Jan. 19, 2000

by Alan Wasielewski

What started out as vision has turned into a reality that has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Notre Dame Life Skills Program, in its third year of existence, was developed by the Department of Athletics to provide student-athletes with the necessary support to obtain their potential in five areas: academics, athletics, career development, community service and personal development. So far, the program has done all that and much more as it enters the next phase of development.

The program puts emphasis on supplementing a Notre Dame education and providing the student-athlete with the necessary tools and skills to succeed on the playing field as well as in the classroom, the community and the workplace. Life Skills is not meant to replace existing student services on campus, instead it is an extension of the other programs at the University. Student-athletes are referred, encouraged and expected to utilize campus support services whenever possible.

The focus of Life Skills is to put programs in place such as seminars, workshops and community service which comprise all five of the components to the program. Within this framework, programs are implemented which support the mission of each component and give student-athletes different opportunities for participation depending on their interests and needs.

The most important of the five components is academics. Working in conjunction with the Office of Academic Services for Student-Athletes, the Life Skills Program assists student-athletes in their pursuit of academic goals. Assistance is provided in identifying and meeting the academic challenges of Notre Dame through workshops such as Maximizing Academic Performance and Time Management. An Academic Honors Program has been established to identify and honor those student-athletes who have experienced high academic achievement. And for those students planning to attend graduate school, the program provides contacts with those who can assist in making the transition from undergraduate to graduate school smoother.

Under the umbrella of the athletic component, the Life Skills Program covers such topics as performance enhancement, leadership, nutrition, agents, contracts and sportsmanship.

The career development component, which has received positive feedback from the student-athletes, offers each semester a mentor dinner with Notre Dame alumni. This is but one of the ways in which individuals learn more about the professional work and develop key business contacts. It also gives the student-athlete exposure to the Notre Dame alumni network. In addition to the dinner, Life Skills also offers workshops on resume writing, interviewing and career placement. The office also compiles and distributes the Junior & Senior Student-Athlete Workbook, which features the resumes of junior and senior level students.

The terms “Notre Dame” and “community service” go hand-in-hand. It is a natural progression for a majority of the students because of their inclination to get involved in the community. The Life Skills Program bring together individual student athletes and entire teams with various organizations in the surrounding communities.

The personal development component of the Life Skills covers a wide variety of areas including personal health, financial planning, ethics, integrity, leadership, decision making and time management. Also, through the Life After Notre Dame Athletics series, discussions are held throughout the year to address the challenges of transitioning from college to career, and the realization of no longer participating in sports.

And recently, Life Skills has expanded to cyberspace. In October, a new Life Skills web site was launched at www.nd.edu/~skills/. It has become the best source for up-to-date information on the program and is also designed as a possible start-up page for Notre Dame student-athletes surfing the web. Eric Guerra, the Assistant Coordinator of Life Skills who played a large part in designing the site, knows it provides a great chance to reach each student-athlete.

“It is an opportunity to stay in touch on a ‘hip’ level,” Guerra said. “The site allows a student to get a lot of things done.” The site contains a community calendar, NCAA and local news, weather information on cities athletes will travel to, information on what is available to do during an athlete’s off-time, an opportunity to communicate with Guerra every day, and many other links, resources and information.

“I am really excited about the web site,” Guerra said. “I have received some positive feedback on it already. I want it to be more than just a life skills destination. It should be a resource that every student-athlete will want to use.”

The Life Skills Program also celebrated its annual Christmas party on December 8, in the Monogram Room at the Joyce Center. The Christmas party has grown into the largest function the program organizes during the year.

“The feedback we have received from this years Christmas party is really wonderful,” Guerra said. “We had over 200 student-athletes at the party this year. It enabled us to really give each child and family the attention they deserved.”

The children invited to the party were from the pediatrics wing of a local hospital. The high number of Notre Dame student-athletes at the function enabled a group of students to spend all their time with one child and their family.

“It was a great experience because an illness affects the entire family,” Guerra said. “Each student was able to dedicate all their time to one family and make their time with them all the more special.” The Life Skills program has grown since its inception in August of 1996 and has developed a strong mission statement. It puts emphasis on supplementing a Notre Dame education and providing the student-athlete with the necessary tools and skills to succeed on the playing field, as well as in the classroom, the community and the workplace.

“Involvement in the program puts a new value on every-day life for the student-athlete,” Guerra said. “It gives a student the opportunity to help someone else reach their goals. It also provides a new perspective, something that might be difficult to learn in a classroom.”