Working with Student Athletes

This is my third semester as a Writing Fellow at Nova Southeastern University and I have worked with a handful of student athletes in my classes. I have dealt with both dedicated student athletes and, well, the student athletes who don’t bother coming to sessions or responding to my emails. 

This semester, I have 3 student athletes in my writing fellows class. Two of them actually want to receive help and only mention their athletic responsibilities when a scheduling conflict occurs (one of the students’ teams requires travel time this semester) – and in these cases, they mention setting dates to reschedule immediately. These student athletes have attended every session on time and come prepared because they know we have limited time to work. 

On the other hand, I also have a student athlete in the class named Kelly*. Kelly missed her first two sessions with me this semester. In class, she would apologize for missing the meetings and promise to reschedule but never did.

During a class workshop about three weeks ago, my task was to walk around from group to group and assist as necessary. After about 30 minutes, Kelly called me over to ask when I was available the next day. She said that she needed to meet with me twice before the final paper was due on Friday to make up for missing our last two sessions. It was Wednesday.

In all honesty, I didn’t really know what to make of Kelly. Until that class period, there had been little to no communication between us. I had met with Kelly’s group member for those two out-of-class workshops, but Kelly never made any kind of effort to reschedule or even let me know that she wouldn’t be there.

I told Kelly that I had an open office hour the next day, but she said it would not work for her because she had two team meetings and study hall. She looked a little defeated. Then, Kelly started telling me about her schedule. She told me that on top of her classes, she was having complications with her team, getting certified by the NCAA, and completing her required study hall hours every week.

I remembered a conversation we had in my Writing Center Studies class about having our sessions count towards an athlete’s study hall hours. As soon as I told Kelly this, we scheduled an individual 30-minute meeting (which, as we discussed, would replace 30 minutes of study hall) during my office hour the very next day. Then, I explained what she would need to do and which department she needed to contact.

The next day, Kelly arrived five minutes before her scheduled appointment. She brought me her study hall contact’s information and was surprisingly productive throughout our meeting – perhaps because she now saw the session as an opportunity to get ahead in the midst of her hectic schedule. Further, Kelly was focused and knowledgeable about her paper topic so we got straight to work. Thirty minutes later, Kelly filled out her session report form and thanked me for meeting with her. She said she had a better understanding of the assignment and more direction to continue working.

Unfortunately, athletes don’t always have the best reputations in our academic communities. “Collaborative work, competitive students, counter-narrative: A tale from out of (the academy’s) bounds” states that college culture tends to stereotype student athletes based on what we see in the general media or hear around campus. I will admit, before our meeting, I had lumped Kelly into a category with other student athletes who use their sport as an excuse to miss class and writing fellow workshops.

This session taught me something, though – it reminded me that I should always stay open to talk with my students and hear their stories. Until Kelly told me what was going on with the team, I had no way to help her. Once I had something to go by, we could make a plan together. So, the next time I am faced with tutoring an “uninterested” student athlete, I will remember that, like any student, they face their own pressures.

*name of student athlete was changed to protect privacy.


  1. I really appreciated reading this post. It was very informative and a great reminder to not judge another until you have seen life from their perspective and "walked a mile in their shoes."


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