Social work skills a good fit for athletics

Nov 5, 2012

By Rena Malai, News staff

From student athletes to Olympians, those involved in the world of sports don’t have an average life. Long days of training, the stress of competitions and the pressure to win on top of everyday responsibilities are the norm for many athletes who play at a college or professional level.

“Athletes are complex,” said Vince Lodato, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of the National Sports Performance Institute. “The layers of complexity go beyond just being a good athlete. They have to outperform at their highest level every day.”

Considering the range of issues athletes may face — from stress to substance abuse — it makes sense for social workers to be involved at all levels, said Emmett Gill, assistant professor at the Department of Social Work at North Carolina Central University in Durham.

Gill worked with the Rutgers University women’s basketball team to help them cope with the aftermath of the Don Imus scandal in 2007, when the radio host made alleged racial slurs about the team on his show “Imus in the Morning.”

“Athletics can be a closed system,” Gill said. “As social workers, we have a unique skill set. We’re set to break down the barriers athletics presents. In working with Rutgers, it was a way to get the young ladies to think about their life outside of sports. ”

It is becoming increasingly more common to have social workers in collegiate athletic environments, Gill said, because late adolescent and early adulthood are time periods where males and females experience meaningful identity development issues. And social work is the profession best equipped to deal with issues of social functioning, he added.

NASW member Larry Mabry said it’s not yet common for social workers to work with professional athletes, even though their training is well-suited for it.

“ … It’s more a sports psychologist or psychologist,” he said. “But social workers have the right skills to deal with crisis and mental health (issues).”

Lodato, who also is the director of the employee assistance programs for two major league organizations, said in addition to substance abuse and stress, athletes deal with issues like eating disorders, being an LGBT athlete and everyday life problems that become magnified as they juggle erratic schedules and competitive environments.

“Most of the time, when their performance suffers, there is a lot of stuff off field that is going on,” he said.

From the November 2012 NASW News. NASW members click here for the full story.

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