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A pragmatic approach

NCAA research grants fuel new resources for members

Will Heininger seemed to have it all: The 19-year-old native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was on the football roster at the Big Ten university around which his hometown revolved. And yet, he felt uninspired, unmotivated and could find happiness in none of the things that once brought him joy.

He had no idea what was wrong. But he knew he needed help.

Heininger’s story is among the videos produced as part of a research project at the University of Michigan – a project completed collaboratively by the school’s Depression Center, its School of Public Health and its athletics department. The program is encapsulated in a website that other schools can use to expose their own students to the mental health issues it confronts.

“Having healthy, happy, well-rounded athletes is crucial to everyone’s goal,” said Daniel Eisenberg, associate professor of health management and policy at Michigan and the principal investigator on the research team. “It’s crucial to the athletes, it’s crucial to the universities, it’s crucial to the NCAA, because when they leave they’ll be well-rounded and ready to go out into the world and be successful.”

Eisenberg’s team was one of six that received an NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant in 2014, the first year of the program. The grants are intended to provide tangible benefits to student-athletes, either by both informing research geared toward their wellness or, and more directly, by creating programming aimed at enhancing well-being and mental health outcomes..

In 2014, the Michigan researchers received a $50,000 Innovations grant, while the other awardees received $10,000 each. Those grants produced resources that are now available to member schools.

Guidance for parent involvement.

Travis E. Dorsch, an assistant professor of family, consumer and human development at Utah State University, led a team that looked into parents’ involvement in their children’s athletic careers during college. The research was intended to help parents understand at what point involvement might become detrimental at the college level.

The team created best-practices guides for parents and administrators from data and evidence it culled from over 500 current student-athletes and 30 coaches and administrators..

Combating eating disorders and body image issues

Athena Robinson, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University,  developed an online course that can help college athletes learn about eating disorders and body image issues – and also how to combat those problems.

 “This is a real time, real life problem that our athletes are struggling with and that we need to address,” Robinson said.

Robinson notes an estimated 25-45 percent of female college athletes and 12-38 percent of male college athletes “endorse some form of disordered eating behavior.”

Career readiness for student-athletes

Timothy D. Ryan, an associate professor of sport and leisure management at the University of Memphis, led a team that addressed how to help student-athletes transition from college to career by implementing a four-stage readiness program.

The program put the students through entrepreneurship training, project-based learning, workplace readiness and then a practicum with a participating partner in the community.

Support groups for injured college athletes

Given the unique needs of student-athletes who have suffered injuries, Lisa Post, the chief of sports medicine in psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, created an injured athlete support group and her research team documented its effectiveness at meeting the needs of those in the group. They also facilitated discussions in which the athletes could bring up issues they had been confronting.

“Research evidence suggests that injured athletes experience higher levels of stress and may have difficulty coping following an injury, said Norah Simpson, co-investigator on the project, “but we don’t really know the best way to help these athletes during their recovery.”

Student-athlete mental health

Judy L. Van Raalte, a psychology professor at Springfield College, led the development of a multimedia, interactive website that aims to instill in student-athletes the knowledge, confidence and skills to address problems that might require a mental health referral among their teammates.

“If we can get student-athletes to the mental health resources that we have available when they need them,” Van Raalte said, “they’ll get better faster and stay better longer, and that’s good for all of us.”

NCAA Research in Innovations and Practice Grants

NCAA Research in Innovations and Practice Grants have already been awarded for 2015, and these researchers will present their findings at the 2016 NCAA Convention in San Antonio, Texas. These projects received between $10,000 and $25,000 each:

  • Monmouth University: Sexual assault prevention strategies tailored for student-athletes.
  • Ohio Wesleyan University: Assessing how team culture can lead to hazing.
  • Springfield College: Helping student-athletes transfer on-field skills into the career domain.
  • University of Missouri, Columbia: Leadership development among black male student-athletes.
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro: Development of a physical activity transition program for former college student-athletes.
  • University of Virginia: Using mobile technology to promote healthy student-athlete identity development.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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