Stereotypes against the intelligence of athletes are among the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination, according to Deborah Feltz, University Distinguished Professor of kinesiology at MSU. Who hasn’t heard a teacher, coach or peer poke fun at athletes’ academic abilities? A new study out of MSU shows that coaches expectations of their athletes can play a big role in athletes’ self perception and ultimately, their academic performance. By expecting more, coaches can positively influence the grades of their players. Read on for the full story.
Many athletes, particularly those who have their head knocked around on a regular basis, often face the stigma of being seen as unintelligent or somewhat slow-witted. This “dumb jock” stereotype is pervasive throughout universities and amongst student athletes. Any coming-of-age, raucous college film portrays a defined social hierarchy structured by these stereotypes. In these movies, the nerds may be able to outsmart the jocks, but the jocks can also inflict bodily harm upon the nerds.
A study from Michigan State University (MSU) has found in the case of student athletes, coaches can be effective in curbing this stereotype. According to this study, when student athletes know their coaches expect more from them than performance on the court or field, they’re more likely to earn better scores in their academic endeavors.
Deborah Feltz, University Distinguished Professor of kinesiology at MSU is the lead author of this new study which has been published in the Journal of College Student Development.
“Coaches spend a lot of time with their players, and they can play such an important role to build academic confidence in student-athletes,” said Feltz in a statement.
She believes stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies. If a student believes they are a dumb jock and only expected to excel in sports, then they’ll be more likely to give up more easily on their academic careers, says Feltz.
“It’s well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, ‘This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,’” Feltz said.
“They’re kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against.”
To conduct this study, Feltz and her team gathered more than 300 male and female student athletes from universities large and small. These athletes participated in a wide range of sports, including basketball, cross-country, football and rowing. After conducting interviews on the athletes, Feltz and team discovered those who identified themselves as athletes first were less confident in their academic skills. These students were also more likely to say they felt as if their peers expected them to perform poorly in school. The athletes who played high-profile sports like basketball or football were more likely to feel as if they were poor students.
This study has led Feltz to believe that those coaches who place an importance on academic excellence, as well as athletic excellence, are in the best position to improve the attitude of their athletes. Coaches can’t do it alone, says Feltz. Academic advisors, professors and even classmates can also work to reverse the dumb jock stereotype by expecting the best of every student, especially the athletes.
Feltz claims it isn’t hard to encourage these athletes to perform up to their full potential in their classes. All it takes is reminding them they’re human just like everyone else.
“They don’t have to do much,” said Feltz in closing.
“It may be enough to just remind players they are college students, which is a big deal, you know? A lot of these students are the first in their family to go to college.”Read More