THE U’S AWARD-WINNING CHAMPS PROGRAM HELPS STUDENT-ATHLETES SUCCEED IN COLLEGE, AND AFTER.
by Marcia C. Dibble
“When I do fall team meetings, I tell the student-athletes that it’s so important to have balance in their lives, because if you do, you’re going to perform better on the field, on the court, in the pool,” says Mary Bowman MEd’88, associate athletics director and Utah’s first-ever director of student-athlete support services. “That’s my whole philosophy—that they need to find balance in their lives, and I’m here to help them do that.”
As director of the U.T.E.S. CHAMPS/Life Skills Program, Bowman is intimately acquainted with the challenges student-athletes face in maintaining equilibrium.
While a typical student has one academic major and then may hit the gym occasionally for his or her own well-being, the experience of being a student-athlete is much like being a double major in which one field stresses the intellect and the other heavily stresses the body and mind with hours of training and competition. The student-athlete is often working full bore toward two very different possible careers—all sometimes while under intense public scrutiny. This puts them under unique physical and mental pressures, and in a unique time crunch—which is where the U.T.E.S. CHAMPS/Life Skills Program comes in.
The Life Skills program helps busy student-athletes make good decisions and maintain balance in what could otherwise be unusually overwhelming lives—and the U.T.E.S. program evidently does it extremely well, becoming one of only three of the 117 participating Division IA schools to be selected as 2004-05 Program of Excellence recipients by the CHAMPS National Advisory Board.Designed by the NCAA Foundation and Education Services, the CHAMPS (Challenging Athletes’ Minds for Personal Success) /Life Skills Program was rolled out in the summer of 1994. A comprehensive development program for student-athletes, it is designed to support five areas: academics, athletics, personal development, career development and community service. Each participating school tailors the program to its own needs; thus the U’s program is called U.T.E.S., for Utes striving Toward Excellence and Success.
Bowman came to the U of U to start the Life Skills program here in 1996, making the U one of the first schools to participate. In an article in Continuum shortly after the U.T.E.S. program was begun (see “Scoring Big After the Game is Over” by Elise Lazar, Spring 1997), Utah Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd’74 PhD’82 commented, “We’re the first university in the country to hire an individual whose sole energy goes into the welfare, growth and development of student-athletes.”
Says Bowman: “What they were doing before I came was good. We had academic advisors, and other supportive programs that were also good. But I think Chris thought we needed more structure, accountability and evaluation on what we are doing. This program pulled it all together.”
Before coming to the U, Bowman had been a school counselor involved in ACT and AP testing, peer leadership programs and career counseling. She had also been a teacher and volleyball coach at Colorado and Utah high schools.
Approached about starting a Life Skills program at the U, Bowman recalls, “I thought, this is an opportunity I can’t turn down, because it sounds like a great program and something I’d really enjoy. With my counseling background in careers and personal development, and having coached before, it was a good fit.”
Bowman says new to the U with implementation of the Life Skills program are in the personal development area, which includes presentations and workshops on topics such as stress management, diversity, eating disorders, addictive behaviors, sexual assault and conflict resolution. “We also implemented our Student-Athlete Wellness Team. That was probably one of the biggest things,” she says. The team — composed of Bowman, a team physician, sports nutritionist, strength coach, trainer, social worker, sports psychologist, and Women’s Resource Center and Counseling Center counselors — monitors the U’s student-athletes to make sure they are being aken care of, and taking care of themselves, mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Bowman says, “Our wellness team tracks student-athletes so they don’t fall through the cracks when it comes to mental health issues. Our athletic trainers take care of the physical health issues, but mental health is so important also.”
Other major facets of U.T.E.S. include:
• SAAC (the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee), through which
students participate in resolving issues around athletics department policies
and NCAA regulations, including complaints and proposed changes;
The transition to college for incoming student-athletes is eased through the freshman Life Skills class, covering topics such as time management, career exploration, stress management and financial responsibility. Seniors are helped with the transition into the world of work with the Career and Life Planning class, which includes sections on résumé writing, the job search, networking and interviewing skills. Explains Bowman: “Businesses come in and do mock interviews, and we have former athletes come back and talk to the class about how they made the transition.”
U.T.E.S. makes its home in the 11,500-square-foot Kenneth P. Burbidge Jr. Family Athletics-Academics Center, located between the Ute Natatorium and the Huntsman Center. The Burbidge Center, opened in March 2001, is home to Bowman, Director of Athletic Relations Manny Hendrix BS’94 (who developed and runs the Partnering with U program and community-service facets of U.T.E.S), athletics compliance director Doug Archie and assistant Greg Walter, and student-athletes’ three in-house academic advisors. The modern and airy center hosts all student-athlete academic/life skills facilities, including the Life Skills Center (packed with books on majors and internships), and a study center with some 25 computer stalls as well as individual group study rooms. Numerous other programs from throughout campus, including Career Services and the Bennion Center, also provide assistance to student-athletes in the Burbidge Center.
“I just can’t say enough about how the campus supports and helps our student-athletes,” says Bowman.
Initially, participation in the CHAMPS/Life Skills Program was voluntary, but a few years ago it became a requirement for NCAA Division IA certification; it is still voluntary for divisions II and III, although many of these schools choose to implement it, recognizing the program’s proven value (and in some cases preparing for possibly moving up to Division IA). As of Nov. 2004, there were a total of 513 CHAMPS/Life Skills Program members, including 21 conference offices and the Division IA Athletic Directors’ Association.
“Chris is truly a student-athlete advocate,” says Bowman. “It’s important to him that student-athletes have this support and these resources.
“I know there are people who say, ‘Oh, the athletes get everything,’ but their season never ends. You might only see football in the fall, but they work exceptionally hard weight training in the spring and summer so they are ready in the fall. So they might have to be at weight lifting at 6 a.m., and hopefully they get breakfast before going to class, then they have class, and then practice in the afternoon. Then they need to eat again, and then they have study table [assigned study hours at the Burbidge Center]. Their time is so structured that they are somewhat different from the regular student.”
In order to apply for consideration for Program of Excellence recognition, Bowman and her team gathered all the necessary materials to illustrate what the U.T.E.S. program does, eventually accumulating two large bags of marketing materials and filling six jumbo binders (“We used more than 500 plastic sheets, front and back, so we have more than 1,000 pages here,” Bowman notes) with materials including Life Skills syllabi and budgets, student-athlete evaluations and assessments, photos from classes and events, Athletics Department and Life Skills mission and core values statements, and other materials substantiating all the ways the U implements the Life Skills program. “We just had to show them everything we do,” laughs Bowman, looking at the enormous stack of binders.
Now, these large binders are available for coaches to show prospective
students, and Bowman thinks they will be a great resource as the U pursues
its Division IA recertification, which must be done every 10 years. “We’re
renewing in ’05-06, and it takes a couple years, so we’re
already in the recertification process,” Bowman says. Gesturing
at the enormous pile of binders, she chuckles, “I think I’m
just going to give the committee these books.”
—Marcia C. Dibble is assistant editor of Continuum.
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