NCAA 10,000m champion, Ben Flanagan, was recently awarded the NCAA Outdoor Division I’s Scholar Athlete of the Year award for men’s outdoor track and field. Flanagan is pursuing a degree in Interpersonal Practice/Mental Health MSW and achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.90.

The award is based on a combination of success in the classroom and success on the track. Academically, a successful candidate will have achieved a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.25. Athletically, they will have either finished in the top 96 in the national indoor rankings, or competed in any round at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships. 

RELATED: Ben Flanagan’s Dad and I watched the 2018 ACTF 5,000m and here’s what I learned

Previous men’s recipients of the award are Galen Rupp and Edward Cheserek. Rupp is an Olympic silver medalist and Cheserek ran a blazing 3:49 mile this past winter, which is the second fastest indoor mile in world history. 

On the women’s side, many of North America’s greatest runners appear on the list. For example, Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer), Colleen Quigley and Courtney Frerichs. Simpson is a world champion, Frerichs is the American record holder in the steeplechase, and Quigley was a 2016 Olympic finalist. 

There’s plenty of research on the benefits of exercise on cognition, but the benefits of sport don’t stop there. What’s highlighted by both experts cited below, are the habits and mindset that are developed through athletic performance, that transfer to academic performance. 

Stephen Baddeley, director of sport at the University of Bath, brings attention to the fact that academic success is partly a product of good habits. It’s much more than just being ‘smart’. As he told the Guardian regarding the academic success of top athletes, “Their weeks are very pressurized, so top sportspeople are extremely organised, disciplined and efficient with their time, which are useful skills in the academic side of their lives.”

University of Toronto Track Club coach Ethan Davenport has seen both sides of the coin. He was a varsity athlete at an academically rigorous university, and now coaches some of the strongest high school runners in the country. 

He says,”There’s no question that sport, and especially track in my opinion, is a vehicle for success in so many other areas of your life. The students I work with have a particular mindset that contributes to their achievements on the track and in the classroom. I think it’s this mindset that really distinguishes an athlete, not so much talent, success or hard work.”

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Davenport suggests that it’s the athlete’s mindset that distinguishes them as a runner, and it’s that particular mindset that is easily transferable to academics. “It’s not hard to find the parallels: emphasis on the small details, a deep respect and importance on task or workout completion and ultimately, a strong desire to see their potential through whatever challenge may lie before them.”

“None of this is new. There is a link between physical and mental health, and more specifically there’s a link between higher education and competitive sport. I studied cell biology and human physiology and ran for five years as a student-athlete at U of T, I know it from the research, but more importantly from experience.”

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