NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant

NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program


The NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program supports research and data-driven pilot projects designed to enhance student-athlete psychosocial well-being and mental health. Research topics may include, but are not limited to, managing transitions (e.g., from recruit to first-year student; transferring between universities; adapting from youth sports to college sports environment; developing independence from parents), identity development, stress management, substance use, bystander intervention, cultivating healthy relationships, career exploration and sport exit strategies.  Funded projects must demonstrate potential to result in campus-level programming that can positively impact the well-being of NCAA student-athletes at a range of member institutions.

Problem Statement

Krahn (2021) argued that “health is the dynamic balance of physical, mental, social, and existential well-being in adapting to conditions of life and the environment” (p. 1). College athletes are expected to master this dynamic balance by being productive contributors to their team, as well as their academic and athletic departments, while also managing the typical demands of college life. Research explores the prevalence of anxiety and depression within the student-athlete population (Davoren & Hwang, 2014) as well as the benefits of mental health awareness (Breslin et al., 2018). More specifically, Brown et al. (2014) found that anxiety disorders such as performance anxiety, panic disorder, and phobic anxiety are common psychiatric issues among student-athletes. Mental health awareness (Breslin et al., 2018) and mentorship (Warner et al., 2022) are two key factors shown to bolster the success of student-athletes (SAs). More collaboration is needed between academic and athletic units to develop sustainable solutions that support the mental health of SAs across all divisions, teams, and levels of collegiate athletics. 

Project Description

The Tech SAFE initiative will tap into current campus resources but utilize them in new ways that strengthen the success of SAs across campus. Research indicates that the extra pressures and demands on 18-to 21-year-old SAs results in a greater prevalence of mental health concerns (Brown et al., 2014). Tech SAFE will address these concerns through a multilayered approach, informed by needs identified by our Athletic Department and matched to evidence-based research by the project team. 


1. Faculty Mentorship. Harrison et al. (2006) assert that although the relationship between a player and a coach is important, the mentorship and advocacy by faculty is equally as important for the holistic development, academic retention, and overall well-being of SAs. We will connect SAs to faculty members who are invested in a supportive campus culture and are willing to advocate for the SA population. Student-athletes will benefit from meaningful connections to mentors on campus, with an approximate 1:3 faculty to SA ratio and a goal of 50 SAs. Mentors will be trained and will get to know details about each SA background, culture, and goals. Participants will share meals, meet for ice cream, go bowling, attend events together, and more—with funding to cover some of these experiences. These connections will strengthen relationships and provide a strong, consistent support system for SAs while identifying and resolving factors that may impede student success both in the classroom and in their sport.


2. Counseling Services. With 300+ student-athletes, our Athletics Department doesn’t have a dedicated mental health counselor, and oftentimes our university Counseling Center is overbooked and unable to provide timely services for our students. Watson (2006) suggested that universities should offer flexible counseling services and increased accessibility for SAs. Licensed counselors from the Department of Counseling and Psychology have agreed to provide counseling services specifically for SAs—for approximately 15 hours a week. The grant will pay for a course release for these licensed counselors to dedicate a portion of their time on campus to SAs in a space frequently used by SAs. The convenience of services housed in an athletic facility will eliminate wait times and provide specialized assistance for our SA population. Watson (2006) also found that programs such as this current research study may help diminish “the stigmatizing effects of seeking counseling support” (p. 40) for SAs. 


3. Interactive Workshop Series. A mental health and well-being workshop series will trigger awareness and equip SAs with a toolbox of mental health strategies and supports. Throughout the series, SAs will engage in a transformational experience with a goal of a healthy environment and coping culture. The workshops will focus on topics such as performance anxiety, social media pressures, career connections/exit strategies, and more with a goal of mitigating stigmas associated with mental health challenges (Chow et al., 2020; Watson, 2006; Athletes for Hope, 2023). Monetary incentives and refreshments will be provided at each workshop—2/Summer, 3/Fall, and 3/Spring. Campus professionals (6) and paid guest speakers (2) will facilitate the workshops. 

Evaluation Plan

The impact of the Tech SAFE initiative will be evaluated using a diverse, mixed-methods approach. As mentorship is a major facet of this initiative, SAs will evaluate mentors through a brief survey at the end of the experience. This survey, coupled with focus group interviews, will provide a holistic view of the mentor-mentee relationship. SAs will also be assessed on their perceived stigma surrounding mental health using a validated instrument. They will be given a pre-test before the interactive workshop series and a post-test after the series has concluded to gauge if the workshop series had a significant impact in this area. Finally, SAs will have the opportunity to evaluate the usefulness of the counseling sessions using an anonymous survey. This will provide key information that can be used to improve this process for future iterations. All of the data gathered will be shared with various stakeholders on campus with the goal of continued and increased collaboration between athletic and academic units.

Estimated Budget

$32,900:  $7k–2 semesters of course release/adjunct replacement for counseling faculty; $500–development & facilitation of mentor training; $10k–$200 stipends for 50 SAs who participate in mentoring component; $2400–workshop incentives, drawing of 3x$100 gift cards for each of 8 workshops; $3500–professional mental health guest speakers for 2 of 8 workshops; $3200– 8x$400 for workshop refreshments; $6300–meals/outings for mentorship program, 70 participants x $18x5 funded experiences/year. 

Project Deliverables

The project team will contribute the following items for the NCAA membership, along with supporting research and results: Campus Mentorship Model; workshop programming & activities; and the model for faculty to provide on-campus licensed counseling services for student athletes.

Project Team

Drs. Julie C. Baker (Associate Dean, College of Education), Kyle Shanks (Assessment Director, College of Ed), and Leveda Birdwell (Associate Athletic Director, Athletics) will oversee the research project. Graduate assistants Jamaal Thompson (PhD), Autezia Sellers (PhD), and Tai Carter (MA) are excited to utilize their expertise as former student athletes to help facilitate the project delivery and research study. 


Athletes for Hope. (2023). The whole being athlete program. Retrieved January 5, 2023, from 

Breslin, G., Haughey, T., O’Brien, W., Caulfield, L., Robertson, A., & Lawlor, M. (2018). Increasing athlete knowledge of mental health and intentions to seek help: The state of mind Ireland (SOMI) Pilot Program, Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 12(1), 39–56. Retrieved Jan 5, 2023, from

Brown, G. T., Hainline, B., Kroshus, E., & Wilfert, M. (Eds..). (2014). Mind, body and sport: Understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness.

Chow, G. M., Bird, M. D., Gabana, N. T., Cooper, B. T., & Becker, M. A. S. (2020). A program to reduce stigma toward mental illness and promote mental health literacy and help-seeking in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I student-athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 15(3), 185–205.

Davoren, A. K., & Hwang, S. (2014). Depression and anxiety prevalence in student athletes in G.T. Brown (Ed.), Mind, body and sport: Understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness (pp. 38–39). National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Harrison, K. C., Comeaux, E., & Plecha, M. (2006). Faculty and male football and basketball players on university campuses: An empirical investigation of the “intellectual” as mentor to the student athlete. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 77(2), 277–284.

Krahn, G. L., Robinson, A., Murray, A. J., Havercamp, S. M., Havercamp, S., Andridge, R., Arnold, L. E., Barnhill, J., Bodle, S., Boerner, E., Bonardi, A., Bourne, M. L., Brown, C., Buck, A., Burkett, S., Chapman, R., Cobranchi, C., Cole, C., Davies, D, Witwer, A. (2021). It's time to reconsider how we define health: Perspective from disability and chronic condition. Disability and Health Journal, 14(4), 1­–5. 10.1016/j.dhjo.2021.101129

Warner, S. M., Stokowski, S., Fridley, A., & Kim, K. (2022). Sport management faculty members’ mentorship of student-athletes. Sport Management Education Journal, 1(aop), 1–9.

Watson, J. C. (2006). Student-athletes and counseling: Factors influencing the decision to seek counseling services. College Student Journal, 40(1), 35–42. 

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