Supporting student-athletes’ service projects: Lessons from the 2017 Allstate WBCA Good Works Team®

Being socially and environmentally conscious is important to the current generation of student-athletes. While many are content with time spent in the classroom and on the basketball court, others seek greater purpose by serving their community. Below are a few ways that coaches can help encourage and support their athletes using lessons learned from the 2017 Allstate WBCA Good Works Team®, which recognizes women’s college basketball student-athletes who make outstanding contributions in their volunteerism and civic involvement.

Become a resource early
While getting to know each member of your team, spend time asking them about their interests. Share your knowledge of needs both on your campus and in your community with student-athletes who wish to volunteer locally. The community affairs offices, outreach centers, service learning centers, and the Center for Economic Development are helpful in matching players with opportunities. Student-athletes can also reach out to on-campus housing associations, recreation centers, grade schools and shelters in the area.

Don’t forget too that it’s often necessary to point the student towards your compliance office, especially when it relates to larger volunteer projects. For example, Sandra Udobi of St. John’s University dreamed of helping young girls in her home country of Nigeria build their self-esteem through basketball programs. “I first had to gain approval from compliance,” Udobi said, “One thing I learned was that I wasn’t permitted to market the event.”  By involving her compliance office from the start, she was able to avoid infractions while designing her program.

Teach them time management
Finding time to volunteer can be a challenge for many players.  Remind them it is possible with proper time management.

Haley Joly of St. Edward’s University found time to work on a variety of service projects, such as coordinating a reading mentorship program at a local elementary school and helping at a food bank, by strategically planning her daily schedule. “I wake up every day at 4 a.m. for practice. I then have class until 5 p.m., and I use the remaining time in the day for service projects,” Joly said. In short, each student must decide to make time to volunteer, whether it is daily, weekly or just a few days a semester. Refer them to on-campus resources, such as academic advisors and first-year counseling centers, if they need help.

Finding the time to volunteer is one problem; dealing with an ever-changing schedule is another. While school and basketball are your student-athletes’ priorities, other people — for example, a child who is their mentee in an after-school program — may be counting on them for help as well. Communication by the athletics staff is key. Providing players with as much advance notice as possible about changes to practice or travel schedules allows them to adjust their plans, better manage their relationships with others and feel better supported by their coaching staff.

Finding the right service project for each athlete is also vital. For example, if coaches are clear that practice times may change frequently, finding players a project that can be flexible is important.  “A typical week for me is not so typical,” said Holly Denfeld of Milwaukee School of Engineering, who has given time to several organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Sam’s Hope, Milwaukee Heart Walk and Walk for Diabetes. “Practices throughout the week are not at the same times, so I choose service projects more flexible on time. We (players) have to learn to adjust and make time no matter what our days looks like.”

Turn service into teambuilding
Volunteering together offers teammates another outlet for their passion. It provides a chance for coaches to teach student-athletes about the value of working as a unit, holding each other accountable, and maintaining perspective when the season does not go smoothly. Players who may not be able to contribute as much on the court also have the opportunity to lead in other ways and connect with their teammates.

Katie Ringdahl of Ave Maria University volunteered at her local elementary school and collected sneakers for ReRun Sneakers, which provides shoes to adults and children. She discussed how service gave her a chance to connect with her fellow players while she was injured. “Last year I was medically redshirted after tearing my meniscus, twice,” Ringdahl said. “During this time, I wasn’t able to support my teammates on the court, and it became challenging to bond with the team.” During her 18-month rehab, she dived into a number of service projects, and soon her coach and team asked to participate alongside her, providing Katie with opportunities to be a part of the team’s dynamic and share her passion for giving back.

Your student-athletes may think they are incapable of heading a service project. However, with a coaching staff’s guidance, it can truly compliment the goals of a program, grow leaders within your team, and strengthen the group as a whole.  

Support is powerful. “My coaches and teammates are big on service,” said Ivy Atkism of Clemson University, who volunteered for both on-campus and community projects and who organized a bone marrow registry drive for Be The Match. “They are always excited and willing to help whenever I plan something. The support has brought us closer.”

Learn more about the 2017 WBCA Allstate Good Works Team.

Release Date: 
Tuesday, August 8, 2017