By Turner Walston
On the field or on the track, the court or in the pool, there’s that moment before the moment, the time when a student-athlete needs to call on their leadership skills to motivate themselves and their teammates. In that moment, it is crucial to say the right thing, to model the correct behavior for success. Fortunately for Carolina student-athletes, the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy is providing the training for those moments year after year.
“We describe the Leadership Academy as both comprehensive in scope and substantive in depth,” says Shelley Johnson, director of the program that provides leadership training throughout the careers of Carolina student-athletes. “When a coach says, ‘You’re a senior, you’re a captain, you’re a leader. Now, lead,’ they’re prepared for that moment.”
Since its inception in time for the 2004-05 academic year, the Carolina Leadership Academy has been the model program for leadership training for student-athletes. Former Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour charged senior associate A.D. John Blanchard with developing the program more than ten years ago. There was no precedent for such a comprehensive leadership training program at a university, so Blanchard looked at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, at the University of Richmond’s leadership studies major and at the United States Naval Academy and West Point. He partnered with sports leadership expert Jeff Janssen to develop a program specifically for Carolina student-athletes. Janssen provided the sports psychology aspect; Blanchard created the structure for what would become the Carolina Leadership Academy.
Today, the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy (so named in honor of Baddour in 2012) consists of a three or four-step pyramid for developing leaders. The CREED program is mandatory for first-year student athletes to learn leadership skills and to abide by a personal pledge to live embrace the Culture of Carolina athletics, Respect themselves and others, Excel in the classroom, Excel in their athletic endeavors and Develop the capacity to lead themselves and others. The first-year students are divided into 36 groups and have two or three mentors, upperclassmen who have experience in the Leadership Academy. “The whole athletic program is a great source of family and friends and community,” says freshman outfielder Adam Pate. “The leadership program brings that all together, and benefits you personally by teaching leadership and team building skills.”
The second step in the program, Rising Stars, is when student-athletes begin to lead by example themselves and also master leading by following their team captains. “I think that really set off my leadership, because it focuses on crafting the individual leaders and learning about the different leadership styles,” says senior lacrosse player Zoe Skinner. “You need to find your specific leadership style and then try and carry it out the best you can.”
The third step of the program had been known as Gap Year but is being rebranded as Leadership Lab. Student-athletes are given the opportunity to test their leadership skills in a controlled environment. “You’ve gotten your own house in order and you’ve established sufficient credibility that a class is looking to you, but you’re looking to those Veteran Leaders and evaluating how effective they are in their leadership roles,” Johnson says. “It’s the dress rehearsal for the opening night that is Veteran Leaders.” Gap Year participants hear from Carolina coaches, too, on how they address issues within their respective teams and how student-athletes might apply those techniques within their own programs.
The Veteran Leaders are the upperclassmen counted upon to co-lead their teams with their coaches and also mentor younger student-athletes. Veteran Leaders are a community among themselves, too. They are a resource for one another. “Sometimes you don’t think about what other teams are going through,” says senior tennis player Tessa Lyons. “You think it’s just you, but they’re really helpful. They’re in the same situation as you, and to hear their opinions really helped me.”
Skinner agrees. “The track team, for example, is going to go through different problems than I may, but their approaches can be used in my setting as well,” she says.
Veteran Leaders are also given what’s called ‘360-degree Feedback,’ in which teammates and coaches fill out surveys evaluating the leaders in various categories on and off the field of play. “It’s harsh,” Lyons says, “but ultimately it’s for the best. You get to find out what you’re doing well, what you need to stop, and what you need to continue, and I think it’s really helped me as a person understand that not every one is the same.”
The Carolina Leadership Academy is about establishing a ‘depth chart’ for team leaders. “We hear coaches say, ‘It’s a rebuilding year,’ and a lot of times, in coachspeak, that’s ‘We lack senior leadership.’ We’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure that [leadership is there],” Johnson says.
Some teammates need to be led in different ways. Some learn by example, some appreciate vocal leadership. Some want a hand up, some want a firm push. No one knows that better than sophomore catcher Korey Dunbar, who is tasked with managing a pitching staff full of various personalities. He says the resources he’s been given at the Leadership Academy have been invaluable. “They talk a lot about how to handle your team on and off the field, which was huge for me as far as the position I play on the field,” he says. “Being a catcher, you’ve got to understand your team and have them under control, and I think that kind of helps me.”
Carolina coaches are involved as well, and the programming continues to evolve. This year’s curriculum focused on John Wooden’s pyramid of success. Last year, it was Joe Ehrmann’s five pillars of transformational coaching. “We don’t re-invent the wheel every year, but we raise the bar,” Johnson says. “We make it that much better, we make it that much more impactful and effective.”
But while the facilitators and directors provide much of the materials and programming at the Carolina Leadership Academy, often it’s the student-athletes themselves that have a great impact on each other’s development. “We’re casting that wide net,” Johnson says. “It’s the student-athletes being there for each other, not just teammates being there for each other with a hand up, but it’s fencers reaching out to swimmers, reaching out to golfers, reaching out to lacrosse players reaching out to women’s soccer or football . . .” And the student-athletes appreciate the opportunity not only to get to know each other, to step outside the bubbles of their respective sports, to learn from one another.
While Carolina student-athletes excel on the court and in the classroom, the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy continues to evolve and grow in nurturing the skills and developing generations of Carolina leaders. So, when that moment comes, that moment before the moment, the Tar Heels in the huddle will be ready to embrace it.