ERIC Identifier: ED379532 Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Hinkle, J. Scott Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Sports Counseling: Helping Student-Athletes. ERIC Digest.
During the past ten years there has been a dramatic increase in interest and
participation in sports at the collegiate, as well as professional and leisure
levels. The 1970s and 1980s have brought increased commercialization of sports.
Despite the involvement of sanctioning bodies, countless student-athletes are
suffering from exploitation, personal excesses, and abuse including drugs and
alcohol, as well as exhibiting various psychosocial problems. Approximately ten
percent of American college athletes suffer from problems appropriate for
counseling. At the collegiate level, many sports programs have become expensive
preparatory programs for professional teams. Rarely a day passes without a news
report of a student-athlete in some type of psychosocio-behavioral difficulty
directly or indirectly associated with sports performance. Student-athletes are
subject to emotional difficulties as a function of sports participation. Anxiety
resulting from the threat of evaluation by others, lack of self-confidence, and
unreasonable expectations from coaches and fans are but a few of the problems
experienced by student-athletes. Educational, developmental, and remedial
programs are needed for student-athletes. Such programs are not available to all
who need them, and programs which include any form of counseling are especially
Referral to sports counselors is
becoming more common, resulting in a demand for counseling professionals
sensitive to interventions for student athletes. Since sports psychologists
focus on performance and coaches typically have physical education training,
neither are qualified or prepared to work with individuals psychoemotional
difficulties. Counseling professionals are needed to address the psychoemotional
needs of the student-athletes.
Counselors are well prepared for the provision of educational and clinical
services designed for student-athletes, including lifestyle consultation,
developmental programming, career development, and stress management. Direct
performance enhancement per se may be out of the realm of most counselors'
training. This area is typically best handled by sports psychologists or
psychologists with motivational sports training. This is not to infer, however,
that counselors' involvement with athletes does not enhance performance. Such
enhancement is often indirect and as a result in improvements in areas
associated with the counseling process. For example, a student-athlete who
overcomes a drug problem as a result of counseling will likely improve relative
sport performance. The optimal sports counselor should be familiar with the
sport. However, the counselor's interest in sport should not inhibit the helping
process. The counselor should not neglect the individual for the sake of sports
performance or the organization/team for which the student-athlete performs.
In contrast to sports psychology, sports counseling's focus is on the
athlete's development as an individual, including personal and clinical issues
associated with sport performance. For example, sports counseling assists
student-athletes with reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming fear of failure
and success, and burn-out. It also addresses interpersonal issues such as family
and marital difficulty. In addition, counseling can assist with problem
prevention, coping skills, relaxation training, decision-making, life management
and career planning, therapeutic strategies, and crisis intervention.
Ineffective attempts to deal with stress can result in the abuse of alcohol and
other drugs. Timely assessments and treatment by sports counselors can provide
student-athletes with educational programs and information about drugs and
substance abuse treatment.
Transitional periods are particularly stressful for student-athletes. For
example, many high school stars make limited progress on a college team while
others have trouble adjusting when their college sports careers are over.
Unfortunately, some examples of such phase of life problems are more extreme.
Athletes experiencing difficulties with transitions have been known to become
clinically depressed and even suicidal. Thus, sports counseling services
sensitive to the magnitude of the effects of sports on student-athletes are
Relatedly, student-athletes not involved in revenue sports at the collegiate
level may suffer from a lack of recognition and the disparity of the college
sports system. Crew members, swimmers, runners, gymnasts, wrestlers,
triathletes, and others have their share of stress and difficulties that can be
alleviated by counseling. As a result, sports counselors apply methods for
becoming involved with and providing services for these "least known" athletes.
Many of the difficulties experienced by student-athletes will not require unique
counseling techniques or therapeutic competencies. However, they do require the
development of theoretical models that will increase the knowledge base of
sports counseling and related proactive interventions.
In addition, athletes typically are not counseled in a vacuum. Coaches,
parents, and significant others can learn effective communication skills from
sports counselors and how to best serve as influential role models. Coaches can
also learn relationship building skills from sports counselors. Similarly, the
cultural aspects of student-athletes are important components of the sports
COUNSELING AND ATHLETIC DIVERSITY
As with any endeavor,
diversity abounds. Counselors involved professionally with student-athletes must
recognize the individual and group differences that characterize the athletic
population. Women and minorities may differ in their needs to participate in
sports and in the issues which arise as a result of their participation. Thus,
the process of sports counseling needs to respect their individual needs.
Women's sports, women's coaches, male coaches on female teams, and special
athletes (e.g., wheelchair) also can benefit from sports counseling services.
Minority athletes also may differ in their motivations to take part in
sports. Levels of preparation for sport may differ from one ethnic or other
minority group to the next. The academic needs of minority athletes may also be
different. For instance, Brown (1978) has referred to the "jock trap" in which
athletes become caught at the collegiate level. This trap refers to the athlete
who is left without an education after the institution has used the athlete's
physical abilities and eligibility. Brown adds that although all types of
athletes are affected, it appears that this happens to African-American athletes
more often than to others.
CAREER COUNSELING AND THE STUDENT-ATHLETE
athletes rarely make it to the pro ranks or to the Olympics. In fact, the
majority do not make it to graduation. This reflects a need for career
development and life planning with student-athletes in the early stages of their
careers. Student-athletes' career decisions are often postponed due to the
intense level of commitment required by their sport participation. Sports
counselors have been successful using interventions which focus on development
across the lifespan. In these classes, student-athletes are informed and
educated about the need for awareness of difficulties that may lie ahead and are
taught skills necessary for effective personal problem management. Sports
counselors working with student-athletes are sensitive to the need for a wide
range of career information. Moreover, sports counselors help student-athletes
evaluate their academic performance and its important relationship to achieving
athletic goals (Lee, 1983). Planning for athletic retirement can be a
frustrating experience if prior considerations for this phase of life have not
been addressed. Planning for a second career and transferring athletic skills to
life skills are important issues for most student-athletes.
Effective models and strategies for the
implementation of sports counseling are needed. Such models should include
career life planning, promoting collaboration between physical educators,
coaches, and sports counselors, and adopting frequently used counseling formats
to sports counseling. Reality therapy, for example, has been demonstrated to be
an effective therapeutic modality in sports counseling. A few counselor
education programs are currently offering sports counseling courses as an area
of interest (e.g., Florida State University, University of North Carolina at
Greensboro, University of South Carolina, Southern Illinois University, Syracuse
University, and Springfield College).
Sports counselors working with student-athletes assist this population with
the various aspects of personal development affected by sports performance.
Counselors also educate the public about the problems of living associated with
athletic involvement. As our colleges and universities continue to utilize and
make demands of student athletes and as the recognition of the work performed by
sports counselors grows, the need for counselors to work effectively with the
psychosocial concerns of the student-athlete will continue to increase.
Brown, R. C., Jr. (1978). The "jock
trap" -- How the Black athlete gets caught. In W. F. Straub (Ed.), "Sport
psychology: An analysis of athlete behavior" (pp. 195-198). Ithaca, NY:
Chartrand, J. M., & Lent, R. W. (1987). Sports counseling: Enhancing the
development of the athlete. "Journal of Counseling and Development," 66,
Etzel, E. F., Farrante, A. P., & Pinkney, J. W. (1991). "Counseling
college student athletes: Issues and interventions." Morgantown, WV: Fitness
Hinkle, J. S. (1994). Integrating sport psychology and sports counseling:
Developmental programming, education, and research. "Journal of Sport Behavior."
Kirk, W. D., & Kirk, S. V. (1993). "Student athletes: Shattering the
myths and sharing the realities." Alexandria, VA: American Counseling
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