March 24, 2019

Kaye Cole (Ph.D. ’06) has dedicated her career to helping student athletes be successful.

During her time at the UI College of Education, Cole’s research focused on school counselors’ knowledge and perceptions of recruited student-athletes, and how school counselors were prepared to address the needs of student athletes.

"A common belief is that student-athletes are pampered, over privileged ‘jocks’ who receive preferential treatment because of their athletic ability,” says Cole, who received her doctorate in Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development in 2006 with a sub-track in Counselor Education.

 “The truth is they are a vulnerable group who are at risk for exploitation from a number of entities," Cole says. "Athletes represent a portion of the population which may go underserved with regards various services especially, counseling services.”

Cole co-founded the Sports Counseling Interest Network for the American Counseling Association. She also co-founded The Cole Group, which she runs with her husband, fellow Iowa Hawkeye alumnus and 12-year retired NFL veteran, Colin Cole. She has worked with high school and collegiate student-athletes across multiple sports (including her brother, Richey Williams -Iowa Hawkeye alumnus and current pro-scout for the Green Bay Packers), as well as National Football League families.

Student athletes face similar developmental challenges as non-athletes, but also face additional difficulties such as athletic transition, public scrutiny, and athletic achievement or lack thereof. Cole says that many athletic programs aren’t prepared to address these needs, and are primarily focused on keeping athletes academically eligible.

"Like non-athletes, student-athletes arrive on campus with hopes and dreams. However, they quickly learn that they are ‘married’ to the game without the chance to ‘court’ other opportunities that college life has to offer,” says Cole. “Many athletic programs aren’t prepared to rigorously self-monitor in order to make the shift to provide effective and meaningful services. This is a pervasive issue within collegiate athletics as a whole and it hinders the efforts of those genuinely invested in helping student-athletes academically, psychosocially, and vocationally.”

Cole believes a holistic approach is crucial to creating successful spaces for student athletes. This includes removing barriers to mental health services, better informing those who work with student athletes, and addressing cultural blind spots.

"Multicultural sensitivity and responsiveness toward athletes is essential to their development and performance both on and off the field,” says Cole.

Nationally, there is a need for more awareness, knowledge, and skills to effectively coach, mentor, or address the needs of athletes. 

"There is an opportunity to positively influence the lives of young men and women," says Cole. "Having said this, there is immense value in recruiting and hiring minorities (women, racial, and LGBTQ) in coaching, athletic administration, higher education, and campus services-especially in mental health positions."

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Read more from the 2018-2019 Alumni Magazine.