In a move designed to holistically address the needs of Longwood’s more than 250 student-athletes, the athletics department has combined the offices of academic services, athletic training and sports performance into the student-athlete enhancement unit.
Led by Assistant Athletics Director of Sports Performance and Leadership Rick Canter, Director of Sports Medicine and head athletic trainer Carly Fullerton ’07 and Director of Student-Athlete Enhancement Hannah Ledger ’04, the new unit will have an even bigger impact on the lives of student-athletes than the offices did separately, said Director of Athletics Troy Austin.
“At a majority of schools, sports performance, academics and athletic training are kept separate,” Austin said. “But there are so many situations where those three groups naturally interact. The collaborative work of these three groups is essential to meeting the needs of our student-athletes while they’re here and preparing them for life after college,” he added.
Staff from the new unit have daily contact with Longwood’s athletes, allowing them to build close relationships with student-athletes as well as an understanding of how they are handling the academic and athletic challenges they face.
A new unit within the Department of Athletics will collaborate on sports performance, academics and athletic training.
“The typical student-athlete deals with a variety of stressors every single day,” Canter said. “Physical stress from the training side of sport and mental stress from the academic side and, unfortunately, the injury side in some cases. We want to make sure we’re putting our student-athletes in the best possible environment to succeed in all areas.”
Without that help and guidance in managing stress, student-athletes can experience effects such as depression and anxiety, he added. “Those types of conditions manifest in a lot of different ways, and it’s absolutely something you can see in academic and athletic performance.”
In addition to regular staff, the new student-athlete enhancement unit will make additional resources available, like the two licensed psychologists working with the athletics department since last spring to help student-athletes navigate issues both sports-related and personal.
With more than 10 years as Longwood’s athletics director and a former college athlete himself, Austin, who played football at Duke, knows how important providing this type of support is. He believes that the new unit will lead to happier, healthier athletes who function better on and off the field.
“As we grow more aware of the requirements to compete as an athlete, it’s become evident to people in our field that mental preparedness is just as important as physical conditioning,” Austin said. “I think in the past, that side of things was taboo. You were told to just ‘get over it.’ But as we learn more about the human psyche and human spirit, we’ve come to understand that it’s important for our student-athletes to learn how to put their minds in a proper state to be able to accomplish everything we’re asking them to do."