A Proposed Study on Student Athletes and Their Academic Levels
According to many physical education professionals, involvements in sports activities play an integral role in the social and physical development of students and contribute to the value of traditional educational programs (Eitzen, 1996; Pressley & Whitley, 1996). Proponents of physical education courses view values such as sportsmanship, hard work, and moral character as the most beneficial aspects of sport participation (Spencer, 1996; Sage, 1998; Silverman, 1998). Professionals in the area of sports emphasize the many ways that participation in sports and physical education programs encourage the development of ethics among the participants. Given the significant amount of time that coaches spend with student athletes, logic would indicate that coaches inherently play an extremely large role in the physical, social, and educational development of the young athletes. With that logic in mind, it is both reasonable and necessary to examine ways in which coaches may have a positive influence in all areas of the student athletes’ development. For the purposes of this investigation, the researcher will be focusing on specific ways in which coaches may increase the academic achievement of high school athletes.
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Approximately seven million boys and girls in the United States participated in high school sports during the 2003-2004 academic year (National Federation of State
High School Association [NFSAH], 2004a). Since 1971, the number of high school student athletes has grown by approximately two million. According to the 2003-2004
figures, state participation ranged from 4,128 young athletes in the District of Columbia to 754,628 in the state of Texas (NFSHA, 2004b). With such a large number of student athletes in the United States, and the often touted benefits of sport participation in high school, it would be prudent to create a method for verifying the actual degree to which interscholastic athletics have a positive contribution on the academic successes of student athletes. With many states turning to stricter requirements for high school graduation and the emphasis on preparing students for life in college and in the working world, it seems appropriate to determine the factors that have a positive impact on the student athletes’ ability to academically succeed in their scholastic environment.
Statement of the Problem
Student athletes often find their time severely stretched by academic requirements, athletic practices and events, and the extra burdens of trying to maintain a social life and possibly a part time job. With all these expectations and requirements hanging heavily on the student athlete, it seems that academic quality is the area that most choose to compromise. Teachers and coaches often have different priorities. It is not uncommon for a teacher to assign a large project or important test at the same time that the coach increases practice time for a “big” game. Most educators would agree that school is for education, not for sport activities. Most coaches, on the other hand, would agree that the lessons learned through sport participation are for life, and life lessons outweigh traditional education. The lack of communication between the two authority
figures puts quite a bit of undue stress on a teenager who is both trying to keep his or her grades up and also be a winner in their chosen sport. Add to the mix a parent or guardian who is pushing for good grades or good athletic performance, or perhaps both, and the cause for academic struggles and withdrawal from sports becomes fairly obvious. Student athletes are pushed to their limits.
Nature and Significance of the Problem
The pressure put upon high school athletes to achieve is major. Even cable networks, such as MTV, bring attention to “powerhouse” teams. The view from the coaches side is obvious, student athletes are at school to win games and bring prestige to the program. Of course, to participate in the program a student must keep up their grades, but with some schools requiring only a 2.0 GPA to participate in sports, the message comes across very clearly: do as little as possible in scholastics, because sports are going to be the ticket to a better future. No doubt many high school students believe this. After being raised in a poverty stricken part of the city, all they want is a way to get ahead, and to be better than the people they grew up with. In sport crazy states, most high school athletes dream of playing for the big college teams that offer so much in the way of exposure, and occasionally a chance to make it to the biggest stage of all, professional sports.
Enclosed in this desire is the nature of the problem. A 2.0 grade point average is good enough to graduate high school, but it usually is not enough to secure an academic
scholarship to a college with a major sports program. Most high school athletes do not see a problem with that bit of reality. To be truthful, neither do most coaches. Sports scholarships are the goal, but that goal is marred again by reality. Major college teams only have so many scholarships to offer, and they offer them only to the very best players from around the country. There are smaller schools that might have a few extra athletic scholarships, but for the most part those get taken quickly. What happens, then, to the athlete that has just barely scraped by in high school? They could go to a two year college and hope to improve their grades enough for acceptance at a larger college, but they are invariably going to lose a lot of their playing time. Some, however, would be lucky to be admitted to a two year school. With pressure mounting on teachers to find a way for students to keep their grades high enough to keep playing, the education some high school athletes receive is less than stellar. Easy classes and adjusted grades plague the transcripts of many high school athletes. So, with no prospect for an academic scholarship and only a small chance of an athletic scholarship, where does that leave the high school athlete? Athletic prowess can only take a person so far. Many find themselves with few prospects other than basic, menial employment, and some find themselves back in the slums from which they came, with very little to go on to get themselves out.
Imagine for a moment what could happen if coaches looked away from their “win or else” mentality for a moment and focused on the best interests of their high school athletes instead. What if they demanded academic excellence as well as athletic excellence from their young charges? Ideally, teachers and coaches would work together, not to make sure that the star athletes play any given week, but to make sure that the child has a future outside of high school. Coaches desperately need to take an active role in improving the academic ability of their players. High school athletes want to please their coaches, oftentimes more than they want to please any other authority figure. If coaches began to put a high priority on their athletes study habits and grades, whole generations of children could be saved from a life of mediacracy.
Purpose of the Proposed Project
The purpose of the proposed project, having coaches become more involved in the education of their student athletes and determining factors that impact the academic success of the same students, is designed to increase grade point averages of student athletes and secure for them a well-rounded education. Through a series of surveys and conferences the researcher intends to attempt to bridge the gaps between three of the most influential people groups in a student athlete’s academic career: the teachers, the coaches, and the parents or guardians. Ideally, this “meeting of the minds” will catch on in the high schools to which it is introduced, and the school staff and parent/guardians will continue on with the idea and make it a regular addition to the school setting. Definition of Terms
Seeing as how this project includes no terms that would be considered unusual or unfamiliar to any reader, the researcher will dispense with the definition of terms.
The researcher is fortunate enough to be surrounded by high schools of nearly every type, size, and economic standing. This wealth of research opportunities should produce varied and interesting perspectives that hopefully will be well displayed through these proposed research questions:
1. What grade point average is required to participate in sports programs at this school?
2. What role do coaches play in the education of the student athletes?
3. What policies are in place to make sure a student athlete is keeping up their grades and completing assignments?
4. Is there adequate communication between teachers and coaches regarding assignments given to student athletes?
5. Is there adequate communication between teachers and parents/guardians regarding grades and assignments?
6. Are there penalties enforced by coaches for below average grades and failure to complete assignments?
7. In your opinion, do all students have the resources to be successful in your school? Why or why not?
8. What or who has the most positive influence on a student athlete?
9. What or who has the most negative influence on a student athlete?
10. How would you rate student athletes’ attitudes toward education at your school? Poor, neutral, good, or excellent?
The Spearman Rho formula for computing correlations will be the preferred methodology for analyzing the proposed survey results. This method was chosen for its simplicity and its accuracy. It provides “three pieces of information: the correlation coefficient (a number between +1 and -1), the significance, and the number of cases”(Schloesser, 2000). The correlation coefficient gives us the “magnitude,” or “strength” of the correlation as well as the “direction,” or “relationship of the variables”(Schloesser, 2000). As the attempt of the survey is to determine the correlation and the “relationship” of the findings, the Spearman Rho formula will give the researcher the exact information that she needs to make authentic conclusions related to the study.
Permission to enact the following procedures will be requested from the Institutional Review Board of Nova Southeastern University and the respective high schools, not to number more than three, that the researcher wishes to assess. After receiving permission from all parties, surveys will be given out to a representative sample of coaches, teachers, and parents or guardians of student athletes. They will not be given to the student athletes themselves, for the purpose of the survey is to determine how informed each participant is about the daily life of the student athlete. The questions are designed to elicit different answers from each distinctive group. Once the surveys are completed and analyzed the information will be sent in an easy to read format to all participants, and also the principal of the respective high school. A meeting will then be arranged between all participants and the principal. At this meeting the results of the survey will be discussed in detail by the researcher. The participants will be able to voice opinions and concerns that the survey did not cover, and they will also be invited to give their opinion on the results of the survey. Dependant on the results, the researcher will be poised to offer suggestions for more involvement from the coaches in everyday education and methods to improve the academic performance of the student athletes.
Proposed changes and suggestions
Again, dependant on the results of the survey and what procedures are already in place, the following are the proposed changes and suggestions that the researcher wishes to offer. Coaches should begin to emphasize the importance of above average grades. This can be done by reminding student athletes of requirements for playing sports in college, or even raising the requirements to play sports at the school. Study halls should be instituted and attendance required. Teachers should provide progress reports to both the coach and the parent/guardian on a weekly basis. Follow up calls will be desired to ensure that the parent/guardian received the report in an unaltered state. Teachers and coaches should provide each other with their respective schedules for games and assignments so everyone knows what is coming up and there will be no surprises.
Procedures for maintaining open dialogues and changes
To maintain open lines of communication, meetings between the coach, teacher, and parent/guardian should be held at least every time a report card is issued. If there are problems with academics between those times, meetings should be immediately called and the source of the problem determined. All parties should be totally committed to the welfare of the student athlete. If a coach notices a student being negatively influenced by peers, he or she should alert the parent/guardian. If a teacher notices an abrupt change in demeanor and grades, he or she should report the problem to the parent/guardian. The procedures described are not intended to “spy” or “tattle” on the student athlete, but they are designed to keep the child out of trouble and on the road to a good education, regardless of whether they choose to attend college.
The researcher will return to the schools after one half of the school year has passed and assess the situation by giving the same survey out to the same participants. The surveys will be collected and analyzed, and a meeting will be arranged between all the original parties. It is hoped that the surveys will reflect the changes instituted as a result of the first survey. The researcher will continue this process over the period of one full school year. Changes will be assessed, and suggestions will continue to be made until progress is achieved.
The potential outcomes of this pattern of surveys and meetings can be nothing but positive. Lines of communication are opened up, student athletes are held to a higher standard, and parents or guardians become involved in the educational process. The communication between the people who know the student athlete the best and spend the most time with him or her reduces the chances of the child falling into trouble. Knowing that there are people who support and love them is very important for a teenager. With
support coming from at least three sides, the student athlete is likely to excel beyond anyone’s expectations.
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Floyd, C. (1996). Achieving despite the odds: A study of resilience among a group of African American high school seniors. Journal of Negro Education 65(2), 181-189.
National Federation of State High School Association. (2004a). 2003-2004 high school athletics participation survey [On-line]. Available: http://www.nfhs.org/scriptcontent/VA_Custom/SurveyResources/2003_04_Participation_Summary.pdf
National Federation of State High School Association. (2004b). 2003-2004 participation survey [On-line].
Pressley, J. S., & Whitely, R. L. (1996). Let’s hear if for the “Dumb Jock”: What athletics contribute to the academic program. NASSP Bulletin, 80(580), 74-84.
Schloesser, N. (2000) Spearman rho. [On-line]. Available: http://www.wellesley.edu/Psychology/Psych205/spearman.html
Silverman, S. (1998). Can moral development be promoted in physical education? JOPERD, 69(5), 6-7.
Spencer, A. F. (1996). Ethics in physical and sport education. JOPERD, 67(7), 37-39.