Identity. It’s a strong and often terrifying word if you don’t feel you can define what your own identity is. This very human desire to have a clearly defined identity and roadmap often culminates in student-athletes that see themselves through the rose-colored lenses of their sport. “I’m a basketball player.” “I’m a wrestler.” Well, that’s great, but even for the slight percentage of lucky people that go pro in their chosen sport, that last day to play will come soon enough. It’s best if student-athletes begin to plan for what happens after sports while in school.

Alaina Smith-Walker, Assistant Athletic Director of Internal Operations, and the Life University (Life U) Athletic Department launched the More Than an Athlete (MTAA) program in 2020 to jumpstart student-athletes’ mindsets on goals for the future beyond their athletic performance.

“We noticed so often with student-athletes across the board that you spend your whole childhood, your whole developmental years getting better at your sport and getting good enough to be in a position to play in college,” Smith-Walker said.

Smith-Walker continues by emphasizing that this way of life is so ingrained in so many of their student-athletes, to do nothing but go to school and play their sport. And of course, that dedication is admirable and should be applauded, yet it can cause major problems later on. Graduation rolls around, and then many of these students seem to finally look up and say, “I don’t know what to do next.”

“They realize they hadn’t even thought about what their options were because people seem not to see past what is right in front of them. So, that is when we realized that that is something that as an institution that cares about the whole student athlete, is something that we should be providing.

The program began as a periodic speaker series, but after reviewing helpful feedback from coaches and players, it pivoted to more of an awareness program that keeps student-athletes informed about resources and opportunities already available to them through the University. This involves working closely with friendly campus partners such as Career Services and Campus Activities Board (CAB) to collaborate, build connections and stay relevant to the needs of Life U’s student-athletes. MTAA focuses on three essential pillars: mental and physical wellness, academics and engagement.

Some of the practical pieces that students have access to through this program include:

  • Health & Wellness
    • Physical – Sports Chiropractic/non-sport activity
    • Mental  – Counseling and counseling workshops
    • Nutritional – Fuel station (with educational resources)/team talks/sports medicine/body composition
  • Student Engagement
    • Academic support opportunities
    • Campus events
    • Community events and service
    • Professional development

“Our vision as a department is to be a leading institution in meaningful student-athlete experience, and that is really what More Than an Athlete means to provide,” Smith-Walker said.

Career development and self-exploration have become key needs that students expressed wanting help with, so MTAA molded itself more to facilitating access and awareness around what the University already has to provide in these areas and others. The main MTAA resource available currently is a weekly infographic distributed through student-athletes’ emails and the official Life University Athletics Instagram account, which details different events and programs related to the three pillars of MTAA that students can utilize.

In the future, Smith-Walker hopes to see MTAA grow by making more outside and external connections from the University with which to connect students to give them more exposure to the expansive world outside the Barclay Circle bubble. Some of that has happened organically, but the hope is that local businesses and organizations can find even more ways to invest in student-athletes down the road.

Slice of LIFE is an invitation to and extension of everything happening at Life University. Whether you are a current student, a potential freshman or a proud alum, Slice of LIFE can help keep you connected to your academic community. Know of a compelling Life U story to be shared, such as a riveting project, innovative group or something similar? Let us know by emailing