Putting Student-Athletes’ Concerns First During the Pandemic

How a large public university used an anonymous communications channel to ensure a safe return-to-play

How a large public university used an anonymous communications channel to ensure a safe return-to-play

The school

A prominent public university
NCAA Division I
20+ athletics programs
Over 25,000 students


The challenge

Answering student-athletes’ questions and addressing health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic

The solution

RealResponse Anonymous Real-Time Reporting

Uncertain times dictated new strategic measures

During the summer of 2020, much remained unknown about COVID-19 — from how the virus was transmitted to how universities would need to respond. Athletics Departmentswere among the first who needed to determine what the pandemic would mean to college sports, since many student-athletes would be returning to school early to begin training.

As campuses worked quickly to put social-distancing practices in place, student-athletes had many questions that needed answering for them to feel safe. That’s why a Division I school decided to use the RealResponse’s Anonymous Real-Time Reporting platform to provide athletes with a channel for expressing their concerns and asking questions anonymously.

Opening the lines of communication

The university had already been using Anonymous Real-Time Reporting as a tool for student-athletes to anonymously report serious concerns — such as misconduct, sexual assault and hazing — and for administrators to investigate and connect students with the help they needed (such as mental health counselors).

When the pandemic hit, however, university staff noticed an overwhelming increase in athletes using the platform to ask COVID-related questions. Questions ranged from asking what the difference was between “self-quarantine” and “self-isolation” to expressing concern whether their peers were healthy and following proper health and safety procedures. 

“RealResponse helped us open up a dialogue between administrators and student-athletes on how we were handling the pandemic and, just as importantly, how athletes were feeling about it,” says the Senior Associate Athletic Director (AD) at the university. “The platform gave us visibility into what we were communicating well and what we needed to improve.”

A phased approach

The university decided to first roll out its strategy with a test pool of three teams. This enabled Athletics Department administrators and staff to collect feedback, evaluate it, and then reconfigure things to best meet the needs of their student-athletes.

“One of the things we recognized early on was that we weren’t clearly communicating the protocols and COVID containment strategies we were putting in place,” continues the Senior Associate AD. “Working with smaller pods of student-athletes enabled us to refine our communications plan and more clearly articulate our expectations before inviting other teams back to training.”

Once Athletics Department administrators had completed the tests and adjusted their strategies, they then rolled out a three-step communications plan: 1. Meet with coaches; 2. Meet with teams and coaches together; and then, 3. Meet with student-athletes and their parents.

In addition to potentially averting further inadvertent spreading of the virus, this approach also provided student-athletes and their families with peace of mind. It reassured them that campus leaders put their safety and well-being first, and that athletes would have an anonymous communications channel to use if and when they had concerns.

With Anonymous Real-Time Reporting, the university has built a strong foundation for strengthening relationships between student-athletes and administrators. Administrators are now better equipped to identify and respond to issues quickly, keep athletes and staff safe, and keep the lines of communication open.

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