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From the Field to the Firm: Leadership Academy Prepares Athletes for Success

Written by Sabina Leybold

Malik Morris '16 applies what he's learned in Leadership Academy as captain of the varsity football team. Photo by Adam Baker

Almost 900 Ithaca College students double as athletes, often spending just as much time—and gaining as many skills—on the court as in the classroom. Student-athletes therefore have twice the opportunity to practice leadership, and not just as team captains; at Ithaca College, all student-athletes who are selected for the Leadership Academy program develop their skills to be confident, active role models for their peers both on and off the field.

The Makings of a Leader

“A good leader has to be able to have the respect of their teammates,” said football player and clinical health studies major Malik Morris ’16. “You need to be willing to do more, to lead by example, and be the hardest worker.”

Leadership, however, doesn’t follow a strict formula. It takes many forms, all of which benefit student-athletes’ experiences.  

“Everyone has some leadership aspects in them,” said soccer player Holly Niemec ’17. “Whether they’re always doing the right thing and they’re working hard, or they’re the vocal one you can hear 10 fields away cheering their teammates on.”

The Leadership Academy program emphasizes interaction and support between teammates, especially as older athletes serve as mentors to first-year students.  

“If you have younger students who look up to you and they see the way you interact with other students on campus, they’ll try to model those positive characteristics that will make them a better leader too,” Morris said.

Becoming the ultimate team leader isn’t just about showing younger players how to manage and adapt to conflicts during practice and games; it also involves transferring those lessons to the classroom - and ultimately the workforce.

Applying Leadership Lessons to Real-World Situations

Niemec said that one of the most helpful skills she’s learned from Leadership Academy is the ability to adjust to different situations and whether the moment calls for her to say something directly or to lead by example.

“I’m an integrated marketing communications major, and a lot of that entails group work,” Niemec said. “Leadership Academy has helped me learn how to delegate, how to work with other people, and to understand my role in a group setting, which will help me in the workforce.”

Morris also recognizes the longer-term value of learning these crucial leadership lessons while still in college.

“This is a head start on competing against other candidates for jobs,” he said. “Being able to make an impact through communication, through character, and through leading by example—those are the little things the Leadership Academy has taught us along the way."



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