One Easy Way to Empower Student-Athletes

By Stephanie Zonars

Coach Robyn Fralick took over the Ashland Eagles program a few years ago after seven years as an assistant for long-time coach, Sue Ramsey.

She lost two games during her first season as a head coach and went undefeated in her second year, winning the 2017 NCAA Division II National Championship.

Not bad, huh?

I’ve written before about the amazing culture of Ashland women’s basketball, and it was definitely a plus in making Robyn’s transition to head coach seamless.

She is, however, making the culture her own. And one of the steps she took last year was to develop a mentoring program for her players.

It’s been such a huge success that I had to share it with you!

Robyn described the WHY behind the program at the kickoff banquet they held to introduce the players and mentors:

Our program philosophy and mission is for our players to develop in all areas of their lives: emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. And, while this can sound catchy, we are truly committed to this holistic growth.  This is where having a mentor comes into play… It is so important for positive people to surround our program. We need women, role models, and mentors like you to help develop the future.

Women need role models. And, women need women role models. It’s important to understand all the different places in which to lead—the workplace, community, family, and church—and young women need to KNOW they can and maybe more importantly, SEE it happening. You are all living proof of SEEING it happen.

Here’s a step-by-step approach you can use to enrich your player’s lives through a mentoring program:

Find Quality Mentors

Robyn sought to match her players with women who had relevant experiences in terms of the athlete’s area of study or life aspirations. The mentors included these remarkable women:

  • elementary school principal and mother of newborn
  • middle school teacher, high school cross country coach and mother of two
  • manager of government affairs at a non-profit and wife of Ashland men’s assistant basketball coach
  • wife of Ashland University president and mother of three
  • entrepreneur and mother of one
  • Ashland University history professor and avid runner
  • former Ashland University professor, mother of three and grandmother of seven
  • VP of Development at Ashland and mother of two
  • Assistant Director of Residence Life at Ohio State with passion for faith, music and service
  • middle school cross country coach and mother of four

As you can see, a number of these ladies had ties to Ashland, but not all of them. Think creatively and ask others for input on outstanding men and women in your community to ask.

Involve Compliance

Robyn met with her compliance officer early in the planning to share the program details and to develop clear guidelines for the mentors to understand what they could and could not do.

This will obviously differ depending on where you coach, but if you’re a college coach do this early to avoid headaches!

Drill Down on Details

Develop the details of the program. Robyn kept things pretty simple.

She held a banquet to kick things off and to officially introduce the players and mentors to one another and to the whole team (they already had one another’s contact information). She invited a speaker to talk about mentoring and role models. Mentors were also invited to the end-of-season banquet.

Send the Invitation

Robyn composed an email invite to explain the mentoring program and outline the details of the commitment. Here’s her invite:

I hope this email finds you doing well and enjoying your Summer. I am emailing you about a new program we are starting with women’s basketball. It is a mentoring program entitled: Empowering Women. 
We are looking to match each one of our players with a female leader in the community. It is critical that women have role models and realize all of the different ways and places there are to lead (in the workplace, family, community… etc). 
I was hoping that you would be a mentor for one of our current players. We are planning on having a dinner with a speaker on September 24th from 7-9pm at Upper Convo in the Trustee’s room. 
After that, we will give a list to explain the ways in which to continue to mentor and stay connected with your player. 
Please email me back and let me know if this would be something you would like to do. 
Thanks so much,
Robyn Fralick

Let Go

Robyn left it up to the players and mentors to develop the relationship from there. Many had consistent lunch dates. Mentors opened their homes to mentees.

And the mentors became raving fans of the Eagles, attending many games!


The program garnered praise from mentors and players alike. Check out what a few athletes said about the experience:

The mentoring program proved to be very beneficial to my life. The mentors were picked to best suit each one of our personalities so I was able to quickly form a bond with my mentor.

She enhanced my life by giving me advice when I needed it, encouragement for life and basketball, and helped me to push myself to think outside my comfort zone. Through the program I not only met a woman rooted in her faith with much wisdom, but I also made a friend.

—Laina Snyder


Andi’s mentor & her daughter had shirts made with Andi’s name to support her at games.

I have learned so much about the woman I want to become as a direct result from spending so much time with Sadie. She helps me through my daily struggles/questions by opening up about her past.

She is also one of my #1 fans. Her constant support (even when I play poorly) is something I cling to. I always can go to her for encouragement or just a person to listen to me vent. She has opened up her home to me as a place to escape to and it really is awesome just to get away from campus for a few hours when needed.

I cannot highlight the importance of this type of mentoring program enough! I am not naïve enough to think everyone’s relationship with their mentor will blossom like mine has—but I do wish it for every college athlete!

—Andi Daugherty

Having the chance to connect and build a relationship with my mentor, Lora Markham, 13102713_10209402655853334_3854278553479042931_nduring the 2015-16 season, has been beneficial and enjoyable. Lora is a member of the Ashland community who loves Ashland basketball, and is constantly bringing joy and positivity into my life.

Juggling basketball, school, and friends can be challenging, but knowing that I have a “home away from home” at the Markham’s is comforting and helpful. Whether it’s a home-cooked meal, a good luck text, or simply a friend to talk to, Lora’s support has meant the world to me. I look forward to continuing with the mentor program and maintaining my relationship with Lora.

—Kelsey Peare

You can’t place a price tag on developing your players through the influence of people in your community who align with your program values and mission. [Tweet That!]

It’s a huge win-win for your program AND your student-athletes!

If you already have a mentoring program in place, shoot me the details and other creative ways you engage your mentors.

If you don’t, give it a try and let me know how it goes!


One Easy Way to Empower Student-Athletes appeared first on Life Beyond Sport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at

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