The New Normal How COVID-19 is impacting life on and off campus for NCAA members

I have been working with athletics for more than 10 years, and I absolutely love my work with student-athletes and the athletics administration. At West Chester, I oversee the Athletic Mentoring Program, the success of which relies heavily on face-to-face interaction, which has made the past few months a challenge, to say the least.

The AMP employs a unique model to provide academic support services to first- and second-year student-athletes who are required to participate based on the recommendation of their head coach. The program has three components:

  1. Weekly face-to-face meetings with their athletic mentor.
  2. Daily supervised study hall.
  3. Mandatory tutoring.

Student-athletes are assigned an athletic mentor through a collaborative partnership with two West Chester graduate programs: higher education policy and student affairs, and public administration with a graduate certificate in sport management and athletics. Many of the athletic mentors are former student-athletes.

Student-athlete mentees in our program have a 30-minute meeting each week at the same time and place on campus where the athletic mentor discusses a specific life skill (such as goal setting, study skills or time management). Afterward, they review the student’s current grades via the web management portal and discuss upcoming assignments, test and quizzes for the week.

As you can imagine, student-athletes and the mentors create a partnership built on trust and mutual respect. The student-athletes often seek advice and ask questions on many topics such as mental health, financial aid, housing and textbooks, among many others. This has allowed our program to create additional connections with many offices across the campus that provide services for students. After each meeting, the athletic mentor is responsible for submitting a written report to me and the student-athlete’s head coach.

Since COVID-19, life has indeed changed for a program that is driven by human interaction.

To say I was nervous and concerned, when this first started, about how we would continue providing a critical level of support to our 100-plus student-athletes and eight athletic mentors is an understatement.

To add to my perspective, I asked two of the athletic mentors to contribute a first-person account of their work as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. As for me, the coordinator of the program, I stressed to my staff in our first Zoom meeting that ongoing communication with the student-athletes will be critical for the remainder of the semester. I recommended that they do more check-ins via texting before the weekly meeting to ask how students were coping with sudden changes in their life.

Maddison Toney (athletic mentor)

From the perspective of a graduate mentor for the AMP, halfway through the 2020 spring semester, every single student-athlete’s life was affected due to the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19.

This mentoring program, however, is designed to provide academic support to those who may be at risk academically and to support individuals in need of services. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed this model drastically but has not disrupted the effectiveness of communication with mentees.

When West Chester announced that all spring classes would be held remotely, our work shifted, as well. Weekly meetings became FaceTime calls. Academic plans had become online calendar documents. Discussions regarding mental health had increased, and study hall was canceled. It was now up to the student-athletes to determine their work ethic and pace without extra in-person support. Communication became critical.

There are many influences that play a role in the mind of a student-athlete that could hinder overall success.

Senior seasons were canceled. Freshman experiences of spring training stopped. Stable housing and food options were taken away. Resources were restricted, and the unknown of the upcoming fall season is heavy on the mind of every student-athlete. The constant worry and the burden of the unknown is making it difficult for student-athletes to focus on academics. The inability to become motivated and the difficulty of staying accountable and trying to stay engaged during online lectures and discussions while under the stress of being at home with additional responsibilities are some of the issues I am seeing throughout my weekly FaceTime meetings.

It is my main goal to make sure all 16 of my mentees are well equipped with resources and always have access to me regarding athletic, academic and personal concerns, questions and issues.

This outbreak has not changed why this program exists. If anything, it has increased the need for support services to West Chester student-athletes to ensure their success for the duration of the semester.

In the beginning, some of the student-athletes reached out to me expressing fear and concern about all their classes abruptly moving to a remote format. I assured them we would be there throughout the semester, offering a virtual hand to hold when needed. This communication was critical, especially for student-athletes who never would have chosen to take classes online.

They knew they did not have to do it alone.

Kelly Tinsman (athletic mentor)

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted and made uncertain the routines of many people’s lives throughout the nation, including the student-athletes at West Chester.

When West Chester first announced its shift to online remote learning, as well as its cancellation of all athletics, I knew that the daily lives of my student-athletes were going to change rapidly. Being a mentor for 12 student-athletes, my top priority has always been to support them, but it was particularly important for me to be present for my student-athletes during this unprecedented and abrupt transition.

I have fielded many questions regarding what virtual mentoring would look like, as well as what my student-athletes can expect in the coming weeks. But, as being an athlete always requires, we have adjusted and adapted in the moment to handle this to the best of our abilities. Not being able to meet in-person with my student-athletes has been extremely difficult, as I truly value the time I get to spend with them, but we understand the importance of social distancing, as well as our position as a part of West Chester athletics to lead our community in what is required of us all during this time.

This pandemic has changed the world as we know it, as I know it, but it also has shown me how grateful I am to be an athletic mentor to 12 amazing student-athletes who will persevere through this as they always do.

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