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CCU Atheneum: Associate Athletics Director of Student-Athlete Enrichment Walter Goffigan, senior offensive lineman Adam Lawhorn and Coach Joe Moglia.
Associate Athletics Director of Student-Athlete Enrichment Walter Goffigan, senior offensive lineman Adam Lawhorn and Coach Joe Moglia.

Guest Coaching Program: From the classroom to the sidelines

by Melanie Smith
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The life of a student-athlete is more than meets the eye. Audiences cheer on students from the stands, seeing only their moments on the field. What they don’t see is the rigorous schedule, early mornings, late nights, and social sacrifices made to stay on track to success.

Between being on the field and in the classroom, a student-athlete must play two roles while on campus. When the balancing act becomes too much of a challenge, that’s when Walter Goffigan, associate athletics director of student-athlete enrichment, steps in. Goffigan has made it his mission to cultivate and nurture the balance between athletics and academics for student-athletes, emphasizing the importance of education above all else.

“I tell my athletes,” Goffigan said, “no one can take your education or degree from you.”

Goffigan cares for his student-athletes’ futures by preparing them for life after college, helping them set their focus on academic goals they have in addition to athletic achievements. His goal is to create a holistic student-athlete, one who can utilize what he or she has learned in college when the time comes to finish playing sports.

While many mentors in a student-athlete’s life stem from the coaching, strength and conditioning staffs for their team, in 2006 Goffigan realized the significance of highlighting a different kind of mentor – one in the classroom. This started the guest coaching program. Beginning as a pre-game tailgate, Goffigan crafted a special annual event that senior football players could attend with a faculty or staff member who has made an influential impact on the athlete’s life while at Coastal.

“I ask the students to tell me who on campus has been the most instrumental to them in their time here,” Goffigan said. “You could be anyone who has in some point of time touched the student-athletes’ lives; a lot of our guest coaches become mentors to our student athletes.”

Each senior football player is allowed to choose one faculty or staff member to be their guest coach. After gathering a list of names, Goffigan secures tickets for guest coaches and their families to attend a football game. The weekend of the selected game, guest coaches are walked through the process of what a game weekend is like.

Guest coaches attend a pre-game practice and dinner hosted by Coach Joe Moglia where they are recognized for their impact on the seniors.

Additionally, guest coaches are welcomed at a team meeting, where they gain insight and get a glimpse of how playing a sport is similar to learning in the classroom. Seeing this allows guest coaches to understand the life of their student-athlete better, realizing the pressures these particular students are under.

Before the game, guest coaches are also invited to the sidelines to see their student-athlete warm-up. Guest coaches are able to get a photo with Moglia and their student-athlete, which is signed by Moglia and hand-delivered to their offices by Goffigan.

Sharon Thompson, professor of public health and previous guest coach, is honored to have been asked to be a guest coach. Being a guest coach three times has allowed Thompson to recognize the responsibilities of a student-athlete, some of which she was unaware.

“From learning the possible strategies of opposing teams, understanding game day plays, reviewing films, going to practices, navigating travel time to away games, weight-lifting, and many other responsibilities – it is tough to juggle with a full-time academic career,” Thompson said.

During one experience, Thompson felt overwhelmed while watching the coaches and players discuss different plays and write symbols on the white board.

“I totally felt lost,” Thompson said. “It was like I was in another country where I didn’t understand the language.” This made her realize that student-athletes not only work physically, but also mentally through memorizing and understanding the language of the game.

Jeanne Stewart, lecturer for the Department of Communication, Media and Culture, said the guest coaching weekend was full of joy. Once it came to an end, she reflected on how much it meant to her.

“It was quite an honor to be nominated,” Stewart said. “This is an experience I will never forget.”

Don Rockey, associate chair and professor of recreation and sport management, feels the interaction with a student-athlete in an environment outside the four walls of education is beneficial opportunity.

“I enjoyed interacting with the student-athlete on his ‘turf,’” Rockey said. “I got to see a different side of the student … it gives faculty and staff a small dose of what it’s like to be a student-athlete.”

With success over the years, Goffigan has seen the program foster many professor mentorships for student-athletes, creating a lasting impact.

Goffigan said discussions are in the works regarding a guest coaching experience for men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and other sports.

“It’s a program of saying thank you,” Goffigan said. “…bringing the academic and athletic sides of campus together.”

 

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