By Casey Richards
After hours of measuring, cutting and tying, hundreds of fleece blankets made by teams of student-athletes and area children piled up on three different tables.
“These will keep somebody warm tonight,” said a local Salvation Army representative to cheers from the group.
The service activity was just one portion of the 2011 NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum, an event featuring 333 student-athletes and administrators building their leadership skills.
Participants took part in activities Nov. 3-6 in Chicago that included breakout sessions on individual behaviors and values, discussions with national SAAC and NCAA representatives, and life-skills presentations.
The goal of the forum, according to NCAA Vice President of Student-Athlete Affairs Robert Vowels, is for participants to leave “empowered” and to “gain some momentum on campus.”
Participating student-athletes were ready to carry out that charge.
“I’m going to bring some of these lessons back to my SAAC at school, but then also continue to help my team develop,” said Kate Gallagher, a sophomore golfer at Missouri. “This conference is definitely going to help me help other people.”
The team sessions focused primarily on building leadership by identifying personal values and behavior.
“Being aware of yourself enables you to better lead those around you,” said Grand Valley State sophomore runner Leiah Hess. “If you’re not aware of yourself, then that makes it a little more difficult for people to follow you.”
Initiative activities like the Student-Athlete Olympics, which featured dance-offs, rock/paper/scissor contests and the limbo added to a weekend that Vowels called an opportunity to “enhance the student-athlete experience.” This manifests itself through participants leaving with not only valuable lessons, but lasting relationships formed through the various activities.
“It’s been great,” said sophomore Southern Arkansas baseball player Jordan Hill on the forum’s second day. “I’ve already met a handful of people I think I’ve already become really close with who I’ll probably keep in contact with.”
Athletics Professionals Benefit Also
While the forum focuses on student-athletes, athletics professionals were also present. The forum allowed them to network and share ideas to build intercollegiate athletics as a whole.
“The biggest impact for me has been the networking,” said Lori Kerans, Millikin’s head women’s basketball coach, senior woman administrator and SAAC advisor. “What the NCAA allows us to do through this process is hear the best practices and the best ideas at other campuses.”
The name of the forum isn’t lost on the professionals, however, as they know how crucial it is for student-athletes to develop these skills both on and off the field.
“I think it’s absolutely vital,” said Minnesota State-Moorhead Athletics Director Doug Peters. “Everything rises and falls on leadership, and if we’re going to have success, our student-athletes need to have an understanding of leadership and the roles that they play.”
SAAC Interacts With Participants
Student-athletes and athletics professionals participating in the forum had a chance to interact with their divisional national SAAC representatives.
Members of each division’s national SAAC held hour-long discussions during which they got the student-athletes perspective on a variety of topics.
Division I held discussions on Proposal No. 2010-30, which would allow unlimited text messaging between prospective student-athletes and coaches.
Division II broke into round-table discussions focusing on Make-A-Wish ideas, various other community service opportunities, and web presence.
A variety of hot-button topics were discussed at the Division III level, including text messaging and a hardship waiver proposal that would prohibit student-athletes from being at practice while rehabbing from injuries.
The student-athletes in attendance appreciated the chance to share their opinions on a variety of topics and learn about how SAAC operates at the national level.
“We didn’t really understand why they would make these rules,” said Jerry Wang, a sophomore tennis player at Lake Forest. “Having a bunch of students and coaches put their opinions out there and listening to them talk, it helped me understand why we’re voting on (various legislative proposals).”
All three national SAACs will convene in Indianapolis Nov. 18-20.