A big share of his duties as the Princeton University head basketball coach is simply “managing the team,” Mitch Henderson ’94 told a group of Culver coaches, classmates, and other alumni back for reunion weekend during a short Saturday morning session.
And managing his players includes addressing the challenges of “screen time and sleep,” he said. Cell phones and social media have created a range of problems. Among those are student-athletes not getting enough sleep, checking and responding to social media, and relying on texting instead of face-to-face communications.
Physicians are recommending students between 16 and 22 years old get nine hours of sleep a night, Henderson said, but most are not going to sleep until 1 a.m. And, if they wake up during the night, they are reaching for their phones to check their social media accounts. All this is impacting their quality of sleep, which directly relates to their performance.
Texting is also interfering with interpersonal conversations. And some athletes’ informal nature of texting doesn’t work well in some cases. Henderson now schedules time to make sure he has face-to-face contact with certain players throughout the week. It may be only a couple of minutes before practice, over lunch, or a simple check-in, but his contact has to be more purposeful with those players in order to get that “eye-to-eye contact,” he said.
Concerning social media, he said some student-athletes “have no concept” how their posts could impact their futures. And, he added, college coaches do check recruiting prospects’ social media accounts as well as their players.
Henderson added Princeton’s basketball practices now begin with teammates giving each other shoulder rubs and deep breathing techniques. “The players love it,” he said of the stress reduction exercises, which take just a small amount of practice time. Other adjustments he has made include assigning coaches to touch base with different players through the week and meeting with his staff on a daily basis.
Princeton has also instituted a new program called “Princeton on a Page,” which gives each student their individual electronic schedule. The basketball players can add their practice schedule, workout times, and other information as needed to stay on track. Henderson said he also has his juniors and seniors work with new players on organizational skills. Simple things like organizing their backpacks and their athletic lockers can make a big difference in a player’s overall mindset. It’s about taking pride in your workspace and in who you are, he explained.
Princeton athletics has also added two psychologists to the staff to work with students. And, at some point, 50 percent of the university’s 1,000 student-athletes will consult with them, he said.
On recruiting, Henderson said high school coaches are the “truth-tellers,” as are gym janitors and guidance counselors. Mothers are the most interested in academics and “dads are crazy.” But, he added, during the recruiting process coaches eventually form partnerships with parents. And that partnership has to be based on honesty for the best interest of the student-athlete.