Today’s collegiate sports has become a major form of entertainment and a multi-million peso industry. Member-institutions of the NCAA and the UAAP generate revenues from television coverage, gate receipts, and advertisements. Recruitment of players in men’s basketball and women’s volleyball has never been so competitive given the unprecedented media attention and public demand. The formula is simple: great players mean excellent chance of success; winning means higher revenue shares.
However, we often forget the fact that the primary protagonists (and villains) of collegiate sports are the student athletes who are not paid to play. They are first and foremost students who must meet academic eligibility to be able to play. Playing is a consequential aspect of their existence in the university or college. They are student first; next an athlete.
Playing in front of a national audience adds to the tremendous pressure they face everyday. When they don school colors, their classmates, schoolmates, faculty and staff, and alumni expect them to win. But winning (or losing) is not the only concern that preoccupies these athletes’ mind. There are home works, term papers, quizzes, examination and other academic requirements to worry about. Despite these constant challenges, a student athlete is expected to perform well on the court. Yet, there is a stereotype of the jock as one who is more brawn than brain. Excellence is not expected of them. Some schools even send the message that their athletic performance is more important than their academic performance.
In a research conducted in 2008, I assumed that student athletes in an agricultural university focused more on their studies than on athletics. It perfectly made sense — there was no TV coverage, no scholarship. Almost no pressure, it seems. I found out, however, that almost seven out of every ten student athletes are academically delinquent. In addition, they show the characteristics of revenue-generating sports teams: high athletic commitment, high rate of academic delinquency and high athletic identity.
These revelations were, for me, enough justification to establish a program similar to that of the US NCAA. Founded in 1991, the NCAA CHAMPS (Challenging Athletes’ Minds for Personal Success) was created to support the student-athlete initiatives of member institutions and to enhance the quality of the student-athlete experience within the context of higher education. This program focuses on academic and athletic excellence, career and personal development, and community service. Life skills coordinators oversee the implementation of academic support services and college adjustment strategies. Every aspect of student’s life is taken care of.
In Central Luzon State University, a program patterned after the NCAA CHAMPS Life Skills has been instituted starting last school year. It focuses on the most important component of the varsity sports: the student athletes. Course tutorials and academic monitoring were introduced. The Varsity Team Captains’ Council was revived with the intention of empowering student athletes – sessions on college adjustments for freshmen were held; teams conducted sports clinics, to name a few of the activities.
The program was instrumental in improving the performance of CLSU from 8th place to 2nd place in the SUC III (State Universities and Colleges of Region III) Olympics . More importantly, academic delinquency decreased by more than 20%. Last year, a member of the women’s basketball team was even included among the students with highest grade point averages (GPA).
The gains of the program suggest that it is possible for student athletes to have success in both academics and sports. More importantly, it highlights the formative role of schools in developing their student athletes. Not everyone can make it to the professional level. The PBA, as an example, drafts about 20 players every year, which is not even one percent of all college players across the country. Thus, the student athlete experience should facilitate development in other areas of life. Emphasis on winning is great, but “winning in life” may even be more important. It is towards this end that life skills program can help student athletes prepare in their quest for victories beyond those that are reflected in the stat sheets. After all, it is not just sports achievement that define student athletes. In the end, it may be important that sports can make them better individuals.
Jay C. Santos is the Director of the Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (ISPEAR) of Central Luzon State University. He earned his degree in Master of Arts in Community and Social Psychology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and had a two-semester internship at the NCAA CHAMPS –Life Skills Program. He is presenting his research at the Psychological Association of the Philippines (www.pap.org.ph) annual convention this August.