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Why a professor is sitting on the bench with the team

By Laura Daily

George Mason Athletics

During basketball games at George Mason University in Virginia, head coach Dave Paulsen is joined on the bench by four assistant coaches and one engineering professor. Or, maybe, an economics professor. It's part of his Sideline Coaching program, which allows faculty and staff to join the team for two days.

"The program is a unique way to connect with faculty so they can better understand the educational component to athletics," says Paulsen, who brought the Sideline Coaching Program to GMU when he was hired in 2015.

Sideline coaches watch practice the day before a home game and review opponent scouting reports and films. They attend team game-day meals and are in the locker room before the game, at halftime, and after the game.The best part? Being on the bench during games.

More than 50 GMU faculty and staff applied for the 2016–17 season, prompting a lottery for the coveted 15 home game spots. Sideline coaches gain a greater respect for student-athletes. "They work hard in class and out of class," says Karen Kitching, an associate professor in the School of Business who has participated in the program two years in a row. "College basketball is serious business, and practice is intense. I don't believe most academics understand how difficult it is for a student to miss class because of the travel and have to make up that work on a bus."

Paulsen agrees, noting that sideline coaching isn't about fulfilling a basketball fan's dream experience but about getting a glimpse into the work ethic of student-athletes. "They still have to go to class and write the papers, but the athletic staff are with them two hours a day, six days a week, six months a year, for four years," Paulsen says. "We're teaching perseverance, leadership, communication skills, and dealing with success (and failure)." 

About the Author Laura Daily

Laura Daily is a journalist based in Denver, Colorado. She co-founded the personal finance website Living on the Cheap and publishes the site Mile High on the Cheap.




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