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Athletics vs. 'The Other Side' of Campus: A Higher ED Taboo

"It's not about competing with one another but about working together to become more successful as an institution."

When it comes to the success of a college, one often overlooked but essential component is the team of college coaches who fulfill various crucial roles. These roles include mentoring, recruitment, event administration, budget management, travel planning, community service, and sports marketing. Despite our advanced degrees and various certifications in strength and conditioning, nutrition, emergency management, and ministry, we are often unfairly stereotyped as athletic meatheads (joking not joking). This article emphasizes the importance of recognizing the essential roles played by coaches and advocates for better collaboration and transparency between athletics and other campus departments.

The success of athletic programs is vital to academic success and widespread recognition for higher ed. institutions. The phrase "front porch of the university" often refers to a college's athletic department, which can be seen as the school's public face. Athletic departments are typically more visible than other parts of a college due to their teams competing in games and competitions that attract media coverage. This visibility impacts how prospective students, alums, and the general public perceive a school.

Some campus administrators view athletics as secondary to academics when the experiences students gain from athletics are an academic and practical education. This intellectual elitism reduces collaboration and impedes communication, creating roadblocks to the institution's overall progress. This is particularly problematic in small schools, where athletic programs contribute significantly to enrollment. To achieve a more unified community that benefits everyone, campus departments must work together, recognizing and respecting each other's expertise and knowledge.

Please don't be mistaken, the success of college athletic departments doesn't solely rest on the shoulders of the athletic staff, and this article is not an attack on "the other side of campus." The success of college athletic departments requires expertise and support from multidisciplinary perspectives. Faculty and administrative personnel generally do not have a background in the obvious knowledge needed, such as athletic recruiting, strength and conditioning, or sports marketing and management. However, many professors bring valuable expertise in medicine, engineering, communication, culture, psychology, and business that can be applied to developing athletes and athletic programs. Coaches should recognize their own knowledge gaps and utilize this experience through deliberate collaboration. Collaboration must be embraced to ensure student-athletes excel on the court and develop into well-rounded individuals with broad skill sets for future professional success.

Alright, let's sink into problem-solving mode and address solutions.

In my previous article, "Addressing Mental Health in Student-Athletes: Strategies for College Campuses and the NCAA," I started with the issue and used the Bible to illustrate a solution. I'm following the same format in this piece. Scripture promotes teamwork and recognizes each person's unique talents and perspectives as essential to achieving collective goals. It's not about competing with one another but about working together to become more successful as an institution. Note the following passages:

  1. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 encourages collaboration between coaches and faculty on college campuses by emphasizing the benefits of working together and supporting one another, which can ensure the success of student-athletes both on and off the field. Coaches and faculty can help each other understand the unique pressures faced by student-athletes, provide support and resources, and create a sense of community.

  2. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 compares the human body to the body of Christ, emphasizing the importance of different body parts working together for the good of the whole.

  3. Proverbs 27:17 states, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." This verse suggests we can improve by surrounding ourselves with people with different skills and strengths.

In addition to Biblical grounds for collaboration, here are some practical examples of ways faculty and athletic staff can better work together:

  1. Foster open communication channels: Establish regular meetings to allow coaches and faculty to share updates, discuss concerns, and brainstorm solutions.

  2. Cross-departmental training opportunities: Encourage coaches and faculty to attend joint professional development, workshops, or conferences to learn from or about each other's domain.

  3. Shared leadership opportunities: Invite coaches to play a role in academic enrichment programs and invite faculty to participate in student athletic events in a support capacity.

  4. Create a shared vision: Engage faculty and coaches in collaborative goal-setting or brainstorming to develop a shared vision for student success.

The hard work of college coaches and faculty alike significantly contributes to institutional success, both academically and financially. Administrators recognizing and appreciating their efforts is essential. When stakeholders across diverse backgrounds come together, they foster a cohesive community that promotes cooperation and progress. Getting rid of egotistical attitudes and agendas leads to a more productive work environment, and students enjoy an enhanced college journey.

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