Former Student-Athletes Are Winners in Well-Being

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The FINANCIAL — Many former NCAA student-athletes go on to lead fulfilling lives after their college playing days are over. In fact, a recent national Gallup-Purdue Index study of college graduates shows former student-athletes are even more likely to do so than non-student-athletes. Former student-athletes are more likely to be thriving — or strong and consistent — than non-student-athletes in four out of five areas of well-being that Gallup measures.

And in the only area in which they are not leading non-student-athletes, financial well-being, former student-athletes are just as likely to be thriving.

These results are among those featured in a new report, Understanding Life Outcomes of Former NCAA Student-Athletes. The findings are based on the national Gallup-Purdue Index, a comprehensive, nationally representative study of U.S. college graduates with Internet access. Gallup conducted the study Feb. 4-March 7, 2014, with nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. As part of this study, Gallup interviewed 1,670 former NCAA student-athletes about their lives and compared their responses with a cohort of 22,813 non-student-athletes who graduated from the same institutions.

Of the five elements, former student-athletes — like their non-student-athlete counterparts — are the most likely to be thriving in purpose well-being. This means they like what they do each day and are motivated to achieve their goals. The majority of former student-athletes (56%) are thriving in this element, as are an even higher percentage (62%) of student-athletes who played football or men’s basketball. Both groups do significantly better than their non-student-athlete peers — less than half (48%) of whom are thriving in purpose well-being.

Majorities of former student-athletes are also thriving in social well-being (54%) and community well-being (51%), which means they have the support of strong social networks and are true members of the communities in which they live. In comparison, less than half of their non-student-athlete peers are thriving in either of these areas. Interestingly, former student-athletes who played football or men’s basketball (59%) are even more likely to be thriving in community well-being, which may be related to previous NCAA research that found student-athletes in these sports tend to have a strong sense of responsibility to their communities.

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Their hard work and access to well-being resources as student-athletes may pay off in health dividends for some former student-athletes. They are more likely than non-student-athletes to be thriving in physical well-being, defined as having physical health that is near-perfect and feeling active and productive every day of the week. Forty-one percent of former student-athletes are thriving in this element, compared with 33% of non-student-athletes. However, former men’s basketball and football student-athletes are significantly less likely to be thriving (28%) in physical well-being than those who participated in other sports (47%).

Former student-athletes are least likely to be thriving in financial well-being, which measures how effectively they are managing their economic lives and increasing their financial security. Thirty-eight percent of former student-athletes are thriving in financial well-being, compared with 37% of non-student-athletes.

Nearly Half of Former Student-Athletes Thriving in Three or More Areas

Each of the five elements of well-being is additive, so an individual who is thriving in two elements should have a cumulative advantage over someone who is thriving in just one. Someone thriving in three of the five would have an even greater advantage. Nearly half (47%) of graduates who are former student-athletes are thriving in three or more areas, compared with 40% of their non-student-athlete peers. More than one in four former student-athletes (26%) are thriving in four or more areas, versus 22% of non-student-athletes. However, demonstrating how rare it is for anyone to be thriving in all five areas of well-being, small, equal percentages (9%) in either group have achieved this status.

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Bottom Line

Well-being is not only about being happy or financially well off, nor is it solely synonymous with physical health. Rather, it is about the interaction and interdependency among many aspects of life, such as finding fulfillment in daily work, having strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, feeling financially secure, being physically healthy and taking part in a true community.

The results from this study suggest that in many of these areas, substantial percentages of former NCAA student-athletes are finding success after they leave the playing field. It’s entirely possible that former student-athletes possess an innate drive before college that leads them to compete at the highest levels of athletic competition and that this same drive spurs them to succeed in the classroom, the workplace and later in life. But there are certainly many aspects of being a student-athlete that encourage success in work and life — elements of learning effective teamwork, extreme dedication and focus, building resiliency from losses and setbacks, thriving under pressure and benefiting from mentoring from teammates and coaches.

 

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