When VCU squares off against cross-town rival Richmond in basketball twice each year, Courtney Hughes is in a unique situation: she has a degree from both schools. Courtney was a sprinter and long jumper for the UR Track where she earned hear undergraduate degree in 2006. She then enrolled in the Center for Sport Leadership in 2007, earning for master’s degree. Courtney would return to UR where she is currently the Associate Director of Academic Support, where she is focused on life skills for athletes, helping to educate, inspire, and enable them to achieve beyond even their academic, athletic, and personal aspirations. Just recently, Courtney added the title of Disability Services Coordinator.
This Q & A was conducted by CSL graduate student Betsy Cutler.
BC: What unique challenges do you face at your position that people may not be aware of or maybe you didn’t anticipate prior to starting there?
CH: The University of Richmond is certainly a unique place that heralds both top-notch academic and athletic programs. As a graduate of the University of Richmond, I have had the opportunity and pleasure to see this institution continue to get better each and every year. As the curriculum transforms to meet the needs of our students, it is amazing to witness my student-athletes develop the skills necessary to compete both in intellectually challenging classrooms and against top level competition on the courts and fields. This combination of rigor brings unique challenges in and of itself. There is a higher level of teaching students to not struggle with problem-solving surrounding daily issues along with the ability to function independent of parental support. The level of pressure placed upon students, and goal setting is at an all-time high as they strive to meet perceived expectations. We are truly the epitome of all it means to be a scholar athlete.
BC: What is something you learned in the CSL that you built upon or are still implementing today?
CH: Throughout my CSL education, I learned a myriad of skills and attributes that would engage both myself and others throughout my career. Many of these lie directly in the CSL’s foundational core values. Throughout my day, I am challenged with empowering others. Academically, it is my hope to promote academic excellence to each and every student-athlete that walks through the University of Richmond. My goals are to create collaborative and authentic working relationships with all of my students in to enable them to be the best they can be. Students are able to sense if you are being authentic or not and having an empathetic heart contributes to open collaboration. Just as the CSL desires its students to garner leadership and communication skills, I too have that same hope for my students. Communication is a highly sought after job trait and the CSL did an excellent job of reinforcing this skill I so heavily rely on each day when interacting with students, coaches, staff, and all members of the university community.
I also cannot go without mentioning the aspect of valuing global mindedness. As a student in the CSL, I had the most amazing experiences abroad. I will never forget taking part in the European Model of Sport and traveling to Greece, Germany, and The Netherlands. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience in which I learned how the aspect of sport brings people together in amazing ways in addition to being capable of breaking down almost any barrier. Global Mindedness in regards to study abroad has continued in my current role. We have a very large percentage of student athletes who travel abroad, especially throughout the summer, for both internships and academic coursework. With the help of the University, we were able to create and design an intensive Spanish language study abroad program, in which students are able to not only meet their Language Communication General Education requirements, but also cater to their athletic training and workout regimes while abroad.
BC: Does your Athletic Department believe it has a fundamental responsibility to do everything possible to support their player’s mental health?
CH: Athletics plays a key role in recognizing and providing support for student-athletes struggling with mental health related issues. It is important that departments have appropriate policies, procedures and protocol in place to assist coaches, staff and support personnel with the tools to effectively assist student-athletes who are displaying behaviors that are troublesome and who may be actually experiencing a crisis. Athletic departments should work diligently with the institution as whole to maximize resources and support for student-athletes with mental health related issues.
BC: Do you have a program that introduces your players to stressors they need to be aware of and where to go for different kinds of help?
CH: Our Department of Sports Medicine prides itself on the health and safety of our student-athletes being a top priority. They have the personnel and protocols in place to assist student-athletes in accessing mental health services through the university’s Psychological and Counseling Services as well as outside counselors or other resources. Our Athletic Department has tremendous relationships with other sectors on campus and throughout the greater Richmond community for greater collaboration and support. Prior to the beginning of every school year, each team undergoes an orientation in which they are introduced to the many available services. The university also provides all student with information regarding supports available on and off campus during freshman orientation. Also, we recently began the facilitation of a student-athlete wellness course that contains aspects of student-athlete well-being including stressors related to being a student-athlete.
BC: Who is the most influential person you have met in the industry, and how did they impact you professionally?
CH: Basketball Hall of Famer, Nancy Lieberman, certainly brings an inspiring message everywhere she travels and I am quite fortunate to know and have met her through my time here at The University of Richmond. As a groundbreaking pioneer for all women in the sports industry, her influence is difficult to match. The strength she has displayed, and her continued work to break barriers and motivate others is phenomenal. In conjunction with the University of Richmond’s Westhampton College Centennial Celebration, Lieberman spoke to all of our student-athletes on the topics of teamwork and leadership. Both of these are attributes that resonated with me while being immersed into the curriculum as a student in the CSL, and also ones I work hard to achieve daily, both professionally, and in all aspects of my life.