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June 22, 2018

1st in a 3-part series on Leadership Development

We recently sent our 375 Student-Athletes ‘homeward bound’ following our Baseball team’s end-of-season on June 3rd and our Track & Field team’s end-of-season on June 9th. Our Student-Athletes have spent the past school year in pursuit of Academic and Athletic achievements. 

Many of our Student-Athletes are returning to their parent’s homes in 25 different states. Some are off to new cities in search of work experience or travel. Other Southern Miss Student-Athletes will be crossing oceans as they return to their homes in 24 different countries.

As our Student-Athletes return home, our professional staff and coaches are already home – in beautiful Hattiesburg and the surrounding areas. While our Student-Athletes are at home, we are all hard at work closing the year, and at the same time, planning for the return of our Student-Athletes beginning in August. We are working diligently to improve every facet of our Department – in Academic Affairs, our Business Office, in Compliance, and Development, Equipment Operations and Facilities, in Strength & Conditioning, in Sports Medicine, in the Ticket Office, and every other unit of our Department of Athletics.

As our Student-Athletes are home, they leave traces of their performance. Some of that performance is measured in Grade Point Averages and Graduation Success Rates. Other traces of their performance are measured in win/loss records and individual and team awards. Still other measures of performance have included hours of community service and fiscal expenditures. In fact, nearly every element in our Department of Athletics is measured in some way. 

Yet as our Student-Athletes have headed home, our Department Leadership Team is gathering to consider how we promoted, funded, supported, and measured the leadership of our Student-Athletes. And in-turn, how we supported the educational mission of the University and the Department. How did we train our Student-Athletes to lead in alignment with our Guiding Principles of Respect, Positive Energy, Focus, Excellence, Collaboration and Honor? How have we prepared them for leadership roles once they return home to their communities with a degree in hand? 

Some of this work does not yield an immediate measure of performance – which makes us all the more vigilant in our planning and reviews.

In the beginning of this past academic year, we listed a dozen top priorities for the Department and a number of related goals. These included alignment with University leadership, responsible financial models, academic achievement, and the like. One of our top priorities was a particular focus on Student-Athlete Life, and more specifically, leadership development. 

As a former Student-Athlete, I understand the impact of leadership training and opportunities. I am deeply appreciative of those who designed and delivered programs to cultivate my own skills. I remain in their debt to this day.

As such, we designed and launched our inaugural Leadership Academy to develop a model for leadership development for our Student-Athletes. 

Our Program Leaders included Dr. Melissa Thompson, our Director of Student-Athlete Development, Lauren Lanford, our Director of Life Skills and Career Development, and Caroline Bevillard, an Associate AD involved in all facets of Departmental planning and processes. As an aside, all three of our Program Leaders are former Student-Athletes.

Our Program Leaders were charged with the mission to develop a year-long leadership program that would provide a transformative experience, drawing Student-Athletes to develop excellence in their self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, and citizenship. Through ongoing training, service and outreach initiatives, the Academy was formed to provide programming aimed at developing Student-Athletes to become leaders and citizens of the world.

Nearly a year ago, we requested nominations from the 12 Head Coaches of our 16 Sport Programs, and after the selection process was finalized, 19 Student-Athletes were selected to engage in our first Leadership Academy. 

The Academy was launched in August 2017 and consisted of monthly meetings that covered topics ranging from Growth Mindset to Servant Leadership. In addition, the Academy included 2 day-long retreats. I had the good fortune to attend those retreats, and they were a learning experience for me as well.

In conclusion, please know that the results of the Leadership Academy will pay high dividends for all involved – our Student-Athletes, their sport programs, the Department of Athletics, and our great University. But perhaps most of all, the Leadership Academy will benefit the communities and families where they live and work.

Special thanks to our Coaches, our Program Leaders, and our Student-Athletes. This inaugural Academy far exceeded our expectations, and clearly, we have established a model for our entire Athletic Department. We will do our very best to continue to refine and support the Academy and related leadership initiatives – expanding training to a broader base of our Student-Athletes. Within our Department of Athletics, leadership development is one of our top priorities, and as such, we will be accelerating and expanding our leadership development programming, on our way To The Top!

Footnote: As mentioned, in the next version of To The Top, I have asked one of our Program Leaders to relate their experience in our Outward Bound adventure. Following that, we will be hearing directly from our Student-Athletes on their leadership development experiences. In short order, additional information and photos will be available on our website.









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