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Balancing Independence and Support for College Athletes' Emotional Growth

Working with college students involves balancing treating them like adults and acknowledging their ongoing social and biological development. Young people sometimes struggle with emotional awareness and communication, which can cause problems with family, academics, mental health, dating, time management, and spirituality. Mentors must let them express themselves and help them to link their feelings and actions. The maturity process continues well past the teenage years.


To help young adults develop independently, we can:


  1. Encourage good communication by creating a safe space where they can express themselves without fear of negative consequences.

  2. Help them identify and understand their emotions and thoughts to develop self-awareness.

  3. Guide them towards better impulse control by addressing impulsive behaviors and reactions.

  4. Prioritize empathy by recognizing their social and emotional needs and showing a willingness to understand and assist them, leading by example.

  5. Teach the value of setting and respecting personal boundaries, which includes providing support in setting limits and guidelines for their behavior and decision.


Recognizing my own limitations when providing appropriate support on specific issues is essential. I know that I can't be an expert in everything, so I direct my players to campus and community resources that are better suited to address their needs. I've made it a point to familiarize myself with the available on-campus support services (campus chaplain, DPS, mental health services, Title 9 coordinators), and I communicate these resources to my players in case they need them. We also invite support personnel to attend team meetings at the start of the season so the athletes can match a face to the service.


By sharing my human and coaching limitations (skill and philosophies), I'm teaching my players to be humble and open-minded. They feel more comfortable asking for help or sharing their experiences. In our team meetings and practice sessions, I try to teach life skills that help players solve personal issues. Learning healthy communication, coping strategies, and life management tools can also improve teamwork.


As a coach, I firmly believe in guiding young adults in their athletic pursuits and personal growth. It's essential to prioritize communication, emotional awareness, impulse control, empathy, and personal boundaries while recognizing our limitations and directing them to relevant resources. I find comfort in Proverbs 22:6, which tells us to start children off on the right path, so they'll stay on it for life. As a mentor, I am committed to creating a supportive environment where everyone feels secure in seeking help and sharing their experiences. My responsibility is to send my players into the world as better versions of themselves than when they first came to me.

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