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Game Time: Engaging Student-Athletes Abroad

Friday, October 18, 2019  
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Contributed by 2017-2018 Diversity Abroad Athletes Task Force members:
Louis Berends – Syracuse University; Tara Michael - Global Players Study Abroad for Student-Athletes; Susie Duke - Grinnell College Erin Polnaszek Boyd - University of Wisconsin Madison; Robert Bennett III - The Ohio State University; Chris Haynes - University of South Florida; Eboni Preston - Laurent - US Lacrosse 



As a sequel to Pre-Game Changing the Conversation with Coachesthe 2017-2018 Diversity Abroad Athlete Task Force sought to provide more insight on how to actually engage with student-athletes while abroad. Therefore now it’s game time, and we will shed some light on successful program models and resources to reach this target demographic. First and foremost let us debunk some myths around student-athletes studying abroad.




Myth #1: Coaches generally do not support study abroad


According to a recent survey which garnered the responses of 830 coaches across all sports and divisions, 49% ‘agree or strongly agree their athletes should go abroad during their collegiate experience.’  These champions would most likely understand that studying abroad provides student-athletes a unique opportunity to further distinguish themselves and make them more competitive in a global economy. They understand the value in international experiences and the positive impacts these experiences can have on their student-athletes and their futures.  

Myth #2: Coaches are more concerned with training and team cohesion than studying abroad


In a personal survey, coaches were more concerned with the cost of a study abroad experience than an associated training regimen. Again, coaches want student athletes to succeed anyway they can. Coaches are just as concerned with the financial feasibility of a program than they are with a training regimen that aligns with their current program. Coaches need to be educated on these options for students to help them guide students towards programs that best fit their financial and team needs.  



Myth #3: Athletic departments are money makers and can assist student athletes study abroad.


It is extremely rare to find an athletics department that makes more than it spends. In fact, according to a study by the NCAA, only 24 FBS schools made a profit off of athletics in 2014. In smaller DIII schools, general enrollment is highly dependent on athletic programs available.  These major concerns of coaches preoccupy their time. This is where the aid of other stakeholders comes in to assist coaches and athletes alike not only study abroad, but find ways to support it financially.



Myth #4: Coaches are the gatekeepers to all student athlete decisions


Coaches know their practice schedules, rosters and recruitment itineraries like the back of their hands leaving academics and other university related items to others including advisors, enhancement officers, peer leaders and abroad offices. These stakeholders hold massive influences over student athletes and can guide them through processes and conversations with coaches.

Program Models


Faculty-Led Programs (with or without Athletic Programming): Many schools offer education abroad programs for academic credit led by faculty and staff whom are identified as resident directors. These courses often include in-country instruction to further enhance the international experience giving learners a unique firsthand experience. Courses can be designed present students to different themes like sport management, educational access, marketing, and sports law. These types of topics provide students with a sense of how sport is ever-changing in a global context. Further learning can be enhanced with workshops, class discussions and activities, along with site visits.


Internships (with or without Athletic Programming): Many students seek internships to prepare them for the rigors of their respective fields after the completion of their baccalaureate degree. Build a network and relationships that will benefit them professionally with on-site training. As is common with internships, students will garner skills and experiences that will set them apart from their peers while engaging communities and cultures in an international context. Thus, global competencies are gained in the area of language acquisition, problem solving, self-awareness and the development of self-reliance and problem-solving skills.


NCAA Foreign Tours: For schools looking to engage international communities the NCAA supports foreign tours but there are regulations member institutions must be cognizant of as they make arrangements to ensure their students comply with the governing body’s guidelines. The optimal time for coaches and administrators to consider travel with foreign tours is during a vacation period that involves no classes or exams. There are also restrictions on the number of contests that can be held. In all, foreign tours allow student-athletes to participate in athletic competition in an international context. Learners can promote their sport as part of a goodwill effort.


Mission trip/ volunteer/service: Service learning and volunteering have long been deemed critical components to the educational experience. Such activities mix classroom learning with hands-on experience with community members in the respective country. Such opportunities along with mission trips can lead to personal, academic, and professional development. Courses that utilize such learning opportunities allow learners to have a historical sense of life in the communities visited. Students also develop communication, civic, and leadership skills through these particular excursions.


Co-Curricular Option: Expand the menu of short-term offerings by encouraging faculty to collaborate with coaches. Consider producing co-curricular opportunities that combine an academic concept with an element of sport. These co-curricular courses would embed a travel experience within a course. Coaches who are also current faculty may be more apt to integrate this model to combine their academic and athletic interests. In the same way, faculty who conduct research in a particular discipline related to athletics could form a strong partnership with a coach to generate this sort of model.


On-campus course work would be bolstered by travel to carefully selected destinations, and the travel component may or may not include training- or game-time. Dependent upon the time available as well as time of year, these options could be limited to 1-2 credits — still they give participants valuable time abroad. Not only that, but the participants need not only be student athletes. Improve group dynamics by integrating athletes with other students who are simply interested in the course topic. Co-curricular options could include students who are interested in sport but who are not involved in a team sport. The key is that the co-curricular model can give more student athletes more avenues to engage in a successful experience abroad.

Engaging Stakeholders


Academic Advising Staff

It is common for coaching staff to be pulled in many different directions making it difficult to discuss opportunities your office/organization might be able to offer. If you are encountering this situation, you may want to consider the other support staff working with the athletics department. Typically there are many people involved in supporting student athletes, ranging from advising teams to development teams. These other staff members are great resources as they are in frequent communication with the students and are usually tasked with ensuring the students are engaging with campus in ways beyond their sport. They know their schedules, availability, and other details that can assist you as you prepare materials to share with the student athletes. These support staff members can help you funnel marketing materials through their pre-existing list serves, newsletters, etc. using language and resources that the student athletes are already connected to on campus. They can also serve as strong liaisons between your office and the coaching staff to assist in messaging that you want to share.


Alumni Support

Build events around athletic contests on campus and allow alumni to connect with your current players.  Have your current students talk about study abroad opportunities or have a former player share the value of their global education experience.  A personal touch is invaluable. It’s all about connecting former student-athletes back to your program in a unique and meaningful way.




Global Players -- in conjunction with The Athlete Network -- distributed a survey to coaches and received 800+ responses among all divisions to collect info about coach’s perspective on study abroad & team travel among student athletes.Top 2 expressed priorities: performance (49%) & life skills (46%); life skills could include internships, time management, as well as other skills facilitated through an abroad experience. Approx 50% of coaches believe student athletes should participate in study abroad; 68% believe they should compete and train while abroad.