Athlete Committed program helps student athletes make healthy choices

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Nevada Union Athletic Director Jeff Dellis said that although the results of the survey were on par with results of similar surveys at other area high schools, they did raise issues the school wanted to address.

On Tuesday, athletic coaches and other staff at Nevada Union High School spent time doing just that, learning how to design and implement Athlete Committed — a program to encourage student-athletes to avoid drugs and alcohol and adopt an overall healthy lifestyle.

The movement is part of the larger Life of an Athlete program developed 16 years ago by John Underwood, a former NCAA All-American, international-level distance runner and World Masters champion who has trained or advised more than two dozen Olympians.

The program emphasizes research about the effects of drugs and alcohol on athletic performance, but it’s also designed to give coaches, student-athletes and parents a playbook for implementing a healthier lifestyle — from getting adequate sleep to eating right to understanding how to help the body recover properly from training.

“It’s a way to give kids, at a very impressionable time in their lives, the best information to make the best decisions on how they’re going to live their lives in a healthy way.”
John Underwood
Life of an Athlete program

“It’s a way to give kids, at a very impressionable time in their lives, the best information to make the best decisions on how they’re going to live their lives in a healthy way,” Underwood said.

Underwood’s two-day visit to Nevada County — he will replicate Tuesday’s day-long workshop at Bear River High School today — was put together by Dellis and Van Park, Bear River’s athletic director, who were asked by Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Louise Johnson to research trainings to help staff develop student-athletes’ character and leadership potential.

The training was underwritten by Community Recovery Resources, which used about $12,000 in grant funds from the Drug Free Communities Support Program administered through the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration, said Shelley Rogers, the organization’s prevention program coordinator.

During Tuesday’s training, Underwood presented research on sleep, nutrition and other topics to school coaches and staff members.

He was joined by two former Navy SEALS who work with the program; the trio conducted clinics for coaches and about 100 student-athletes, demonstrating how to construct workouts and focusing on team-building exercises.

On Tuesday evening, Underwood gave a short presentation to parents, who joined athletes and coaches in setting goals and priorities for their sports season.

Sara Freitas, a cross-country and assistant track coach at the school, watched as student-athletes participated in a workout. She said she thought providing athletes with more information on creating a healthy lifestyle was a positive thing — and even more critical because it’s not always something they learn at home or are taught in school health classes.

“We have an obligation to get this information to them,” Freitas said. “It can make a huge difference in their lives, for the rest of their lives.”

Sophomore student-athlete Taylor Johnson said that although there is drug and alcohol use among student athletes at the school, she generally feels like she and her teammates on the volleyball and track teams strive to take care of themselves and their bodies.

“I’d rather focus on being healthy and making the right choices,” Johnson said. “It helps you in the long run.”

Dellis is hoping that athletes like Johnson will become examples for their peers — and the rest of the student body.

He said the school has been working on initiatives to help athletes build their leadership skills, including requiring student-athletes to volunteer with different community service organizations.

He said that all student-athletes and parents are required to sign a nine-page code of conduct at the start of the sport season, a contract outlining behavior expectations.

The Athlete Committed program is designed to enhance that student code, Dellis said.

“Athlete Committed is the next step,” Dellis said. “It gives it grit, gives it a blueprint of the direction we want to head.”

The details of what that blueprint looks like, however, is open to the school’s interpretation.

Underwood’s training session provides schools with resources — including research, information about revising or strengthening an athlete code of conduct, training plans and tips and guidelines for facilitating parent involvement and student trainings — but leaves it up to individual schools to adapt those ideas to their own student body.

Dellis said the school doesn’t yet have a solid plan for incorporating elements of the Athlete Committed program into its athletic department. He said they are planning to post information from Underwood’s training session on the school’s website and the athletic department will model its spring sports meetings on some of the guidelines from the program.

The idea is to involve athletes, parents and school staff to create culture change within the school — something Underwood said is crucial for the program’s success.

“The community’s got to come together to help young people make the best choices so they can be the most productive, be functional and have the most possibilities,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.