Sideline Coaches Program allows faculty and staff an inside look at the life of a student-athlete

Elise Covert, Sports Co-Editor

There’s no question that the University is one of the best places to be a student-athlete. The department of athletics has long prided itself on fostering a culture that is conducive to students’ success both on the playing field and in the classroom.

In 1989, the Sideline Coaches Program was initiated in order to allow University faculty and staff an inside look at the life of a student-athlete. Faculty and staff are invited as guest coaches to practices, pregame team meetings, and games. Sideline coaches have the unique opportunity to meet athletes on Bison varsity teams and converse with their coaches, allowing them to get a taste of the life of a student-athlete beyond their daily academic interactions.

“At Bucknell, our varsity athletics program is centered around the student-athlete, and we strive to provide an athletics experience that is fully supportive and in concert with the overall academic mission of the university,” Director of Athletics and Recreation John Hardt said. “What the Sideline Coaches Program has done is help strengthen the relationship between the faculty and our student-athletes and coaches.”

When the program was first instituted, former Professor of Biology Richard Ellis was the first to participate, invited by the varsity football team. In his career following that first experience, Ellis was a sideline coach for five men’s sports and five women’s sports teams, often participating in the program with his wife. Ellis described the program as “very enriching” and praised its benefits. He also cited it as motivation for him to operate the scoreboard or game clock for five different intercollegiate sports in his retirement.

“I believe the main benefit, especially for those faculty unacquainted with college sports, is to see how hard the students involve themselves, both physically and emotionally. For me, it was a great opportunity to get to know my students in an entirely different place and atmosphere,” Ellis said.

For each of the teams, Ellis attended at least one mid-week practice prior to a contest and met with the team for pregame and postgame meetings. Head coaches integrate their sideline coaches in different ways, but each coach tries to give the guest an authentic glimpse into the daily routines of student-athletes.

For example, the women’s basketball program hosts a couple of sideline coaches for each of its home games, and head coach Aaron Roussell talked about bringing sideline coaches into all facets of team life. Those who work with him participate in practice, film sessions, game-day shootaround, warmups, pregame and halftime talks, and (hopefully) post-game celebrations.

“It has really grown for our program over the last few years,” Roussell said. “From the feedback I receive, most are amazed at all that goes into the student-athlete experience. How much our student-athletes have to balance usually is apparent to outsiders, but how well they do it and what all goes into it usually comes close to astonishing to those that visit.”

Likewise, many athletes appreciate the chance to show their professors the time commitment, dedication, and passion that goes into their sports. In fact, students can suggest specific professors or staff members to be selected to participate with their teams.

“I think the program is effective because it shows our professors not just the time that we commit to our sport, but the mental commitment that we give as well. By being included on the sideline, our professors get to see how we interact with our coaches and how we as players must strategize and problem solve under pressure,” Elizabeth Duswalt ’17, a member of the Bison women’s lacrosse team, said.

Seeing how often the program changes professors’ perspectives, it encourages coaches to reconsider what they know about the demands of their athletes in the academic realm. The experience can spark important conversations on both sides of the exchange.

“I keep saying that I need to invite myself to some classes so I can see what goes on in other aspects of our players’ lives. Any time you can see first-hand what students experience, both in the classroom and in their extracurricular activities, I think there is great value and adds to the appreciation of our students,” Roussell said.

Scores of other testimonials, including that of University President John Bravman, rate the Sideline Coaches Program just as highly.

“I’ve been fortunate to participate in the Sideline Coaches Program, and each time has been rewarding in its own way. I find experiencing competition through that somewhat unique perspective has given me a deeper appreciation for the commitment our scholar-athletes and their coaches make to each other, and to Bucknell,” Bravman said.

With reviews like these, it’s no wonder that the Sideline Coaches Program has been around for 28 years and continues to see success.

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