Brennan K. Berg – The University of Memphis
Stacy Warner – East Carolina University
David W. Walsh – University of Houston
Janelle E. Wells – University of South Florida
While greater consideration has been given to college athlete well-being, understanding effective social support practices carried out by athletic administrators is limited despite its clear relevance. Using a sport development framework, specifically the retention stage, as a lens to understand elite athlete development, how athletic department leadership and staff facilitate socially supportive cultures at their universities was empirically examined. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 24 athletic administrators at 10 universities. We identified the themes Developing Trusting Relationships, Intentional Support, Reprioritizing Athlete WellBeing, and Adapting to Athlete Needs as vital best practices to supporting and retaining college athletes. Based on the results, we put forth several practical recommendations, focused largely on how human resources are utilized and the organizational culture in athletic departments. By highlighting the benefits of social well-being, this study draws attention to the importance of holistic athlete development that must be deliberately sought to support the modern high-level athlete.