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Navigating the Changing Landscape of Student-Athlete Care

  • Guests: Natalie Honnen, Executive Senior Associate AD / Student-Athlete Services and Performance at Clemson, Mark Coberley, Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine at Iowa State, and Stephen Smith, CEO of Kitman Labs.
  • Moderator: Steph Garcia Cichosz, from ADU, moderated the webinar.

Several topics were discussed during the webinar, including student-athlete care, athletic program development, data sharing, and preparation for transformation committee recommendations.


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Welcome back to Athletic Director u. I’m Steph Garcia Cichosz, and we are here in partnership with Kitman Labs to talk about navigating the changing landscape of student athlete care. In addition to Kitman Labs, CEO Steven Smith, we’re joined today by Natalie Honnen, executive Senior Associate AD at Clemson and Mark Coberley, director of Sports Medicine and Associate AD at Iowa State.

Mark, Natalie, Steven, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having us. Thanks for having Me. Great to be here.

Well, we are gonna put you on the spotlight first, Steven, tell us a little bit about why student athlete care is such a hot topic right now for Kitman Labs. Yeah, listen, I think it’s always been a hot topic for Kitman Labs. Uh, you know, coming with a, a sports medicine background and having spent my entire career working in, in professional sport, um, as a practitioner, you know, like, like our two guests here today, um, I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve lived it, I’ve seen exactly how hard it is every day to try and provide the standard of care that we want to try and play an integral role in, in the world of performance.

And not just be there to treat injuries and rehab injuries, but to be part of that like, wider performance ecosystem. And I think, you know, seeing what that’s like, seeing the pressures and demands that are placed on us as practitioners and understanding that the technology in this industry hasn’t really helped today. It’s like that, that’s what, you know, that’s what like to fir in us every day, is trying to develop tools that help and assist in the, the day-to-day life of sports medicine practitioners and allowing them to collect the best information possible and then to be able to drive forward effective, intelligent decisions that improve student athlete, uh, health and welfare and, and ultimately aid and improve in performance.

Well, I think we’d all agree that there is certainly a transformation taking place related to this broad topic right now. How would, uh, you all compare and contrast what is needed today to properly care for student athletes versus what we did even five years ago? You know, I’ll definitely take this. Um, you know, I, I simply, I sometimes say it’s the expectation versus the nice to have.

I think five years ago, a lot of units, you know, a lot of institutions were obviously filling up staff positions in these welfare and performance spaces. Um, and it was kind of like, okay, what does that program need? What does this program need? And I think as institutions, we’ve realized, hey, we need to first of all create consistent patterns with all our programs and make sure that we have all the performance staff that we need along with all the medical staff to ensure that we’re kind of building student athletes and developing them holistically.

So I think now the difference is like, student athletes expect that they’re gonna have an athletic trainer, right? That’s been sim that’s been always been case, but a strength coach, right? That’s been something that’s been consistent now access to a registered dietician, um, whenever needed access to mental health support, access to mental performance coaches, right? And thinking deeper into the medical side, right?

Physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists. So I think the difference is now that we have realized as institutions that we need to make sure that we have a, a very built out, um, effective performance and wellness space, um, for our student athletes to develop, as we say, we want to develop them on the field, um, you know, in the classroom, but also as adults as they kind of, um, navigate these four to five years, um, within our schools. Mark, what’s the perspective, uh, for the cyclones? Yeah, I, I agree with Natalie.

I think, uh, for me, one of the biggest things is more of an approach of holistic care in all those departments she mentioned. I think one of the issues in the past and, and currently is still going on in some regards is the siloing of all these different professions and, mm-Hmm. Um, you know, one of the, one of the things that we’ve tried to do in the last few years is develop a system that’s robust, uh, medical system that has access to performance data and share all that same information. Um, you know, our, our our performance team may be looking at some performance things from some metrics of some sports science.

And, you know, our, our sports medicine staff needs to learn some of that information is important to them, maybe in a different way. And so I think from our perspective and what we’ve learned from our student athletes is they look at all these departments as one big unit that’s trying to, uh, do holistic care for them and, and everybody be moving in the same direction. So I think today’s world is different than it was five years ago or 10 years ago, um, with more pressure to get rid of the siloing and, and really get everybody on the same page and communicating about what’s going on, because it makes all of us more effective.

Absolutely. You mentioned the word holistic, and obviously a big to big topic right now is the, the transformation committee’s recommendations and, uh, guidelines for new holistic health and wellness care. Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Let’s talk about what you and your departments are doing from a process structured tool standpoint to prepare for these changes that need to take place by, uh, August.

Go ahead, Natalie. Um, you know, it’s, it’s interesting because I think the good thing, um, here at Clemson, we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve kind of been building this out for the last couple years. So for us, the expectations, um, that are coming in August doesn’t really change a lot. We’re doing, um, obviously, you know, doing some education for student athletes on their arrival, making sure that’s consistent across the board.

Obviously our coaches being in the loop and being part of those education processes. Um, so for us, it’s not as a scary of a, of a, I guess, implementation, um, as, as maybe some others have, but we feel like this is what we should be doing, right? Like, I think that’s the difference is that, you know, as an institution, I wanna make sure it’s part of the fabric of what we do and the, and why we do it, and how we do it, and how we hire staff, how we set up systems, how we set up structures. Um, so I think for us it’s just formalizing the thing that we already are doing, um, if that makes sense, um, from, from that transition point.

Yeah. I think we’re in, uh, a similar situation to Clemson. We’ve been building this for a couple of years, and mm-hmm, tried to be, tried to be pretty deliberate about what we’re doing. And we’ve set up a system now to help us not just treat, but prevent, and we’re gonna focus in that area.

So we’re utilizing data from both mental health and nutrition and sports medicine on what types of visits visits are we seeing with athletes, what’s the primary problem that’s going on, you know, what, what are our common mental health issues, even as much as by sport. And then we’re gonna take that data and start, start to develop some preventative programs, basically sport specific preventative programs to all the things that they’re reporting to us that they’re having issues with. So, um, again, it is just a, it’s been a slow build. I, I think we’re being fortunate, like I say with Natalie, you know, we have been here at our place to be supported and have a little bit of vision on this was coming Mm-Hmm.

Um, now, now how do we build this out so that you do it right and not just be reactionary to what’s going on in August. So, um, none of us have it all figured out yet, obviously, but we’re still working in the right direction. So, uh, I think that’s, that’s the future. Yeah.

And, and one of the things that we additionally have been talking about is like redefining, right? We, we, we, we defined what a performance team looks like about seven years ago and what the expectations were for that unit. Um, for us, it’s, it’s been a good trigger for us to redefine and ensure that what we are doing within all those spaces and, um, the processes we have in place, right? And the data sharing that we’re doing, um, is really meeting that definition of what a true, um, holistic model looks like, how we’re supporting our student athletes and our programs.

Um, so for us it’s just kind of a trigger to, Hey, reassess. Let’s, let’s see what’s going right and make sure that we’re adjusting things that are going wrong With all this talk about data. I wanna bring Steven back in. Steven Kitman Labs has a, a broader purview.

You can see, uh, you know, from the bird’s eye view about what’s happening across, uh, the collegiate athletics landscape. What shifts are you seeing broadly speaking with respect to data Data? Yeah. I, I, I think much like what Mark and Natalie both said, I think most of the forward thinking advanced programs have been thinking like this for years anyway.

They’ve been trying to bring a very collaborative approach to how they look at holistic student athlete health and welfare. And I think that’s really helped us because it’s allowed us to kind of battle harden our, you know, our tools, our solutions to ensure that can we collect the data from sports medicine, from psychology, from sports science, from nutrition, you know, from strength conditioning? Can we bring all of that together? Can we enable those discussions that, you know, they want to have with each other so that they can make effective decisions?

And I think Mark said it really well, is that whilst they all want that, that same information, the way that they look at that, the way that that gets used across different personas and different kind of professions within that ecosystem is, is always different than, it’s always really, really important. And I think what we’ve been trying to do is to support that, to understand that, to really flesh out those use cases and see how do our solutions need to work? What’s the level of configurability that needs to be there? What are the types of questions that they’re trying to ask?

And, and how do we provide them with the tools and solutions to be able to answer those? And I think one, you know, there’s a couple of different dynamics that are, that are happening right now. One is that the student athletes expect this if they’re providing information to a di dietician, if they’re providing information to a sports psychologist, if they’re providing information to a strength and conditioning culture. And, and, you know, they, their expectation is that sports medicine has access to that too.

Their expectation is that when they’re being rehabbed, that sports medicine knows what they’re doing in the gym, what they’re supposed to do out on the field, and that they can make better decisions about how they treat them, and about how they program for them to get them ready for what’s going to happen in the game. And I think our job as, as partners, these organizations, is to provide them with the tools and capabilities to do just that, and to be able to have access to that information, to be able to translate that into what they, what they need really, really quickly. And to be able to put those effective kind of programs in place.

I wanna dig in a little deeper into this is this topic of, of breaking down the silos, as you mentioned, mark. And, and as Steven was saying, student athletes are kind of expecting this. What pushback have you gotten from maybe some, some more seasoned practitioners, uh, you know, athletic trainers, whatnot, who maybe still feel like things need to be a little bit, like, stay in your lane, I don’t need to know about this or that, or I don’t wanna data share in this way. What’s that dynamic been like?

Well, I’m seasoned. Um, I’ve been doing this a while. So, um, it’s, it’s, um, for us, we had some conversations. I mean, we have, you know, a a lot of people on our sports medicine staff have multiple certifications.

A lot of our strength coaches have multiple experiences, and that, that helped us to begin with, uh, everybody was speaking each other’s language, but our big message was, everybody’s gotta lose the ego. You know, when we’re here, we’re all trying to do the same thing. And once the, you know, uh, athletic trainers figured out some of the strength coaches, what they were doing, were trying to assist them and help them, and how that information could help them, and vice versa, the strength coaches understanding, you know, counter movement jumping, uh, for performance might be read differently in terms of, you know, asymmetries by the sports medicine staff over the long haul.

Once everybody started sharing that information, everybody figured out, look, none of us own any of this. We’re all gonna use the piece of this that’s most important to us. And then more importantly, be transparent with what between departments on what’s going on, so that there’s no question. And, you know, it’s an ongoing battle.

Um, you know, it’ll, it’ll, um, eventually continue to improve and become seamless. But everybody, it, it is just such a new world for everybody to, to have to do this. Um, it’s taken a lot of collaboration and, and fortunately here, we get great support from our administration. Unfortunately, all of our departments here are willing to do that.

And so that’s made it a lot easier to start to do this. And quite honestly, we’ve really only been really focused on this for about the last two years, and we’ve made great strides and everything we do once we started doing that. And it just took getting some of the right people in the right places and then having some technology where, you know, it could be transparent and also for everybody to see how everybody else was using that information differently and why it was important to them. That’s really kind of what’s, what’s not on some of these silos for us.

Yeah. I, I think the only thing to add to that is, you know, the other thing, especially in these support areas and, um, is trying to make sure that we limit turnover. Because in, in these industries and in these, um, you know, in these realms, um, every time you have to restart with a new person, right? It’s, it’s a new relationship that has to be developed.

It’s a, it’s a, it’s an amount of trust that has to be built from the get go. So the thing is how it’s so important for those processes and your system to be in place so that when the turnover happens, that transition for that new person coming into a new group of people working with a new program is a little bit smoother than it used to be in the past. Because I do think that is something that is still very, um, that happens within strength and conditioning, athletic training, um, nutrition, um, mental performance and mental health, that those are, those are industries that are growing at such a rapid pace, especially the newer spaces that are in athletics.

So turnover is gonna happen. So how do we make sure that we retain the people when we can, right? That’s first and foremost, right? Let’s develop our people, give ’em the skills they need, retain them, but if there is a transition, how we can make sure that the next person coming in is a seamless process because their role plays such a vital piece of the student athlete experience.

Um, so I think that’s something that is also something we have to be, you know, you have to understand that it’s part of this process as well. Yeah, I, I, I would agree with that a hundred percent. And I think that, um, lends to how you’re thinking about starting to build these out. ’cause you wanna make whatever you build applicable to no matter who comes to work for you Mm-Hmm.

You know, or who comes to work at your institution and not make it so specific that nobody can use it after you leave. ’cause she’s right. I mean, you’re doing this, it needs to be able to be carried on as an institution. Well, talking about this topic of transition, and I know you both were referring to it from the practitioner side, you know, the turnover of athletic trainers, but we’re also seeing a huge turnover of the athletes themselves.

So let’s talk about the transfer portal, kind of a, you know, a a fun hot topic. Um, what role does this portability of data, this breaking down of silos play in the transition of athletes? Yeah, I think, um, you know, we’ve had a lot of internal discussions here at our institution about this. And whether it’s NIL or portal or whatever, it, it for us, um, it really comes down to, uh, treat the person, right?

Um, beyond money. And so that’s where we’ve been able to knock down some of these silos. Again, it’s more like, Hey, we’ve gotta be, not every person, not every person on your team is going to be getting big NIL money, but they could just easily leave if they’re not happy with something. And so, really for us, it’s about providing the best care for every single student athlete that you have.

Uh, making sure that everything’s transparent, make sure they understand that it’s transparent. Um, and, you know, um, once they get that message, I think they feel a lot more comfortable. ’cause they know that’s not that way everywhere else. Mm-Hmm.

And they get a little more comfortable where it’s at, and they feel like they’re, they’re being taken care of by a large team of people. Uh, it’s been one of our focuses for our administration, for our coaches, and all that is like, Hey, let’s, let’s, let’s make sure we do a really good job of taking care of the student athlete in a lot of areas besides just NIL. Uh, because at the end of the day, that’s, that’s really what their experie is about at the institution. And I own the transfer portal Hot Words for Clemson.

And some of your coaches, Natalie, uh, tell us how it’s working there. Yeah, so I think Mark, I mean, mark hit it on the head in the sense that, you know, I’m a strong believer that if the student athlete experience is good, um, some of those challenges, they’re still gonna be there, but it makes it a lot easier to work through. So just making sure our support staff understands right, and they know this, right? The impact that each of us have on that student athlete experience, the coach obvious play.

Uh, the coaches obviously play a massive role in it. And, and, um, probably the biggest, but at the same time, when the systems around the coach are, um, transparent, um, kids know what to expect, right? And they feel like they’re getting that great standard of care across the board. Um, the decision for them, you know, whatever it may be, if it’s transfer portal, if it’s NIL, if I could get money more elsewhere, whatever can be, it’s gonna be a lot harder for that kid.

Because there’s a lot of things that play into that decision. So how do we make sure as administration, as an institution, that we’re trying to create the best student athlete experience that we could provide? Um, things are gonna happen. People are gonna leave pe, new people are gonna come in, but how do we make sure that we’ve put our best foot forward to be like, Hey, we’re gonna take care of the student, um, for the human they are, and not because of anything else related, um, to, to what they’re bringing to the table.

Steven, from a, again, big picture, holistic view, what are you seeing from a best practices standpoint when it comes to institutions having to work through the transfer portal? Well, I think what we’re hearing, um, the request from organizations is the importance of the portability of data right now is, is, you know, skyrocketing. And I think what that the, the impact of the portal has been that, you know, athletes are moving around. I know there’s only a limited number right now, but there’s an expectation probably that unlimited transfers is probably something that’s going to happen really quickly because of some of the challenges, the legal challenges that we’ve already seen, where athletes feel like they’re being held back by having a limited number of transitions.

I think what that means is that as an athlete moves, you know, in their, you know, first year, second year, third year or whatever, in university, there’s a huge amount of information that’s being collected on them already about how they’ve been tr you know, practicing about how they’ve been playing, about how they’ve been treated, about the conditions and injuries that they’ve picked up and what’s working from, for them from a treatment perspective. What’s working from a rehab perspective, it’s really, really difficult for a practitioner when a new athlete arrives in your door and you don’t have that history of information, you don’t have that knowledge, you don’t have that intimacy, like Natalie mentioned, you don’t have that relationship.

So how do you get up to speed fast enough? How do you develop that knowledge base so that you can make great decisions so you can support that athlete? And when that transfer is made, that they don’t walk into a new environment where people don’t understand them, can’t make good decisions for them, and then they end up being unhealthy and unable to actually maximize on, on the potential and the opportunity that they’ve actually made that transfer for. So I think our role is to provide a system and a technological basis that allows for the portability of data, which is going to become more and more important because of these dynamics within the collegiate world.

So when a player leaves Clemson and moves to the cyclones that Mark can just pick up that digital file, understand that athlete, and make great decisions about them. And I think we’re, that’s really forcing a, a very different landscape of data portability. And that’s, it’s a huge area of focus for us right now to enable that and to allow these guys to make great decisions. Mm-Hmm.

The other big, uh, moving piece right now is conference realignment. Uh, mark your conference just went through some changes, gonna have some new members coming in. Natalie, your conference is, uh, maybe a little bit of chaos, uh, members leaving, who knows how, what role does that play on all of this? Um, I’ll kind of go back to what Natalie, how she started this whole thing off.

For us, it’s just always been about providing the best possible care you can provide. It shouldn’t matter who’s in our league and who’s our not, who’s not, like, that’s our responsibility. Mm-Hmm. Um, you know, the, we’ve obviously had the big 12 has had changes over the last 20 years.

And, um, for me, the beauty of it is you get to exchange ideas with more people and see what they’re doing and see what they’re providing and how they’re getting it done. Um, it, it’s, it’s unique in every one of these conferences, even within conferences, institutions have different levels of resources and different focuses in different areas. So you can always find areas where, you know, somebody else might be doing something maybe a little more advanced than you are, and, and you learn from that and try to implement at your program. So for us, um, in our league, we have zero egos in anybody.

In, in, in my, my position or medical or strength. Everybody’s sharing information on what everybody else is trying to do, and that’s provide the best service. So I don’t think realignment is driving any increase in care. For us, it’s just more about increasing communication.

’cause uh, like I said before, I think we should have been striving toward this ultimate and delivery of care to begin with. Um, but when you have a conference realignment, sometimes you find out maybe you were or you weren’t, uh, where you thought you’d be. The only thing I would add is obviously, um, we have teams that are gonna be traveling a lot further than they have or have before. Yeah.

So, right. So how do we understand and kind of, um, use the data that we’re collecting to ensure that, hey, as an administration, how can we create a travel plans that makes best sense for the student athlete to be able to perform at a high level? Right? What does recovery look like, right?

Should we be, should we allow teams to take the red eye back when they go to Stanford or Cal? Um, should we promote the fact of like, Hey, I’d rather you sleep there, then travel back the next day. So I think those are things where conference realignment, when we think about student health and, and welfare and performance, and when we think about data collection and just making sure that you’re kind of collectively making decisions or what best for a program. I mean, I think that’s where, where this becomes really important.

I think that presents a huge opportunity for conferences as well to step in and support and help. Right? I think that the amount of data that you can collect as an individual institution about the impact of travel or the impact of like fixture congestion or things like that on, you know, student athlete health is going to be limited. When we look at the size of some of these conferences.

If we can start to make, you know, a collective move towards, you know, grabbing all of that data and looking across 12 or 14 or 15 institutions and seeing what is the impact of travel, what is the impact of when you do that? What is the impact of recovery on student athlete health? There is a huge opportunity to make some learnings together. And, and, you know, mark already mentioned it, that, that sharing of information, right?

That putting aside of the ego and that sharing of information across universities, across institutions to be able to get better, I think that’s something we’re excited about. And I think we’re hearing more and more of an appetite from organizations to do that. And I’m really glad that you brought it up, Natalie, because I think it feels like an area that is ripe for, you know, for, for some exploration and innovation right now. How have the requirements for, for the tech that you need to support all of these different, uh, these needs, these requests, um, keeping up with your conference peers, how has that impacted your role when it comes to looking for partners?

You know, you can’t just necessarily say, okay, uh, I’m at Clemson and I know that South Carolina uses this tech. We’ll just use that same one. It’s fine. Uh, you know, I’m sure that’s not exactly, I know we all wanna share data, but I’m sure that we also still wanna win.

Uh, how do we win when it comes to, uh, this, Uh, we, when we first started down this path, we were trying to learn from others, and we were trying to learn from others’ mistakes. And I think the biggest thing we learned in, in talking with people that, that do this, you know, obviously at a really elite level is the mistakes most people make, is they buy a bunch of technology and then try, try to figure out how they’re gonna use it. And I think, um, the most important advice I got, and we try to use here, is we try to start to identify the questions we want to answer before we start to, uh, explore instituting some kind of technology.

And so, um, having the questions you need to answer then leads to what technology do you want that will be valid and reliable? And then how are you gonna act on that once you get it in place? And how’s that gonna be shared? And I think that’ll be the same challenges for the conferences if they wanna start doing aggregated data, is what questions do we want to have answered, you know, based on, you know, team travel, what questions do we wanna have?

And then everybody can have an understanding of why you’re collecting the data. There’s a purpose behind it. They’re more likely to stick with it, uh, and adhere to it. But I think for us, picking the technology, you need to be aware of what everybody else is doing.

And you start asking questions about what does it do? But ultimately you don’t buy a technology because somebody else has it. You’re buying the technology to answer, answer specific questions and explore things that you’re trying to figure out and, and, and get answers for. Right?

Mark, mark said it perfectly because at the end of the day, I, I oftentimes, I’m having conversations with coaches or department heads and it’s like, well, someone, I’m like, okay, hold on a second. Like, what do, what do you need? Right? Let’s have a conversation about what you actually need.

Because again, what might work, what might work at another institution might not work at us because every structure and every staffing unit, everything’s different, right? Um, so that’s a, that’s a common conversation I feel like I have in the administration seat of like, okay, wait, what do you need? Tell me the why, and then let’s, don’t tell me because someone else has it. Um, let’s kind of work through a understanding what you truly need and let’s see how we can make it happen.

And Natalie, as a mom, that probably is a conversation you have at home too, in a different context. Oh, all the time. All the time. All the time.

Steven, tell, tell us how Kitman Labs takes all of these different, um, requirements, needs, uh, this keeping up with, with the Joneses, these unique questions, um, in mind as you’re kind of developing the next iteration of what you can bring to your collegiate partners. Yeah. Well, I, I think the, the organizations that are successful leveraging our platform are the ones that operate exactly like Natalie and Mark have just mentioned, right? They’re not the ones that, you know, pick up the phone and say, Hey, I need a tool.

They’re the ones that pick up the phone and are, and can explain this is the type of problem that we’re trying to solve. These are the types of questions that we’re trying to answer. And they have a strategy, right? They start with why, right?

It’s the, the Simon Sinek model, right? It’s what is it that we’re actually trying to do? Where are we trying to get to? Why are we trying to get there?

And I think that’s why we’ve built our business in a very specific way, right? That’s exactly the type of partners that we want. Because we come from sport, we have invested hugely in a, a team of professionals and a team of experts that can get in and work with our partners to understand what are those key questions, what is their strategy? And what does that mean for how we unpack the technology in different ways for each of our different partners.

So for example, if, if we walked into, you know, Iowa State and rolled out the system in, in the way that we have it set up for Clemson, it wouldn’t work and vice versa, it wouldn’t work because the, the model that they have, what they’re trying to do, the staff and the experts that they have, and the way that they unpack their model is different. And that doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. It means it’s unique, it means it’s specific, it means it’s like it’s designed to fit in around the people that they have and the strengths and weaknesses and the way of that organization and the way that they want to deliver their service model.

And I think that, that why that’s great for us is that that allows us to build real intimacy, real understanding of the environments. And it allows us through that to understand what parts of our system are good and what parts aren’t, what parts don’t have the flexibility and configurability that are needed to support the types of questions that they want to answer. And at that point, we have a choice as an organization, as to do we want to invest in those areas? Do we wanna support our partners to do the things that they want to do or not?

Right? And I think if the, if the, the answer to that question is the latter, we’re not fit for purpose in this industry anymore. So I think one of the things that makes us most excited is partnering with people like this, identifying where those problems are, and then leaning into that, right? And, you know, we’ll never be able to do those things as quickly as we all want.

But I, I, I think it’s, it’s a, it’s a real strength is that we’re either moving forward with the industry or we’re, you know, or, or we’re not. And I think being able to work with people like this, that, that I think want to lean into that mentality and that model as well is, you know, it’s a, it’s fascinating and it’s, it’s a privilege for us. Well, ultimately, everything we’re talking about here today, uh, the importance of data refi, configuration of our student athlete care models, it all leads to, uh, championship success. Of course, we want our student athletes to succeed.

We want them to have the best experience at our institutions, both Clemson and Iowa State, wildly successful, uh, institutions, departments. Let’s talk about the secrets to success. Who wants to share in, in all in illustration is what are some of those factors that have helped your departments and individual programs be so successful? Um, you know, for us, you know, I don’t know wildly successful is the the right word, but we, we’ve been pretty consistent across a lot of sports.

Uh, and especially when you’re at a place, you know, that may not have all the resources that, that some of the really high, high level institutions have. So how do you compete with that? And you do the very things that we’re talking about here. You do the little things.

Uh, you, you figure out, out how to do things very smartly. You figure out where your problems are. And I think most importantly, our administration does a really good job of know who we are, uh, and also who we aren’t, and, and, and stick with that and, and build on who we are and make sure we’re doing us really well. And so, um, we get a lot of a great leadership from our athletic director.

And, and that’s a constant message every year. Uh, know who we are and remember who we aren’t, and try to stay with that. And, and with that, we have to be very resourceful. We have to be very forward thinking, um, and do everything we can to give our coaches the best chance, uh, that they can see.

And our student, our student athletes, the best chance that they have so they can succeed. I will say, mark, I’m a, a track in cross country, uh, former student athlete. So I, when I think about success, I do think about Iowa State and of course Ad Pollard. Uh, so that’s where I was going from there.

Yeah, No, they do a good job. Well, we, we’ve been pretty successful in a lot of sports, so Yes, Absolutely. Natalie, what, what’s the secret to success at Clemson? Tell everyone, oh, uh, People, I mean, getting the right people, I think is the first and most important thing.

Um, you gotta get the right people on the bus. You gotta get the people to believe in what the, the mission of the institution and the athletic department is. Um, if you don’t have that, it’s not gonna work. Um, second of all, I think one of the important things that we do here at Clemson is we try to stay consistent among all our sports.

So the support and resources that we have within all our programs, especially from a student athlete, welfare performance, are consistent, right? So it doesn’t feel like one sport is different than another sport that is different from another sport. So I think if you’re able to establish kind of a vision, when you kind of look at student athlete welfare, that is consistent across the board, I think that sets you up for success. Um, because we all know student athletes, they connect with each other among your campus, right?

And they, they know kind of everybody else’s experience. So being able to speak to the fact that administration, these are expectations in these, these realms, and we’re gonna stay consistent through and through. I think that has a lot to do with success as well. Steven, is there anything that you’ve seen from any other kitman lab partners when it comes to continuing to elevate the student athlete experience in route to championship experiences?

Yeah, I, I, I totally agree with Natalie. I think, uh, leadership, right? People and leadership, that’s, that’s what differentiates the clients that we work with that really excel and, and the ones that we know, we see have inconsistency in terms of success. Like, if you have really strong leadership, which is people, right?

Great people that you know, really represent the organization well, if you have a strong culture and that organization has an identity, they know who they are, they know what their values are, they know how they want to operate. And then, you know, the, the last piece I think is a plan, right? The strategy is how are you actually going to unpack that? How are you going to unfold that?

What is that going to look like? Because you ultimately always will have people come in and out if they don’t know how they’re supposed to operate, what those, like, what those values are, who, like, how do they behave within that environment and what are they supposed to do? What is the plan? You can never achieve real, real consistency and success because what do you fall back on as soon as things get hard?

Like culture, values and the plan are the things that you have to revert to. And I think the organizations that we see that are truly exceptional are the ones that everybody knows what that looks like. Whether you’re a staff member or you’re an athlete that shared mental model of like what those values are and what we’re trying to do. That’s what guides them every day.

And that’s what makes ’em great. When I take a step back and think about all that, you, Natalie, and Mark have to be navigating at all times, all the balls in the air. You’ve got the transfer portal, maintaining consistent services across all of the different sports, recruiting and retaining staff, you know, keeping up with all of the changes here in this space. How are you managing this?

Let’s talk about you as people a little bit here. How are you, uh, what is your Google calendar looking like these days? How are you making sure that you’re giving your best as a leader, as a senior leader in your department, uh, to all of these different, uh, moving parts? I need to take care of myself first.

Um, and that’s something that, you know, I, it’s something that I work on every day and just ensuring that I’m able to get the time that I need because I can’t be my best if I’m not taking care of myself. So, and I try, that’s something for me in my seat that I try to lead by example and let staff see that, that it’s okay, um, to understand, um, the ebbs and flows and taking the time when you need it. Um, I think the rest of it is, I, I like chaos to begin with. So for me, um, I think if, if my schedule, I, you know, I always say when I have one meeting on my schedule on a day, like, it’s funny ’cause I come in and I’m super excited about it, and then I’m like, I’m not as productive.

Like I’m more productive when I’m just kind of jumping to jumping, jumping. Um, but that might just be my skillset. Um, but I think taking care of myself first is, is the most important thing because I know that means I can make a bigger impact on where I am. If, if I’m doing that, Yeah, I’d agree with that.

I would, I would add to it. Um, you’re very selective in in your staff and who you’re working with in all your departments. If you hire pros and let them be pros, it frees your mind up to be able to handle things as they come unexpectedly. Like it happens to both of us every day.

And so when you’re fortunate to have great teams of people in all these different departments and you trust them, it frees your mind up to handle these things a little bit different. But she’s right. You do have to take care of yourself. You gotta get a break away, and you have to be a little bit of a leader by example that too, and let everybody else know that’s okay.

Uh, ’cause they’re all gonna, they’re all here working really hard because that’s how they got here, and that’s not gonna change. But we, we do have to keep in mind that the staffs are being really stressed. But, um, yeah, I, I think for us it’s, you know, how do you handle all this? You have really great people working where you’re at and you trust them and, and then get ’em all organized.

Well, as we wrap up here, I have a bit of a two part question. What advice do you have for your fellow, uh, practitioners out there when it comes to navigating all of these two, changing moving parts and creating the most effective student athlete care system for their institution? And I want you to answer in the context of if you’re speaking to an aspiring, uh, senior associate ad associate ad maybe someone a little bit earlier in their career who are hoping to be the next, next Natalie’s and the next Marx, but also advice to maybe some less resourced institutions, um, uh, some division two, division three institutions that are looking at these changes and thinking, how are we gonna be able to manage, uh, when we don’t have Iowa State and Clemson level of resources?

You want me to go first? Um, go Ahead, mark. My thing is, we’ve all made the mistake of not doing simple really well first. Um, for those of us that are kind of more seasoned at this, and, and my advice for everybody is you, you gotta do simple really well.

And once you get that master, then you continue to add things. And what happens over time is people end up doing what Natalie do and, and what I do. And you, you’ve, you started to master all these simple processes and then knowing what you know there, start to make it more advanced and continuing to expand. And I think that’s where Natalie mentioned earlier about retaining staff.

You know, if you’re constantly turning over staff, it’s hard to do that, um, because you’re constantly teaching the simple and it’s hard to get well. So one of our big challenges in this industry is how do you keep some continuity so that you can continue to expand? But, um, my advice is, is, and we remind ourselves of that all the time, do simple really well. And once we get that mastered, let’s go attack the next thing.

’cause we’ve all made the mistake of trying to do way too much at once, and then nothing ever gets done and you don’t get the results or any kind of actionable things done, uh, that you need from all the, all the time and money that you’ve invested. Um, I think a couple thoughts, especially when you talked about like under-resourced, right? Make sure you understand the whole institution. I think sometimes so often in athletics, we, it’s very easy for us to stay within our athletics department and feel like the resources and everything we have here.

Um, I think there’s a lot of, um, people across campus in the academic space that could assist, right? If there’s some challenges or some resources that you’re looking to add and you’re kind of, Hey, I don’t have the resource for it, or I don’t have the the money for it, let’s see what’s happening on campus and how do we partner. Um, I think oftentimes that doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen enough.

I think the other thing is that we have to realize that this is constantly evolving. Um, so I think where Mark is saying, Hey, make sure we do simple, great, agree a hundred percent, but also understand that it’s a constantly, it’s a constant project in the sense of be reflective, be willing to understand where maybe you made a mistake. How can we re readjust and not to allow any, um, blips along the way or obstacles along the way, derail you from what the vision is that you’re trying to build. Because I think it’s not, it’s not a, it’s not an easy process, especially when you’re trying to ensure that all these in all these areas within an institution are collaborating.

They’re on the same page, right? That’s not easy. Um, so making sure that you’re willing to work through it, understand there’s gonna be challenges, there’s gonna be mistakes, there’s gonna be failures. But make sure that whatever you want to accomplish, make sure that you’re constantly evolving and working through those things as they come up.

And Steven, putting you back in the hot seat, what recommendations do you have for these same, similar, uh, audiences for maybe some under-resourced or for some aspiring, uh, future leaders here? Yeah, I think it’s hard because most people that end up in a position like this haven’t come from a business school background, for example, right? They’ve, you know, they’ve been athletic trainers or physical therapists and you know, when you’re, when you’re in college studying to be an athletic trainer or a physical therapist, they don’t teach you how to be a, a business leader like this, right?

Within a and, and run, run or lead a department. So I think the best way to do this is, you know, if anybody likes cooking the, do you ever, you ever open up a recipe book and try and cook something from a recipe book and see what the success rates look like, versus learning from somebody that teaches you how to cook in person? I think the difference in terms of the success rate is, is, is incredible. So my, you know, I suppose my, my words of wisdom would be get out there and learn from somebody else.

Like everybody knows who Natalie Honnen is and what he does. Now everybody knows who Mark Coberley is and what he does. Now, I’d pick up the phone and call them. I’d go and learn from them.

I’d, you know, I’d learn from their mistakes, I’d ask questions like these guys, you can tell from this discussion. Both incredibly experienced, both incredibly humble. And I can guarantee if somebody picks up the phone and calls them that they’d be willing to help. And I would get out and spend as much time with leaders like this as you can and learn from them.

And, you know, try, try to, try to, uh, use the paths that’re already. Well, trodden, Great advice. And Natalie and Mark, I’m sure your phones are gonna start ringing off the hook. Thank you, Steven.

Thank you, Steven. Thanks, Steven. I owe I owe you both a drink after that, but, uh, Well, Natalie with Clemson and Mark with Iowa State and of course Steven with our partner Kitman Labs, thank you all so much for joining us for this really crucial discussion. I think sometimes student athlete care and getting into the nitty gritty of it gets kind of put to the side in favor of some of the more flashy external conversations.

So thank you both, all three of you so much for being here today with us and, uh, sharing your wisdom with Athletic Director U.


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