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Support your student-athlete

By Amanda Knopf


If you are the proud parent of a new college athlete, you know there will be adjustments. For the first time — if you’re like my dad — you may not be able to catch every inning of your daughter’s softball games or every track or gymnastics meet. As hard as it was for me to take the mound in my first collegiate start and not see my dad in the stands, I know it was just as hard for him.

Luckily attending games is not the only way to show your support!

You can still follow games even if you can’t be there in person.

Sync the game schedule to your iCalendar, read the box scores, and watch or listen to live stats/streaming if they're available. Now is also a great time to learn more about the strategies and subtleties of their sport. Your student-athlete will appreciate the effort you’ve made to amp up your spectatorship alongside their own commitment to stepping up their game.

Don’t hover.

Respect your athlete’s space, especially right after games when their priority is bonding with their teammates. Wait for them to call or text you.

Be a good listener.

When your student wants to talk about the game, start by listening. No pitcher wants to hear a parent say, “Man, you let that curve ball float right down the middle and he CRUSHED it,” as soon as they pick up the phone (take it from me!). When it's your turn, point out something positive and provide encouragement.

Let the coaches coach.

Many high school parents are closely involved in their students’ athletic experiences, and indeed your support played a large role in getting them where they are today. For parents who have coached their kids, the transition to becoming only a spectator can be tough, but now it’s your turn to sit back, relax and watch your player shine.

As hard as it is not to be present for your athlete’s celebration or their heartbreak, knowing their number one fan is there when they need them means the world to student-athletes when they are away from home.

Encourage self-advocacy.

Most likely during high school your students transitioned to communicating directly with their coaches without your mediation. If this is new territory for them, suggest some language they might use when having difficult conversations. Talking to a coach about an issue like playing time might be intimidating at first — like going to a professor’s office hours to discuss a grade — but it will give the athlete important communication skills and practice standing up for themselves and taking and incorporating constructive criticism.

Remind your student-athlete of their strengths.

Determination, tenacity and commitment are what got your student-athlete on the team. At this higher level of competition, they need those traits more than ever and they will come in handy off the field as well. When your student-athlete is homesick, discouraged about a bad grade, or has been rejected for a job or internship, you can remind them to keep their chin up and work hard at finding their niche in a new place.

(Gently) remind them to manage their time.

With 5 a.m. conditioning, two-a-day practices and team meetings on top of courses and homework, student-athletes live by a tight schedule. However, that’s no excuse to fall behind on schoolwork. In fact, when I was in-season, I was actually more productive than during the off-season because I knew I had to use every free minute wisely.

What I admire most about student-athletes is their ability to practice a skill again and again, even after failing miserably and often while being watched closely by others. When they apply this same persistence in the classroom, there is no material they can’t master.

Talk up the college's academic resources.

Student-athletes are competitive and can be stubborn, too. Having been one myself and later a graduate student tutor for student-athletes, I learned that tutors and writing centers sometimes carry a stigma. What I tell the students I work with now is that studying or revising a paper with a tutor is just like practicing with a teammate. When learning to play basketball, you wouldn’t try a free-throw once and call it perfect, so why expect any different from organic chemistry or Macbeth?

Tell them it’s okay to take a break sometimes.

Many student-athletes feel pressured by coaches, teammates or even fans to be constantly working out and getting bigger, faster and stronger. They overlook the fact that social and emotional health will help them reach their peak athletic performance and avoid burnout. Remind your student-athlete to take advantage of their school’s health and wellness center, stay involved in their passions outside of sports by joining a club, and support other teams by attending games.

The hard work your student-athlete puts in balancing academics and sports gives them life skills that are recognized by potential employers when they go on the job market. Recent articles in ForbesFortune and on Time’s Money page show why athletes are more likely to get hired and be successful in the workplace.

Treasure every moment.

Although it sounds cliché, after that last at-bat, lay-up or touchdown, both you and your athlete are going to miss it. Remind them how much joy you’ve seen them show on the field or court over the last several years. Keeping that passion alive through the daily grind of college will give your student-athlete the experience they dreamed about since they were an eight-year-old Pee Wee quarterback or Little League catcher.

The morning before my last college game, I called my high school coach, wanting to hear his best pep talk. He reminded me of my junior year, when the team made it to the State playoffs, and asked, “Do you remember how many strikeouts you had, or our record that year?” I didn’t. I said what I really remembered was how fun that whole season was. “Exactly. So play like you’re a kid again.”

Sometimes the intensity of college sports can make playing like a kid again feel impossible. But that day, I made having fun my only goal. I got my teammates on board too, and we ended the year with our school’s first winning softball season in 22 years (and I broke my college’s strikeout record). The best part was that my dad, knowing how important that last game was for me, was there to see it. Having support from my parents not just that day, but every step of the way, helped shape a college athletic career that turned out better than I ever could have hoped.

 

 

Amanda Knopf teaches community engagement and service learning classes at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. She also tutors high school and college students in English, writing and test prep through the national tutoring service, Varsity Tutors. Amanda graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2012 and then earned a Masters in English from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Amanda is passionate about improving equity in higher education and college access for disadvantaged students, and also about softball — she played in college and has extensive coaching experience.

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Susan Linde
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Susan Linde

As a parent of a student-athlete, I appreciate this advice from a former student athlete.

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