What Belonging Means to Fitchburg State University

Matt Cote, Student Submission

For Fitchburg State’s coaches and student-athletes, cultivating a sense of belonging is vital to building a community whose members thrive and succeed. “In athletics we talk a lot about providing the best possible student athlete experience, and you really can’t do that unless someone feels welcome, empowered, and safe to be their true self,” said Athletic Director Matthew Burke. 

“I encourage everybody to be open with their fellow teammates if something is bothering them,” said women’s lacrosse Head Coach Rick Terrio. “If they feel more comfortable, they can talk with the assistant coaches, otherwise they can come talk with me or even the captains, just as long as everybody has someone they feel they can go talk to. When you create a community where every member is close with each other, it can feel like you’re all part of a family.” 

“We care about each other as if we’re actually family,” said women’s soccer Head Coach Jeb Booth. “I tell the players all the time that I treat them like my own children. Sometimes that’s tough love, but more often than not it starts with compassion and then curiosity, like asking, ‘What is going on, what are you feeling, what are you thinking, what’s happening in your life?’ For us, it’s much more than soccer going on here. Our goals are to develop strong, confident, decisive, and assertive young women, which means we have to consider them as a whole person and not just as a player.” 

Players must be also working together to create a welcoming atmosphere where everyone is involved in creating a sense of belonging. “On the men’s soccer team, a sense of belonging is fostered when all players put in a maximum amount of effort,” said team member John Javaloyes “It makes the teammates feel equal and creates a sense of unity and synchronization that not only creates a friendly atmosphere but also makes the team much better. During the first weekend of every preseason, we throw a get-together so that all the players can get to know each other on a more personal basis.”

Players said that approach can make teammates feel like family. “I believe I belong on this team because first and foremost family is the biggest part of our team,” said baseball player Jamie Velez. “Every time we break down from lifts, practice, and games we always say, ‘Family on three.’ We carry that with us every day, and that’s what creates our bond in our team.”

The Fitchburg State Athletics Department will continue to prioritize fostering a culture that is focused on every member of their community feeling like they belong.