Members of Syracuse University’s women’s basketball team participate in a unique campus program in which they regularly check-in with staff, just to talk.
The Daily Orange reports that the team is required to sit down monthly with Cedric Solice, the school’s director of program management and development, but despite the mandatory nature of the meetings, they are intended as a way to provide team members a venue to discuss any issues they might be facing on campus.
The idea reportedly was hatched by head coach Quentin Hillsman, who described an 'ah-ha' moment he had while thinking about ways to improve player experience.
“Why don’t we just ask the players what’s going on?” Hillsman recalled to The Daily Orange. “How can we help them off the court? Academically, socially?”
Hillsmans’ idea came even before AD John Wildhack’s push to address mental health on campus, though in addition to the meetings with Solice there are now two counselors available exclusively to student-athletes.
The talks, which continue during the offseason, span a range of topics, according to The Daily Orange. Anything from playing time and sleep routines to family struggles and internship searches are on the table, and Solice urges them to bring up whatever might be on their minds.
“We promise these young ladies that they’ll have an amazing social experience,” Solice told The Daily Orange. “Coach Q says we need to treat them like our daughters, so they know we’re here for them and they can talk about what they want.”
A key factor of the discussions is that they’re not with Hillsman himself. He said he realized his role as head coach could potentially complicate any talks he’d have with his student-athletes.
“You don’t want to talk to me,” he said. “Because they’ll just tell me what they want me to hear. You want to go to someone they can be honest with.”
Or, as junior guard Gabrielle Cooper puts it, “It’s much easier talking to [Solice] than to Coach Q. If you’re having a bad day, you don’t want to talk to Coach Q about it. He’s probably the one yelling at you … If you’re having a bad day mentally, it could really have a bad effect on you and your teammates. If you can control that, it’s really, really important.”
It’s an interesting approach to a problem more and more athletic departments are beginning to address, and it’s paying off.
Former Syracuse star Brittney Sykes, who now plays with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream said the conversations she had with Solice helped her regain the confidence she needed to return to the court after an ACL injury.
“The wellness meetings with [Solice] save a lot of careers and lives,” she said. “Including mine.”