The importance of orientation for athletes: Emphasizing the merits of TeamEph

I was disappointed to read last week’s op-ed “No team in TeamEph: How orientation can divide us” (Sept. 20. 2017). As a coach and former student-athlete at the College – as well as co-coordinator of the TeamEph orientation program with Assistant Athletic Director Jen Chuks – I’ve been fortunate to see how far we’ve come in athletics in the last 13 years. Athletic ability has strengthened but, more importantly, so has our department’s and student-athletes’ commitment to the community. We’re spending more time and resources recruiting more diverse teams, engaging our student-athletes in alcohol, sexual assault and leadership trainings and, in general, translating the values we develop on the courts/fields/tracks/pools to our lives outside athletics.

TeamEph, now in its 10th year, is a great example of these efforts. Developed by Donny Brooks (former assistant athletic director), the program allows first-year fall athletes to experience traditional orientation alongside pre-season practices. Before 2008, first-year fall athletes had to choose between the two, but TeamEph made it possible for them to interact with their teams during pre-season while also joining a larger team and community. It allows them to meet new people, including other student-athletes, Junior Advisors and faculty affiliates, as well as staff from the Davis Center, libraries, dining services and the career center. We’ve collaborated with other Ephventures programs, watched eye-opening documentaries (including amazing “30-for-30” documentaries by a recent alum) and played Williams trivia with professors.

Perhaps most importantly, these first-years get to spend time with their program leaders, all upperclassmen committed to creating a comfortable, welcoming environment. As leaders of any program, we have the opportunity – essentially a blank slate – to develop our culture and move it forward, and we believe our leaders have embraced this role, modeling what it means to be a student-athlete who serves more than just their team.

It’s worth mentioning that each first-year comes in with a different “comfort zone”; Ephventures, then, aims to ease first-years’ transitions via different programs. Exploring The Arts (ETA) is tailored towards students interested in the arts; ROOT to social justice and sustainability; Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-years (WOOLF) to nature; Leading Minds and Where Am I?! to civic and community engagement and TeamEph towards students who find their fuel by engaging athletically with their peers. Ephventures is only an introduction, but we’ve found that, for about 55 first-years, being able to join a team while meeting supportive people outside that team is a great start – and certainly better than having to choose one over the other. The other 75 percent of first-year athletes (i.e. non-fall sports) are enrolled in other Ephventures.

That said, I realize last week’s op-ed was less about our orientation program and more about the horror of athletics, a theme that is commonly recycled and often propagated by anecdotal evidence and generalizations. I hate nothing more than white/wealthy/athlete arrogance and aggression – and we continually work to eradicate this element – but I also believe that athletics done well breeds the opposite: confidence, competitive poise and a deep, lifelong care for one’s teammates and community, regardless of background. It’s been extremely helpful to have resources like Meg Bossong ’05 and Paul Gitterman as well, who work proactively with our student-athletes on issues of sexual assault and mental health.

As a coach, it’s my job to make my students better athletes, teammates and people. This involves a lot of critique, but also a lot of praise. It involves teammates holding each other accountable and building each other up. It involves programs like TeamEph, teaching our first-year fall athletes that being an athlete is an amazing privilege, as is being a part of a community where people care about what they do. Whether it’s math or athletics or keeping a common room looking fresh, let’s celebrate that spirit instead of eliminating it.

Dan Greenberg ’08 is the head coach of men’s tennis.