Editor's Note: You can emphasize academics throughout your athletic department during recruiting, meetings, or providing daily academic meetings but until student-athletes see benefits from their hard work in the classroom their competitive nature in athletics will not fully transfer over to the academic side. The culture of the athletic department must be focused around the academic side because the student-athletes are receiving enough external signals of why sports are important. Athletes are competitive by nature so whether it is in their sport, foosball, a pick-up basketball game, or a game of Apples-to-Apples they will want to win. A great way to capitalize on this trait is to implement a program that highlights and rewards student-athletes that are excelling in the classroom, in the community, and on the field.
Student-Athlete of the Month
What Is It?:
Student-Athlete of the Month is an award program that an athletic department’s academic services center implements to recognize one student-athletes per sport who performs exceptionally in the classroom, in the community, and on the field.
Why It Works:
It works because it plays off of the competitive nature of student-athletes. Competition is emphasized to every student-athlete during practice, meetings, and through the media. The goal for every student-athlete is to be the best athlete they can be, to win the most awards they can, and to accomplish all of that through hard work. Generally, there are more awards in athletic departments and on teams for athletic performance than academic performance. It is very easy for a student-athlete to see that and to deemphasize the importance of excelling everyday academically.
The intrinsic goal to develop life-skills throughout college and earn a degree gets sucked into the background because there are more praise and awards given to athletic achievement. In the traditional model, the student-athlete who power-cleans the most weight often gets a shirt or other external recognition but the student-athlete who finishes in the top 5% of their upper-division business class goes unnoticed. The Athletic Department heads can change this culture and bring more attention to academics and by doing so will bring more balance to the student-athlete.
The Student-Athlete of the Month award is given to the student-athlete who embodies the qualities and principles that the athletic department values. These factors can include:
1. High test scores
3. Dedication to the team
4. Community Service
5. GPA improvements
6. Highest GPA
7. Academic praise (from instructors)
8. Campus involvement
Minimal. The Student-Athlete of the Month award winner can be amplified solely digitally or placards can be created with removable individual photos of the student-athletes. The beauty of this device is that it can be as affordable or as lavish as the athletic department wants to make it. I’ve seen pictures of student-athletes pinned on to cork boards, engraved names on plaques, and even a designated area with nice branding that allows for quick replacement of team photos.
How To Promote It:
The academic coordinators work to establish what their ideal student-athlete is and then develop a criteria that they will base their decisions from. The criteria must then be defined and the selection committee listed so the student-athletes will understand the requirements and what they will have to do to earn the award. Once the winners are selected, an email to the entire athletic department, including the student-athletes, should be sent out congratulating the winners.
To ensure participation from all of the student-athletes and to ensure hard work is getting noticed, multiple awards could be given out. The Student-Athlete of the Month could be seen as the MVP for that month but other awards that could be given are:
1. Most Improved - Given to the student-athlete who has improved the most throughout the month but has not yet achieved the goals set for her.
2. Community Service Award - Earned by the student-athlete who has shown the greatest impact on the community through service, volunteerism, or activity in the community.
3. Coach’s Award - Awarded to the student-athlete who helps her peers succeed in the classroom and on the field.
These awards are given to recognize the student-athletes who are doing the right things. But implementing this will also change the culture by giving the student-athletes constant reminders that the athletic department rewards and values when student-athletes do well in areas other than athletics. These awards will show current and potential student-athletes and parents the values of the athletic department and that those qualities and acts are recognized. By incorporating “Most Improved,” “Coaches Award,” and the “Community Service” awards you will be able to increase participation by using positive reinforcement.
Head Coach of Academics:
Name: Caltha Seymour
Title: Director of Academic Services Center for Student-Athletes
Sport: Hammer Throw
Alma Mater: University of Delaware
Purpose of the "Scholar-Athlete of the Month" Program:
“Tulane Athletics strives to build student-athletes who want to pursue academic excellence and athletic achievement while also exhibiting a strong ambition and winning attitude on and off the playing field. We, in the Academic Services Center for Student-Athletes, want to recognize one student-athlete per sport each month that embodies the four A's of being a true scholar-athlete.” (see below)
Why it works:
The recipients of this award are highlighted and their pictures are the first things you see when walking into the Academic Services Center. The winners are announced to the athletic department, which creates an environment that cherishes the pursuit of academic excellence. Once that culture is established student-athletes will compete with each other to win these monthly awards.
Tulane’s Criteria: Straight A's
1. Academic Excellence
2. Athletic Achievement
3. Strong Ambition
4. Winning Attitude
Note On Tulane:
Tulane's academic services center is led by former NCAA and professional athlete, Caltha Seymour. Caltha and her team have come up with the "Four A's" which is a great standard for the Student-Athlete of the Month award because they are clear and easily defined so that the student-athletes know what they need to do to get recognized. Tulane's Athletic Department gives out other monthly awards to student-athletes as well, including a Most Improved. The recognition they give to their student-athletes is recognized and encourages them to work harder the next month because expectations change positively.
Get used to this name because Caltha and her staff are working hard to develop and test new methods for improving the life skills and academic success of student-athletes. AthletesLTD is excited to highlight the successes of these programs because when student-athletes pair their drive with these academic tools, success is inevitable.
Universities With Similar Programs:
American Athletic Conference:
- Tulane Green Wave
- Minnesota Golden Gophers
- LSU Tigers
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Vanderbilt Commodores
- South Alabama Jaguars
Asst. AD David Potter's Note: Each week Sports Information selects a male and female Student-Athlete of the Week based on performance. Then at the end of the month Student-Athlete Academic Services will choose a male and female Student-Athlete of the Month. The decision will be based on a combination of academic and athletic performance.
"I value student-athletes who are responsible and take ownership of their academic career..... I embrace those who don't and provide every opportunity to change their perspective." - David Potter