Dec. 8, 2013
Student-athletes are usually looked upon as leaders within their own teams and the University, but as leaders in life. With that in mind, the University of Alabama created a class dedicated to helping its student-athletes learn to become the most successful leaders they can be. The class is a sophomore level class entitled "Life Calling and Leadership Development."
At its core, the class attempts to define what leadership is and how each student-athlete can influence those around them in a positive way using their innate style and along with the skills they learn in the class.
Taught by Ellen Pate, the course, which began three years ago, was fashioned after a leadership course taught in the UA Honors College and was specifically tailored for student-athletes. Since its inception, the popularity of the course continues to grow.
The class has two basic components: First, the class provides student-athletes with practical leadership principles, showing each member of the class how to become authentic and vocal leaders. Students are evaluated in leadership knowledge and skills they are able to demonstrate through a series of challenging assignments. Second, the class puts the different leadership principles in context with guest speakers representing student-leaders, administrators and coaches.
According to Pate, guest speakers range from the likes of UA head gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson, to head softball coach Patrick Murphy, to UA Director of Athletics Bill Battle. Guests such as football strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran and former NCAA Champion and All-American gymnast Morgan Dennis, have also share their personal leadership journey with the class.
"It is really meant to let them see the personal side of leadership, not just a list of `how-tos," Pate said. "I want the students to walk away growing as human beings."
Pate believes that this style of teaching really helps the student-athletes learn to lead from the inside-out--beginning with their own values, character and strengths.
"I could not be more proud to watch the alumni from this course lead their teams," said Pate. "Whether they are starters or leading from the sideline or bench--each student has an opportunity to influence their teams in a positive manner."
Alumni of this course have already begun to reflect the benefits they've gained.
"It gave us examples of leaders around the campus; important people that we can see and that can tell us a little bit about how they got to where they are," Levi Randolph, a junior guard on the men's basketball team, said.
Elements of the class include a video autobiography, small group discussions, community interviews, exams and a final group service project. Every assignment is designed so that students can apply the knowledge they've gained from the class. For some student-athletes who have taken the course it is different from any other course because they can use what they learn immediately and the skills continue to develop years after completing the class.
"I would say the leadership development off the field has been just as important as on the field," UA senior softball player Ryan Iamurri said, "I'm confident in my abilities to lead, and this is something I can carry with me into the job world."
UA linebacker C.J. Mosley was in the class the first year it was offered, and feels that the course continues to help him today.
"I was always someone that could lead by example and I kind of showed the same thing in that class," Mosley said. "I didn't talk as much, but some of the things, like the book we read, helped me elevate my leadership role as far as being a more vocal leader."
While most athletes have experienced the class from the student side of the lectern, former UA gymnastics All-American Ashley Priess had the opportunity to help Pate teach the course.
"For me, it really reiterated my passion for teaching," Priess said. "I've always been really interested in teaching leadership, learning leadership, and just becoming a better leader myself. I think it really helped me put my passion into practice."
Overall, the course has been deemed a huge success. Whether in the classroom or when competing, student-athletes continue to use the knowledge they learned in the course on an everyday basis. The "Life Calling and Leadership Development" course allows student-athletes to become more substantial leaders not only as athletes, but in their personal and professional lives.