Teaching Student Athletes

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter last week with @Abigail_Scheg and wanted to write a short post as a kind of follow-up.  Dr. Scheg was at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and was attending a panel on student athletes.  One of her posts in the backchannel of this panel said this:  “Speaker 2: Student athletes are not just ‘basic writers’.”  Although I was not at the conference, I was following the Twitterfeed, and I immediately responded by saying, “Indeed. Athletes are just like any other group of students. So many variables here too: size of school, division, etc.”  Our conversation went on briefly for a bit, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts here.

As a former athlete, this is a hot-button issue for me.  Too often, athletes can be lumped together as one all-encompassing (and usually, the popular opinion goes, low-performing) group.  Nothing could be further from the truth, especially because there are so many differences in programs, schools, sports, etc.  Even on my own Division III wrestling team, we had good students, mediocre students, and not-as-good students, and this was at a college that certainly privileged academics more than athletics.  To assume, then, that athletes are a monolithic group that all approach learning in the same way is as fallacious as assuming that about any group of students.

It may be true that athletes learn differently from other students, but all students learn differently, so that could also be an easy red herring.  One possibility for effectively teaching athletes, though, is to use their vast domain knowledge (sports) to help them understand difficult course concepts.  I have taught many athletes in my career and used analogies and situations from their own sports to help them with course material.  I once taught a basketball player, for example, in a composition class.  He was having a difficult time with the logic of his argument and the organization of his paper.  After several attempts using traditional methods, I framed the question in terms of designing plays that would be successful on the court.  It didn’t work right away, but the student did start to see how he could use the parameters of logic he accesses every day in practice and apply it to his writing.

This is one example from my own experience, and I would love to hear how others approach teaching athletes.  In general, though, I will say that domain knowledge may be an untapped resource for working with these students