelmingly honest and do not engage in unethical behavior.

UNC Charlotte’s Athletic Academic Center can be of great help to your student athletes.

8 Considerations when teaching student athletes…

  1. Forgo negative assumptions in the absence of direct evidence:  All students, including student athletes, deserve the benefit of the doubt and deserve not to be confronted with unfounded evidence.

  2. Be aware of the stigma that student- athletes face:  They are well  aware of the negative stigmas often attached to them: assumed lack of intellect and academic dedication and that they are fed answers or others do their homework.  We can counter those stigmas by refusing to make similar assumptions and confronting those stigmas directly when they arise.

  3. Be upfront about their dual status: Rather than single them out during class, have a private conversation about their anxieties about the class, the academic help they are receiving from the team and their department,  and how you can help them succeed.  You cannot give them special treatment but you can ask them when they anticipate missing class because of competition. By planning earlier and giving reasonable accommodations you are more  likely to see better academic performance.

  4. Work with their support structure:  Have them take notes when meeting with them on specific content you want them to work on with their tutors. When communicating with their tutors, provide  updates of students doing well and provide specific advice for students doing less well.  Respond in a timely manner to request for updates from authorized staff in the athletics department.

  5. If you are going to make an assumption, assume that they understand what it means to be excellent:  Successful athletes understand the hard work, dedication,  time, energy and resources it takes to excel at something. They know not to expect immediate dividends. Students know that instruction is another word for coaching.

  6. Help them transfer the mindset and skills that make them strong athletes into the classroom:  Learning any process, whether it is the writing process, playing an instrument or making a 3 point play, is an iteration of performance, evaluation, feedback and increasingly minute adjustments until the process gets as good as it is going to get. Help student athletes break down tasks into components and showing how the components fit together. Also help them make the connection of how prior knowledge is useful to current situations, which helps them grasp the function of the class and the curriculum.

  7. Respect what athletics mean to the student: Understand what it is like to love something immeasurably.

  8. Get students to not overestimate the consequences of making mistakes in your class: “Many faculty members fear dealing with student-athletes who, feel entitled, or who constantly test the instructor’s authority. However, such fears are most frequently unfounded.Deal with such students as you would any other.  If you are unable to resolve a situation with a student-athlete on your own, your best recourse is to seek appropriate help.” (Kreuter, Dieter, 2017)

Resources

University of Minnesota, Athletes in the Classroom: How to Balance Athletics and the Classroom
Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching, Accommodating Student Athletes in the Classroom

References

Insider Higher Ed, Teaching Student-Athletes