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Thursday, 21 March 2013 13:55

Beyond the Playing Field: University of Michigan Social Work and Sport Association Mini-Conference

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Q: Where do aspects of social work intersect the world of collegiate sports?

Greg Harden: Athletics and sports develop people. We've all seen how it can transform a person. When a student athlete first arrives at the University of Michigan, they bring with them their past, how they've been programmed by their family experience. In 4 years, we expect him/her to grow in to a new version of their family.

If you're managing your emotions, and your relationships are healthy, you've put yourself in a better place to succeed. If you're stuck in self defeating situations, you can't be a great athlete.

At the high school level, so many of these kids are just looked at as athletes. And high school is the a great opportunity to provide social work thru athletics, but many of the coaches are just focused on winning championships. When they get to this level, we work to readjust them from being athletes to being real people. I want to create opportunities for them not to put limits on themselves and use their sport to develop themselves into a total person.

Q: How has the position of social work in collegiate sports changed in the past 20 years?

Greg Harden: It's become institutionalized. I came in as an outside consultant years ago, working with troubled people. Alcohol and drugs were the primary issues back then, and our goal was to support team in examining ways to do what I called "Prevention, Intervention, Retention" - we wanted to prevent the problems from happening, intervene if there was an existing issue, and work to retain the athlete in our program.

Over time, the institution has become more sophisticated in identifying problems. But at the same time, the problems have changed. Now we see kids coming in who may have been labeled with ADHD or anxiety disorders, kids on medication. The issues have become more complex because the people have become more complex. Add in the power of social media and what kids call "friends" these days, and it's become a very different world. At the core, it is still about helping 18-22 year-olds deal with daily living issues.

To large degree what hasn't changed is what we do. Instead of looking at treating the disease or the problem, we look at the whole person. It's a holistic approach - Total Person Development. I need to help them develop athletically, academically AND socially, something many of these kids have never done before.


For more insights into the work of Greg Harden and the University of Michigan's Social Work and Sport Association, please visit The mini-conference is scheduled for Friday 3/22 at 12:30pm and is free and open to the public.


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