You are here

Leadership forum challenges athletes to grow personally and professionally

College athletes, administrators, coaches gathered to learn about self, leadership at annual NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Orlando

When 300 NCAA college athletes and 50 administrators gather in one room and work together to grow as leaders and individuals, one weekend can cultivate something astounding.

“We’ve had to get out of our comfort zone and have deep conversations to learn from each other,” said Kiara Glover, a fashion merchandising major who competes in cross country and track and field at Meredith College and a participant at the 2015 NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum held in Orlando, Florida, on April 9-12.

All of this year’s participants – nominated to attend by their schools or conferences – are leaders in some capacity on their teams or athletics staffs, and they acknowledge that the title of captain or director can take them only so far. They spent the weekend exploring each other’s backgrounds, experiences, successes and failures through tough conversations and group projects, while also engaging in community service.

“People have told me I have leadership qualities, but I’ve never been able to see them for myself,” Glover said. “I came here to find out what kind of leader I am.”

The 2015 forum, conducted by NCAA leadership development, included two other programs within the main event. The Leadership Workshop Academy during the week taught specific strategies and programs to help athletics administrators develop leadership academies within their own departments. Also, the NCAA partnered with IMG Academy on April 11 to teach the Pyramid of Success principles created by legendary NCAA basketball coach John Wooden to athletes representing several central Florida schools.

Beyond the task of expanding their comfort zones, the students, coaches and administrators were challenged to take what they learned and become servant leaders to their college teams and campuses.

While a handful of the participants may have known each other from competition or previous conferences, most came into the weekend as strangers.

“We’re only here for a set number of days, and the facilitators pushed us to make ourselves vulnerable. Because of that and what we’ve shared with each other, I’ve developed friendships with people I know will last much longer than this weekend,” said Caitlyn Kovach, a volleyball player and sports management major at Flagler College. “What a great group of friends, too, because we’re all trying to become better people.”

Eye-opening presentations came from Paralympics gold medalist April Holmes, Olympic bronze medalist and NCAA champion track and field athlete Mark Everett, and motivational speaker Derek Greenfield. The athletes discovered being a team leader doesn’t mean having the loudest voice in the huddle; leaders are skilled in emotional intelligence and self-reflection, too.

“As coaches, we ask and expect our athletes to get out of their comfort zones all the time in order to get better,” said Carly Pearce, head women’s soccer coach at Averett University and a forum attendee. “I’ve been put in my place this weekend.”

While NCAA-trained facilitators – coaches and administrators selected from the membership – lead the exercises and discussions, the forum is designed to encourage student-athletes to have ownership on the direction of the subject matter.

“I came here thinking the issues I’ve experienced with my team or athletics department were unique. This forum made me realize that we’re all, no matter the sport or division, facing the same challenges,” said Montel Williams, a basketball player majoring in sport management at Claflin University. “We have so much to learn from each other, and that’s what leadership is about – hearing others’ voices and bringing people together for one cause.”

Said Pearce: “These athletes here are challenging me and teaching me things and ideas I can’t wait to bring back to my team."