Debunking Myths About Student Athletes – Part 2

We continue from the first part of this blog series debunking misconceptions about student athletes with two more myths:

3) Girls can’t excel in sports; if they do, they won’t succeed.

Zimbabwean society clearly prioritizes men’s and boy’s sports over those of women and girls. Now here are some interesting stats courtesy of ShareAmerica:

  • Girls who participate in sport have higher confidence levels and lower levels of depression (Women’s Sports Foundation)
  • Among women in the United States who are Chief Executive Officers in Fortune 500 companies, a startling 95% played competitive sports in high school or college. (ShareAmerica)
  • Girls who play sports get better grades and are more likely to graduate from all levels of education. (Center for Sport, Peace & Society at University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
  • Moderate to intensive exercise reduces a teenage girl’s risk of breast cancer by up to 60% over her lifetime.  (Women’s Sports Foundation)

The statistics speak for themselves. It is quite apparent that not only are women and girls consistently excelling in sport globally, but also participating in sport has very direct benefits for girls and women in a manner that has been scientifically proven! Think about it — if you are a parent of girl in school who enjoys participating in sport, competitively or socially, you are directly contributing to the healthy development of her body AS WELL as her psychological and psychosocial health. We can take this a step further and allude to the likelihood of her performing better academically (refer to Blog Part 1) or even taking a liking to sport and pursuing it a higher level. Isn’t it astounding to know that over 95% of CEO’s in the infamous Fortune 500 companies are women who played a sport competitively at some point in high school or college? In other words, those of you with the misconception that sport will stand in the way of your daughter climbing the career ladder and breaking the notorious glass ceiling need to seriously reconsider this stance. Times are changing and it is young women who have excelled in male-dominated sport fields, overcome tough odds to compete, those who have used sport to develop true grit, resilience and a competitive spirit, a sense of camaraderie, accountability and discipline who have a clear advantage of those who didn’t. We need to stop disadvantaging our girls and women by denying them the benefits of sport that boys and men are exposed to unconditionally.

4) Athletes don’t care about school.

Now here is an example where one bad apple spoiled the public perception of all the other hard-working apples! Yes, we all know of those handful of student-athletes for whom the most exciting and important part of the day was when school was over and they could finally play their beloved sport. Every class period prior to that was just pure agony for them and in some cases agony for the teachers and professors who taught them as well. Though this is true for a minority of student-athletes, once again, the overwhelming majority of student athletes in school and college do care about school. To be honest, growing up in Zimbabwe, you had no choice but to care! Regardless of your extracurricular activity preference, be it sport, music, drama; chances are that if you grew up in Zim, your parents, family and teachers made you well aware of the importance of doing well academically in school and passing the all the important “O Levels”…

“Sports really are a microcosm of life – those values, those principles you take on with you, in whatever industry and whatever you choose to do in life.” – Grant Hill (former basketball player at Duke and current recipient of the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award)

In my experience, outside of the quintessential Zimbo pressure to do well academically, I know plenty of student-athletes who did not want to be defined by their sport alone. Many were well aware that sport was something that strengthened their personal development and exposure to opportunities and subsequently developed a love or passion for something else within which to eventually develop a professional career. The result: well-rounded students who put effort into class work, take interest in specific subjects and engage teachers and professors outside of the classroom.

It is important to recognize the significant proportion of coaches who prioritize academics over sport. In the U.S. collegiate system, if a student doesn’t do well in class they risk becoming ineligible to participate in sport should their grades drop below a certain threshold. It is in the coaches’ best interests to ensure that student-athletes are getting the time and support they need to succeed academically as well as athletically. The NCAA rewards and subsequently incentivizes high-academically achieving student athletes with awards.  For example the NCAA annually highlights teams that earn Academic All American status where the average GPA of team members is above 3.0. The NCAA has also released statistics to show the increasing percentage of college student-athletes who graduate at a higher and more consistent level than non-student-athletes.

Student athletes, especially here in Zimbabwe, often get a bad rap, plagued by stereotypes that just don’t hold weight.  It is time to change the narrative and highlight the countless students who kill it in the classroom as well as the field, pool or court. Balancing your academics with playing and excelling at the sport you love indeed makes student-athletes a uniquely successful breed of their own.

Written by Alex Maseko, the Student Athlete Cohort Coordinator at Education Matters, who is a former D1 student athlete who played basketball at Seton Hall University. 

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