Athletic organizations are faced with a significant challenge: They are well aware of the need for educational resources that focus on an athlete’s health, wellness and lifelong development, but quality resources specifically devoted to that cause are limited.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has positioned itself to become part of the solution. The university has established the UNCG Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness, which will marry evidence-based programming, educational resources and training to take a holistic approach to an athlete’s well-being.

The institute, the first of its kind in North Carolina’s public university system, builds on UNCG’s reputation for leadership in the health sciences and commitment to fostering healthy communities, including an established record of research, innovation and community engagement addressing mental health, the prevention of underage drinking, and the prevention of substance abuse.  

The institute, which officially opened July 1, draws from the experience and expertise of David L. Wyrick, PhD, an associate professor in the UNCG Department of Public Health Education and a noted expert in alcohol and other drug prevention.  Wyrick is a nationally-recognized leader in developing innovative solutions for public health problems, including the creation of myPlaybook, an online alcohol and other drug prevention program for collegiate student-athletes utilized by more than 200 universities, as well as alcohol and drug training for coaches. A former two-sport NCAA athlete during his undergraduate career at Elon University, Wyrick also serves as a consultant and partner for the National Center for Drug Free Sport and consults for the NCAA, the NFL, the NFL Players Association and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

“The demands on athletes have never been greater,” Wyrick, the institute’s director,  explains.  “These demands can task the athlete in ways that are often detrimental to their overall health and wellness. All athletes want to perform at their very best and to do so they need to make decisions that will lead toward a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. The Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness will provide practical programs and services that can help athletes excel while living well.”

The university will benefit directly from the work of the institute. In addition to working with athletic organizations around the country, the institute will partner with UNCG Athletics to support health and wellness initiatives for all UNCG student-athletes and coaches.

While the initial work of the institute will focus on deterring alcohol and other drug abuse among athletes, administrators have plans to expand services to target mental health and other health-related issues such as stress management, decision making, communication, relationships, interpersonal violence and emotional health.

“The task of our NCAA member institutions is to provide safe and healthy environments for our 450,000 student-athletes as they navigate their college years and their athletic careers,” said Mary Wilfert, the associate director of the NCAA Sport Science Institute. “The UNCG Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness promises to provide athletic and student affairs professionals with critical research information and services to address the health and wellness needs of today’s student-athletes so they can become tomorrow’s successful citizens.”

In addition to Wyrick, the institute will be staffed by Associate Director Jeffrey J. Milroy, DrPH and Institute Coordinator Samantha E. Kelly, MPH.