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9 S U M M E R 2 0 0 9 C H A M P I O N

W
e rarely challenge academia’s age-old
perspective that college athletes, as
a group, are less-ft learners than
nonathlete students. Each year, this disparag-
ing viewpoint retains its traction when our
athletes’ grades are dissected and publicized.
But what if the prevailing impression is amiss?
As an ex-soccer coach, my mind and
spirit are more aligned with go-getter,
skill-oriented athletes than dispas-
sionate academic abstract learners.
This semester, I returned to teach-
ing psychology research methods
after 15 years in medical education.
The applied domain of medicine
had shifted my teaching focus back
to skill development and mastery
learning foundations of coaching. My
students, who were very successful in
academia’s abstract multiple-
choice learning environment,
recoiled when I told them to
redo a written assignment. Ab-
ject shame and misery washed
over their faces. I tried to reas-
sure them. “Think of it as practice. You can do
better,” I said. Aghast, they pleaded, “Practice?
No!” I briefy considered saying, “Drop and
give me 10.”
Over the semester, my students grimly
complied with my practice assignments. Their
work and their acceptance of do-overs improved
greatly. Practice, they discovered, rewarded them.
Refecting on my students’ gains from their
do-overs, I now perceive other divisions be-
tween typical academic and athlete learner ap-
proaches. First, we need to consider how much
the typical academic learning environment is
engineered against the athlete learner:
• Many athletes become restless and
inattentive during noninteractive classroom
sessions and lectures. We are admonished
by instructors and diagnosed with attention
disorders. Inactive children are praised by
their teachers, but one-third of school
children and two-thirds of adults are
overweight or obese. Puppies and
kittens play incessantly – maybe our
athletes’ active minds and bodies are
developmentally benefcial.
• Most athletes devote extraordi-
nary effort to build physical capacity
and learn skills. We value skills that
have a high return on investment.
Academic courses reward students who
are profcient at quick one-take
learning of abstract knowledge
and spend little time on devel-
oping useful skills.
• Our coaching techniques
focus athletes on developing
their individual potential into the best pos-
sible outcomes. Academic researchers have
recently expressed grave concern that minor-
ity athletes “cluster” into applied majors such
as business management. These are the very
skills that could extend our athletes’ sports
careers. What’s not to like about that?
• Athletes self-assess their skills to achieve
mastery. Failure, to us, is a beginning point.
Academia’s multiple-choice educational
assessments test recognition memory of a
scatter-shot of factoids, not dynamic skills.
Feedback from academic tests rarely informs
a student on how to improve. Test scores
document defciencies as indelible failures
and humiliation, not motivation.
• Athletes fully engage in their sport and their
team. Self-starting and resilience are our forte.
Passion makes the pain and sweat tolerable. Aca-
demic classes, in contrast, promote dispassionate
observation and limit interpersonal participation.
Meanwhile, many colleges are spending funds
on programs to develop student engagement,
teamwork and resilience. Our rapidly changing
workforce values engaged self-starters.
• Most athletes relish sunlight and fresh
air, but K-12 school schedules increasingly re-
strict outdoor activities. College classes allow
unstructured time, but nonathletic students
have been encouraged to shun the sun. Now
scientists are learning that most Americans
are Vitamin D defcient, putting them at risk
for osteoporosis, cancer, asthma and cardio-
vascular problems.
Some ideas are so well-ingrained that we
have never examined them correctly, leading us
to misperceive or discount all disconfrming in-
formation. We need to reconsider the professed
superiority of academic learners. Maybe our
athlete learners are just what academia needs.
Cathie M. Currie is a cognitive social psycholo-
gist who teaches in the masters psychology program
at Adelphi. She co-founded the U.S. women’s na-
tional soccer team as a member of the U.S. Soccer
Federation’s Women’s National Committee.
Survival of our fittest students
LEAD-OFF
M E M B E R S H I P
P E R S P E C T I V E S
E-tickets leave no room for fun
S
ometimes I think the Internet is the
devil. OK, fne, it has revolutionized the
way we access information – we
now have the potential to do more
than ever thought possible a quarter
century ago. But I am worried that
it has come at the expense of a lot of
frsthand experience.
I will admit that its existence has
opened doors of communication that I
am grateful for daily. The Internet has
changed journalism entirely. I can go
to the Web site helpareporter.com, ask
for an expert on anything, and within
a few days, those experts will let me know how
much they want to help me and how I can
contact them. It’s almost too easy.
Socially, however, it has made us lazy
and less connected to the people and the
world around us. Instead of calling to
talk to friends, it’s a lot easier and less
confrontational to fire up a laptop
and write something witty on their
Facebook walls.
My most recent battle with this
formless, intangible invention comes in
the form of student tickets for athletics
events. This past year, the University of
Oregon changed the way it distributes
the tickets that are available for football
and men’s basketball games. The
system used to be such that a student
would have to wait in line at one of two
ticket offces to receive a ticket. At 9 a.m. the
Monday morning before a game, the tickets
would become available.
Now the process for getting a ticket requires
you to log on to the goducks.com Web site, type
in your student ID and password,
and depending on what year you are, click to
get your tickets at specifed times. The ticket
is credited to your student ID card, which is
scanned upon entrance to the games, meaning
no physical ticket is ever actually produced.
Sounds harmless enough. How could I
possibly be upset by this change?
Well, up until now, getting tickets for a
See E-TICKETS, page 10
Cathie M.
Currie
Guest Essayist
Emily Gillespie
Guest Essayist