The second annual Student-Athlete Welcome Back Picnic gave Gamecocks from all 21 South Carolina sports a chance to meet, mingle and have fun as the new academic year kicked-off with the first day of classes on Thursday. The event is a prelude to Sunday's new student-athlete orientation session where incoming freshmen and transfers get an education on all of the support and resources available to them, specifically in the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center and Life Skills program.
"We let them know the expectations placed upon them as student-athletes here," said Erica Nelson, director of life skills and community outreach. "It's all about being proactive and letting them know that they're on this big stage now. It's not just about them anymore. The things that they say and do are going to be on a higher level where more people can see."
The orientation sessions are scheduled at the beginning of each semester and summer terms so that each new student-athlete is educated before their collegiate career at South Carolina begins. Student-athletes will hear from student-housing, the office of equal opportunity programs, the Gamecock Club, as well as athletics director Ray Tanner, but the main emphasis is on academics.
"We tell them about what the expectations are as far as missing class and what the ramifications are of that," Nelson said. "We talk about what we offer with our tutors and mentors, and also what happens when you don't do the right thing. A representative from the compliance department also speaks to the student-athletes to get them to understand that there are very strict rules, so they will make good decisions."
Education about the importance and proper use of social media is also a big part of the orientation.
"It's all about being proactive and letting them know that they're on this big stage now."
Erica Nelson, Director of Life Skills and Community Outreach
"We go over guidelines to protect student-athletes in social media and to also educate them in how to use it in a positive way," said Brittany Lane, assistant director of marketing for digital and social media. "Social media is such a powerful tool to build a personal brand, and to connect to other people. So we want them to use it in the most beneficial way possible."
Going from high school to college can be overwhelming and even humbling when dealing with classes, practices, and workouts, in addition to being just one of many people on a college campus.
"Time management is one of the toughest transitions for new student-athletes," Nelson said. "It's a lot thrown at you, and it takes a little time to get into the rhythm of everything that's going on and understanding all the things you have to do now that you didn't have to do before."
The orientation session is also a good opportunity for new Gamecocks to meet student-athletes from other sports who are coming in at the same time. Approximately 175 new student-athletes will go through the training each year, including 85 this fall. The learning process isn't just a one-time deal, and life skills events are scheduled throughout the student-athletes' career.
"Sophomores attend an etiquette dinner during each program's off-season," Nelson said. "The juniors take part in the `dress for success' seminar and receive a business suit, while seniors take part in a networking seminar where they are paired up with individuals who work in the fields that they aspire to work."
The program has been in place for more than a decade after the NCAA wanted more formal education and support for student-athletes as it relates to life skills.
"We're always trying to be proactive and get them ready for life after college," Nelson said. "We know that there's more development and support that student-athletes need, so we're adding an additional program to that, but the difference is that we're giving coaches 10 topics from which to choose that are relevant to their needs as a team."
Thursday's welcome back picnic was a fun event open to all student-athletes with food, games, and karaoke.
"We're always trying to create opportunities to build more camaraderie and get student-athletes to interact with other teams," Nelson said.