KNOXVILLE— With scandals at major universities and a seeming propensity for academic apathy, the role of the student athlete has come under scrutiny recently by much of the general public. Johnson University Tennessee Athletic Director and men’s soccer coach Ken Underwood remains optimistic, however, about the benefits of a healthy athletic program.
“There are some really neat benefits to being an athlete that the other students don’t get,” said Underwood. “I just really believe that what we’re doing is good for the mission of the college.”
Coaching for 10 years and heading the athletic department for three, Underwood has seen athletes develop skills that transfer off the field as they move on into life and ministry.
“I feel like the student athlete actually gets a better education— is better prepared for success,” said Underwood, “but the secret to it is giving them a good environment and good coaching.”
He believes that, with the right approach, coaches can teach effective communication, time management and respect for authority.
“I think the coach needs to understand his role in being that mentor and want to foster an environment where the students on the team develop relationships with each other,” said Underwood. “They do things like devotions and they do things like conduct themselves well.”
Underwood, a North Carolina native who holds an Economics and Business Administration degree from King College in Bristol, Tenn., worked as a sales manager here in Knoxville, before involvement in youth soccer led him to coach at Johnson. Through his management experience, he learned the value of humility in interacting with other people.
“You’d learn to adapt what you were doing to fit what their needs were,” Underwood said of his dealings with various companies. “It was very much trying to figure out ‘what do they really need?’ You know, service.”
Underwood holds on to this philosophy as he continues to seek success for the student-athletes of Johnson University.
“I think part of what we do as a university,” he said, “is figure out what future students are going to need and prepare to serve them.”
As quality coaching and a Christian environment of service allow students to continue reaping the benefits of athletic involvement, the future looks bright for both the athletic program and the school as a whole.