It’s officially March Madness and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Basketball Tournament is upon us. Who could have predicted all the upsets? A 16th seed UMBC team beats the #1 overall seed?! The drama of sports is amazing!
If you’re tuning into March Madness, you will more than likely see commercials for the NCAA. Each seems to end with the same message: “there are over 400,000 student-athletes and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.” It is a catchy tag-line, and it reminds us all that college athletes are also pursuing dreams beyond sports when their playing days are over.
The same can be said for CCES student-athletes. As our students take the field or walk onto the court, they do so with dreams of accomplishing personal goals and winning championships during their season, but many also go with a vision of their lives beyond CCES. Team sports are a relevant, fun, exciting, and practical tool for young people to experience many of the trials they will face beyond our campus when they enter higher education and the professional world.
Goal number 2 of the Five-Year Strategic Plan for CCES: Inspire Growth, Curiosity, and Tenacity, states, “CCES will deliberately cultivate a growth mindset, resilience, and intellectual curiosity.” In an effort to help our student-athletes and teams grow in the understanding of leadership, growth mindset, and how to tackle the obstacles they may face with their respective teams, every team at CCES has representatives that participate in the Student Athlete Leadership Institute.
The 2018 Student-Athlete
Last fall, Dr. Milt Lowder gave a presentation to student-athletes, parents, and coaches during the Winter and Spring Sports Preview Night. During his presentation, Dr. Lowder presented some facts about today’s student-athlete and the circumstances they’re facing as high schoolers in 2018. Many of Dr. Lowder’s descriptions about high school athletes were very positive; with some themes receiving laughter from the parents in attendance, while other themes brought truth that instantly generated a quiet, reflective response from the crowd.
Two of those themes from Milt’s presentation about the 2018 student-athlete that seemed relevant to CCES students and families were: 1. today’s student-athlete asks the question, “why?” and 2. this is the most socially connected generation in history that is experiencing some of the highest levels of anxiety.
First, for many reading this article, asking your coach to explain “why?” when you were a high school athlete may make you laugh because you think, “I never would have had the audacity to do that when I was their age!” That being said, according to Dr. Lowder and his research, athletes want to know why they are doing things. “Why are we doing this drill? Why are we running sprints? Why do we run this defense?” Today’s athlete wants to know and understand the purpose. (Note: as the father of a very curious and busy 18 month old girl, I am anticipating the day she discovers the question, “but why?”)
Secondly, this generation has more access than ever to their friends, classmates, and peers thanks to social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, FaceTime, etc. have completely changed the way kids connect to each other, and much of that connection is happening through their Smart Phone.
These themes, along with many other circumstances unique to individuals and sports, has caused this generation to experience sport and competition differently than other generations before them.
As Dr. Milt Lowder spends much of his time helping develop coaches once a month, Dr. Drew Brannon and Dr. Cory Shaffer from Synergy Performance Group spend their time at CCES with the students.
Twice a month, students meet with Dr. Shaffer and Dr. Brannon for the Leadership Institute. Students meet according to gender, the boys meeting with Dr. Shaffer while the girls are with Dr. Brannon. One meeting normally happens after school, and the other meeting takes place during the Upper School lunch period. For the 2017-2018 school year, the meetings started in early September and will go through the end of April.
For Hailey Sanders ‘19, she states, “it’s nice to come to lunch or after school because school can be very overwhelming and distracting, and coming to this [Leadership Institute] not only applies to sports but also school. It’s really helpful to reset my mind and make sure I am focusing on the right things.” Cecelia Harber ‘20 adds, “It’s really helpful to have meetings before practice because you can take what you learn and apply them to practice.”
All the students that participate in the program are nominated by their respective coach. Three-sport athlete, Paula Pieper ‘18 says, “the Leadership Institute has been enlightening and challenging. Being selected was an honor and an exciting opportunity.” Each coach nominates two students to represent their team. The criteria Synergy Performance gave coaches to think about when nominating their student leaders included: strong character, coachability, commitment, integrity, good student, initiative, and growth mindset. In addition, each student is expected to try to make every meeting and be active participants in the seminars.
In reflecting on the sessions, Dr. Shaffer says developing a growth mindset takes time. He mentions that many of the conversations with the boys revolve around comfort zones and how to get out of your comfort zone to lead. Dr. Shaffer often talks about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset with our students, and both he and Dr. Brannon provide practical steps for students to cultivate a growth mindset for themselves and their team.
“We all get to hear how everyone applies the lessons to their own sport and school. I feel like Drew has very good analogies that apply to real life situations.” -Hailey Sanders ‘19 (Cross Country, Lacrosse)
“I am coming in with more confidence and trusting my skills knowing I am prepared, even though I am younger than some of my teammates. Hearing how people from other sports are applying it [Leadership Institute] and hearing that even seniors struggle with the same stuff I struggle with; it’s all relatable to everyone.” -Cecilia Harber ‘20 (Lacrosse, Volleyball)
“It is good being in there and having someone show you how to lead and make a team better. Instead of saying ‘I have to do something,’ I can say ‘I can or get to do something,’ and it helps when you think about it that way. I am looking forward to having my experience with Leadership Institute benefit other people and be able to share my experience.” -Hollis Cox ‘20 (Football, Soccer)
“The Leadership Institute has taught me how to lead quietly and not have to be a big vocal leader by doing the small things that will have a big effect. I have learned that I need to be more authentic with how I lead, and not just give off some persona but be who I am.” -Camp Williams ‘19 (Football, Lacrosse)
“I have learned a lot about how to lead as an underclassman, and I feel like I can take that to the playing field and life in general. My biggest takeaway is that you can lead from any position on your team. You can have an impact even on just one person and that impact on that person can benefit the team as a whole.” -Jack Sanford ‘20 (Football, Basketball, Baseball)
“I have learned the types of issues that you can face as a leader and how to face them depending on the types of players that are dealing with those issues. You can’t work through the same problem, the same way, if you’ve got players that see it much differently from each other. I am glad to have us working with someone like Cory.” -Harry Reynolds ‘18 (Golf)
“More than anything I realized how hard it is to self-assess your leadership qualities and then act on the changes you need to make, because for the majority of girls in the institute, our individual methods of leading were like habits, and changing and improving habits is always difficult because it pushes you out of your comfort zone. Many times I think as a leader I ignored areas we were weaker in because it was harder to lead, but now I am able to take on leading more difficult tasks because I have learned skills to help. I think as a whole we are more self-aware; not many high schoolers sit down and address what character aspects of themselves they can improve, and not many CCES students are consciously thinking about that.” - Paula Pieper ‘18 (Tennis, Basketball, Soccer)
With regard to fixed mindsets, Dr. Shaffer says, “how something is reinforced, shapes behavior and starts to develop a paired association… if I get an A, I’m smart. If I score a goal, I’m good. If I hit for this batting average, I’m good. As a result, feeling good becomes dependent on scoring goals, hitting for a certain average, whatever it might be. It becomes so dependent on performance, so what if I don’t score a goal or I don’t get the A? You don’t feel very good, and that’s our culture. How often do we ever reinforce the effort? The attitude people have while engaging in different behaviors, school, sport, etc.?”