A major goal of any high school sports program should be to help student-athletes build leadership skills. High school sports are supposed to help prepare young adults for the future. Leadership skills will be a necessary component for success as students progress on the journey of life.
Throughout my seven years in education (six as a teacher, one as an athletic director), I have always been a big promoter of student leadership. My experience in working with clubs such as Link Crew and my work with student government gave me a few ideas as to how I wanted to build student leadership in an athletic setting.
Below are a few tips for establishing a foundation for a successful student leadership program.
Choosing the leaders
Deciding who should be in your student leadership group is no easy task. Should we include freshmen? Should we include students with 2.0 grade point averages? Should larger teams have larger representations?
When I created the student leadership group, it was decided to let the coaching staff nominate two members of their team for the leadership group. This was done so the group would have representation from each team, yet still have a manageable size. The coaches had lots of freedom as to who they could nominate. Some coaches nominated underclassmen, although a majority of the group was comprised of juniors and seniors. Most, but not all of the group members had high grade point averages.
In the end, I was very satisfied with the composition of the group. Leaders can come in all shapes, sizes, and ability levels. My work in Link Crew taught me that sometimes the best leaders on paper donâ€™t actually turn out to be the best leaders.
As I reflected on the first year, I decided to make two changes. First, I will be choosing a couple of members to be part of the group. My perspective on individuals is sometimes different than our coaches. Second, I will ask for a more underclassmen to be included in the group. More underclassmen could create continuity from year to year and allow us to build on the previous successes of the group.
Deciding the focus
Once the leadership group has been selected, it must be decided what the focus of the group should be. Should the group be involved in community service? Should the group work on the promotion of school spirit? Your groupâ€™s focus should be determined by the needs of your student population and of your community.
I decided that the leadership group should focus on the future lives of the student-athlete. I wanted the student-athletes to see possible careers in sports. I brought in local media personalities and local officials to discuss their experiences in sports.
Obviously, very few athletes will go on and become professional athletes, but because of this program, students were able to see other opportunities for success.
I also had the presenters talk about sportsmanship and how student-athletesâ€™ actions are viewed by others. The student-athletes were reminded that they were role models for younger fans and that young fans will often imitate the behavior that they see.
Another activity that I found useful was a group discussion of recruiting. Many of the athletes are in different stages of the recruiting process. The students were able to share their recruiting experiences with each other. In the future, these students will be able to come back and connect with students on recruiting issues. Lastly, the group had a discussion of the NCAA Clearinghouse.
1. Lack of interest from the student-athletes
A big key to eliminating this problem is your enthusiasm. If you put out a quality product, your students will buy in. Have your students work on an agenda for the group. Do whatever you can to encourage buy in from the student-athletes (Note: Food, cookies, and donuts are a great way to get student involvement.).
2. Your student-athletes are too busy
One of the biggest issues that I have had to deal with is that many of the leaders are too busy. Several of our student-athletes also take Advanced Placement (AP) classes and are involved in activities outside of athletics. I encourage our student-athletes to have diverse interests. I think their diverse experience will help all of the groups involved.
All I ask is that if the student-athletes are involved in multiple activities is that they give each activity equal time. If they canâ€™t do that, maybe this isnâ€™t the group for them.
3. Lack of funding
Athletic departments donâ€™t need a set amount of financial support to run a successful leadership program, although money can affect what the leadership accomplishes. For example, whenever we have a meeting, I typically provide some sort of refreshment or lunch. Our trips to various conferences also costs money (registration, transportation fees, etc.).
An easy way to raise funds is to offer to sell sponsorships on a leadership t-shirt. Local businesses are generally open to supporting schools and children. When dealing with local businesses, be very specific as to what you wish to accomplish and how you intend to do so.
If you are not a fund raiser, the other choice is to do the best you can with your resources. In the end, your passion and energy will be what makes the difference!
Future Goals and Ideas
As the student leadership program expands, its focus and goals will certainly change. For the coming year, I hope that our group will find a charitable cause to invest their time. In addition, I hope the group will choose to complete several school service projects. I also hope that the group will reach out to the elderly to get them involved in the athletic program.
This past week, five members of the leadership program were able to attend the IHSAA Student Leadership Conference at Plainfield High School. Throughout the day, the students were able to hear speakers on various topics, ranging from hazing, issues in heat, and lastly, how to build student leadership. The students were also able to interact with other student leaders throughout the state of Indiana. In the future, I hope to have our leaders connect with local schools for a similar type of conference.
Is it worth it?
Forming a student leadership group may not be right for every school, but it was certainly right for Terre Haute South. Because of the group, I am still able to maintain contact with our student-athletes. I am able to directly able to hear about the problems that face our student-athletes. In addition, I am able to find possible solutions to their problems.
The feedback from the student leadership group has been overwhelmingly positive. In discussion, the student-athletes have claimed that there is a connection now between sports that did not exist previously. They are also able to get their questions about the athletic department answered. The student-athletes are also able to see the problems that we face as a department.
I encourage anyone attempting to form their own student leadership group to take a look at their own student population and tailor the group to meet those needs. While this will be additional work, the rewards will be well worth it.
Brian Mancuso is the Director of Athletics at Terre Haute South Vigo High School.Â Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.