When Travis Dorsch was an undergrad placekicker and punter at Purdue, his parents cheered him on from the stands at every football game. Today, he is an assistant professor of sport psychology at Utah State University – and he wants to learn more about the connection between parental involvement and student-athlete well-being.
Dorsch will use money from a new NCAA-funded grant program to investigate. He and his two co-researchers from Purdue, Aryn Dotterer, an assistant professor of human development and family studies, and her research assistant Katie Lowe, and are among the six recipients of an award from the inaugural NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program.
The projects chosen by the selection panel include Dorsch’s study of parental involvement; another project aiming to improve student-athlete career readiness; and several others. The grant program is aimed at developing relevant, research-driven, on-campus programming to assist student-athletes. The panel split $100,000 among the six recipients, with one large $50,000 grant, and five grants of approximately $10,000.
The grant program focuses on research and pilot programs that improve student-athlete well-being and mental health. It replaces the former NCAA Colloquium, which took place annually in conjunction with the NCAA Convention.
Dorsch’s proposal, chosen from a field of 137 applicants, is tied directly to the time he spent at Purdue, where he competed in baseball and football. Even though his parents lived in Montana, they made every football and most baseball games of his collegiate career, he said.
“I really saw what parent involvement looked like. For me, the outcomes were great,” he said. “But I saw other student-athletes, roommates, teammates, and the involvement by their parents didn’t affect them in the same way. It got me thinking.”
Dorsch’s project aims to identify key parent involvement factors associated with NCAA student-athlete academic success, athletics satisfaction and well-being during the transition to college. Because of the NCAA grant, he will be able to hire two graduate students working toward their doctoral degrees as well as one undergraduate. He intends to produce a guide for parents – available both in print and electronically – that NCAA member schools can distribute to the parents of their student-athletes.
All of the projects will have a practical application element, and all grant recipients will present their findings at the 2015 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.
Selection panel members were impressed by the large number of applicants, especially given the short time frame. The call for proposals went out in mid-January, and applications were due March 1.
“It was surprising to see how many people were requesting grants from the NCAA and how many schools were conducting studies to improve the daily lives of student-athletes,” said Jesse Miser, who competes in soccer at Butler and is a member of both the grant selection panel and the national Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Michelle Walsh, associate athletics director at the State University of New York at Geneseo, chaired the selection panel, which included members of the NCAA’s Research Committee as well as outside members with research experience. She said the group is looking forward to the different points of emphasis each project will highlight and the real impact the research could have on the lives of student-athletes.
“We were looking for a broad range of topics within mental health,” Walsh said. “We are excited especially to see what kind of programmatic changes will be suggested for campuses, what kind of ideas we can take away from Convention.”
The real-life impact is what some of the researchers are looking forward to as well. Tim Ryan, an associate professor at the University of Memphis whose project studying career readiness solutions for student-athletes was also chosen for funding, said he hopes his team’s research has an even broader impact. Ryan is joined by fellow Memphis researchers Kelly Penwell, Robert H. Baker and Richard L. Irwin.
“It’s not only valuable for our student-athletes, but it’s valuable for all our students,” he said of his project, which will provide entrepreneurship training, non-profit project development, professional development and internships to student-athletes.
Daniel Eisenberg and his co-investigators are going the opposite way: They are working to tailor for student-athletes some programs already available to the general student body at Michigan. The programs encourage students to seek help for a variety of mental health issues.
Eisenberg, whose team received the largest grant at $50,000 to produce engaging videos and create student-athlete support groups, hopes that his research can help a population that he fears sometimes refuses to seek help for mental health issues because of the culture of sport.
“Sometimes it’s a bit more difficult for student-athletes to seek help because of the norms around sports of being tough and persisting, finding one’s own way through problems. All of those norms can work against seeking help, so student-athletes might be more vulnerable to significant mental health problems,” Eisenberg said.
The success of the Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program will be judged at least in part on the development of practical programs that can be used by NCAA member schools. NCAA research staff will continue to study the best ways to support such initiatives in the future.
“We think this is an excellent use of NCAA funds and really supports student-athletes,” said Todd Petr, NCAA managing director of research. “We hope to see relevant, on-campus programming developed from these grants that will assist student-athletes, their families and people within athletics facing some tough but common issues.”
The program is expected to call for proposals again in 2015.