Contact: Christopher Stankovich, (614) 486-1047
Joe Wheaton, (614) 292-8313
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; [email protected]


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An Ohio State University class for student athletes who are "retiring" from athletics has shown promise in helping these athletes make the transition from sports to a new career.

A new study suggests that the course, called Positive Transitions for College Athletes, may help athletes gain the skills and attitudes they need to successfully begin their post-sports life.

"Some collegiate athletes have focused on sports for all their lives," said Christopher Stankovich, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Ohio State who has helped teach the course. "But when these students leave college, most will retire from sports, and that can be a huge shock. That's why this class is helpful."

Stankovich, who received his education doctorate from Ohio State in June, conducted a study of the course's effectiveness for his dissertation. He is writing a book about sport retirement, also called Positive Transitions for Student Athletes, which is scheduled to be published in 1999 by Holcomb Hathaway of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Stankovich and Darin Meeker, an academic counselor in Ohio State's athletic department, developed a sport retirement program in 1995 as an informal support group for fourth and fifth year athletes at Ohio State. Because of the group's success, it was made into an elective course in 1996. The two-credit-hour course is offered three times a year, and about 15 students enroll each quarter. Students receive a pass-fail grade.

For his dissertation, Stankovich compared 25 student athletes who enrolled in the course over two quarters with 42 comparable athletes who didn't take the course. The results showed that students who took the course generally scored better than others on measures of career maturity, confidence in their career decision-making skills and their readiness to retire from sports.

In most cases, these differences between those who took the class and those who didn't were relatively small and not statistically significant. One reason may be the relatively small sample size in the study. However, Stankovich said the fact that members of the class showed some small benefits is still important.

"These students have been building their athletic identity for about 22 years, so its no surprise we can't overturn that in just 10 weeks. But the findings suggest there's some value in the course."

The course is helpful because college athletes face unique concerns at graduation, according to Joe Wheaton, an assistant professor of physical activity and educational services at Ohio State, and Stankovich's Ph.D. advisor. One major issue is dealing with the fact that their playing days are over. This is particularly difficult for players who believed -- or still believe -- they have a chance to play professional sports.

"For some athletes who are leaving college, quitting sports is not voluntary," Wheaton said. "In a sense they're being fired from a job they love. That's a tough transition."

One goal of the Positive Transitions course is to help participants begin to form a new identity -- one that doesn't revolve around sports, Stankovich said.

"For some athletes, all of their positive reinforcement through life has come from athletic success," he said. "Inevitably, the athletes base a lot of their self-worth on their athletic success and feel at a loss when they no longer have that to rely on."

Student-athletes also have more practical problems, such as trying to find a job after graduation.

"Because of the time they spend competing and practicing, student athletes don't have the work experience or internships that most other students have. They often don't have resumes," Stankovich said.

The Positive Transitions class gives students some of the knowledge they need to explore career options, prepare resumes, set achievable non-sports goals, plan for the future, and face interviewers who want to know about work experience.

Stankovich said course participants are taught how their experiences as athletes transfer to the workplace.

"Athletes have experience dealing with adverse conditions, communicating with teammates and coaches, and getting motivated for hard work -- all attributes that will help them on their jobs," Stankovich said.

Stankovich said he has been encouraged by the positive reaction from student athletes who have taken the course. He said he hopes that other universities will also offer similar courses.

"Student athletes face some unique challenges that other students don't have to worry about, and they often need some help to prepare for their future," he said.


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