5 Reasons Why Student-Athletes Should Write

At age 13, Mikaela Shiffrin began taking daily notes about her ski racing. Now, she’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-time Overall World Cup champion, and a four-time world champion . . . and still writing. “Athletes should write down anything that they think is important . . . thoughts about their technique, goals, favorite foods . . . keep track of their aspirations and their passion,” said Shiffrin.    

On the courts of Wimbledon, tennis superstar Serena Williams holds up her journal during a press conference. “Writing down your feelings in a notebook or journal can help clear out negative thoughts and emotions that keep you feeling stuck,” she explains.     

And on the golf links, the NCAA’s Player of the Year, Maverick McNealy, credits writing for his success in 2015 and now as an emerging PGA player. “I think I know what makes me play well better than just about anybody . . . . That’s from writing stuff like this down. You start to see trends really quickly over what makes me play well and what makes me play poorly.”

Athletes at all levels, from the schools to the professional ranks, use athletic team notebooks and journals to promote learning and development. Why? Writing is a powerful way to learn. Such writing can also inform an athlete’s coach.  

Here are five reasons to incorporate writing into your athletics’ program:

1. Writing is a foundational tool to learning.

Writing impacts athletic performance by helping athletes learn and become students of the game. Consider the notebooks that scientists, researchers, and writers keep. Pop your head into any college classroom—students write to capture ideas and make meaning. Listen to writing teacher and author William Zinsser highlight writing as a way to learn:

“Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know—and what we don’t know—about whatever we’re trying to learn.” —William Zinsser, Writing to Learn

2. Writing helps athletes learn more about themselves.

Athletes who consistently use writing as a way to organize their training and think through their performances discover more about themselves. U.S. Ski Team member Sam Morse explains what writing accomplishes for him:

“Writing for me is a way to process what is buzzing around in my head. When I put my thoughts on paper, I begin to see things more clearly.”

3. Writing helps coaches, too.

Coaches who add writing activities into their team’s practices and games, recognize the value of writing as a vital factor in elevating their players’ understanding of the games they play. Here, several coaches identify the value of writing:

“Team notebooks create a different way for players to learn.” —Mike Keller, Head Men’s Soccer Coach, University of Southern Maine

“With the use of [team notebooks], we were able to address issues individually that we would not be aware of otherwise. It was also such a great learning tool for the players.”
—Amy Edwards, former Women’s Head Soccer Coach, Gonzaga University

“Written analyses . . . help athletes put a more careful lens on their participation in a very difficult sport; to help them be realistic in goal setting and to help provide them with a sort of chart to measure progress.” —Pete Phillips, former Head Cross-Country Ski Coach, Burke Mountain Academy     

“I like to have my student-athletes write about their experiences, be it about practice, a game, or even an injury. Writing helps them to analyze their play, thought processes, and feelings. It brings more meaning to what they are experiencing. Writing . . . is a reminder of what we all are playing for and working towards.”  —Nicole Moore, former Head Lacrosse Coach, Stetson University

4. Writing impacts an athlete’s psychological wellbeing.

Writing not only amplifies learning but also plays a role in an athlete’s psychological wellbeing by

  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • increasing self-awareness
  • sharpening mental skills, and
  • strengthening coping abilities.

Reading athletes’ writing provides coaches with a new way to come to understand their teams and individual athletes.

5. Team notebooks provide athletes with guidance for their writing.

The sections of a team notebook provide athletes with guiding questions and protocols that encourage thoughtful analysis to unpack performances and training sessions. The basic team notebook has six sections, including Preseason Thoughts and Competition Analyses I and II. See page 21 in Writing Our Games to learn more about organizing a team notebook.
Ultimately, athletes who write in a team notebook examine their performances, their teams, and their opposition. Such analytical writing opens pathways to learning and guides athletes to dig deeper into their thinking. That same process works for athletes in individual sports like cross-country running, tennis, gymnastics, or track.

Learn more about the benefits of athletic team notebooks and journals by reading Writing Our Games: Using Team Notebooks and Athletes’ Journals and by listening to its podcast.

About the Author

Dr. Richard Kent

<a href="https://umaine.edu/edhd/facultystaff/rich-kent/" target="_blank">Richard Kent, PhD</a>, is a professor of literacy at the University of Maine and the director emeritus of the Maine Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project. He is the author of many books, including <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1433116510" target="_blank">Writing on the Bus: Using Athletic Team Notebooks and Journals to Advance Learning and Performance in Sports</a></em> and <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Creating-Student-Staffed-Writing-Centers-Revised-dp-1433130564/dp/1433130564/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=" target="_blank">A Guide to Creating Student-Staffed Writing Centers, Grades 6-12, Revised Edition</a></em>, the Book of the Year for the International Writing Centers Association, an assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English.<br><br> A former high school English teacher, athletic coach, and writing center director at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Maine, Kent served as the State of Maine’s 1993 Teacher of the Year and in 1994 received the $25,000 National Educator Award. To learn more about Dr. Kent’s latest research, visit <a href="http://www.writingathletes.com/" target="_blank">WritingAthletes.com</a>. For information on his books, visit his <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Richard-Burt-Kent/e/B001K7VTR0" target="_blank">author’s page</a>.

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