For more than sixty years, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, Inc., (NFF) has worked to fulfill its mission: "to promote the power of amateur football in developing the qualities of leadership, sportsmanship, competitive zeal and the drive for academic excellence in America’s young people."
In 1998, The NFF created Play It Smart, an educational program targeted at high school football players from economically disadvantaged environments where family and community support are often lacking. The program, designed to transform student-athletes’ passion for sport and intense dedication to their team into a force for greater good in their lives, is remarkably successful. Play It Smart participants graduate and go on to college at rates well above those of their peers, all at a cost of less than a dollar per day per student-athlete.
The Six Play It Smart Measures of Success
1. Improve Grade Point Average
2. Increase Number of Students Taking the SAT/ACT & Improved Scores on Tests
3. Increase Graduation Rate & Opportunities for Higher Education
4. Enhance Life Skills Development
5. Increase Opportunities for Community Service
6. Increase Parental & Family Involvement
The Academic Coach
At the heart of the program is the Play It Smart "Academic Coach", equal parts mentor, advocate, counselor, teacher, coach and friend. Each Academic Coach receives special training and support from experts in the field. Their training includes the national conference, which annually attracts dozens of of the most knowledgeable speakers in the fields of sports psychology and youth development. Past speakers have included experts from Texas Tech University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the University of Georgia, the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of South Carolina, Springfield College, West Valley College, Texas Christian University, and the Indiana University at South Bend.
The Academic Coach works with the student-athletes for the entire school year — in ways their head coach can’t. The Academic Coach brings the kind of extra attention to the player's off-the-field development that most head coaches would like to provide if they had the time, training and resources. The head coach’s enthusiasm and support are essential to making each Academic Coach effective by giving him/her the same authority as the other assistant coaches.
Goal Setting and Positive Peer Pressure
It’s the Academic Coach’s job to turn each football team into a learning team, in the process lifting grades, SAT scores, graduation rates and community service participation. Just like a backfield coach or a line coach, the Academic Coach is the head coach’s assistant who specializes in providing a continuing link to the academic side of school and the community. He/she helps the players establish individual and team goals in key areas such as GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, graduation rates and college enrollment.
Football is a team sport and players can count on the support of their Academic Coach and their teammates throughout the entire school year. In fact, an Academic Coach’s ability to capitalize on the positive peer pressure of the team is one of the key reasons Play It Smart works.
Academic and Community Activities
The Academic Coach assists the head coach in establishing policies and procedures that will enable student-athletes to achieve their individual goals as well as to meet the goals of the program. Specifically, Academic Coaches coordinate academic support services, SAT/ACT prep classes, study halls, life skill sessions, field trips to area colleges and other team building activities throughout the entire school year. Academic Coaches also meet one-on-one with each player, and often serve as their advocate with teachers, school personnel, parents and guardians.
Each year, Academic Coaches and players also "give back" to their communities through after-school activities by working in soup kitchens, retirement homes, orphanages and churches — or by serving as peer mentors, teachers and coaches for local youth groups and Special Olympians. Through this valuable work, players gain a sense of pride in themselves and their communities. These activities create opportunities for participants to test their leadership and organizational skills outside of sport while gaining confidence in their futures.
Throughout the year, Academic Coaches challenge players to set their sights high and plan for the future. Whether by helping select a college, write a resume, conduct a job search or plan a campus visit, Academic Coaches equip students with the skills and the confidence they need to take the next big step beyond high school.