North Central College - Naperville, IL

Putting leadership into practice.

Putting leadership into practice.

At most colleges, you have to be a team captain to pick up athletic-leadership skills. Not so at North Central College, where student-athletes participate in a full program of leadership activities designed just for them. These opportunities are unique to Cardinal athletics.

Incoming athletes attend a program called the Huddle, an annual gathering of all 600 Cardinal athletes, the coaching staff and other members of the athletic department. “We include an inspirational welcome from someone related to our program, and this meeting becomes an induction ceremony into athletics at North Central,” says Stevie Baker-Watson, assistant athletic director. “It quickly becomes a family atmosphere.” Each athlete receives a Huddle T-shirt imprinted with the time remaining on his or her graduation “game clock,” from 40:00 for first-year participants to 10:00 for seniors.

During their first terms as athletes, players are invited to Varsity Course, a weekly session that smoothes out the transition to college life. Topics such as character and teamwork are paired with practical advice on nutrition, finances and academic success. Expert speakers help new student-athletes find balance in their busy lives, and seasoned student-athletes make themselves available as mentors.

Varsity Course inspired volleyball player Megan Postema to pursue an athletic department internship. “I wanted to continue my involvement with athletics over D-Term, so I worked on promotional ideas to increase attendance at basketball, wrestling and swimming events,” she says. “Varsity Course and my internship helped me adjust to college and become a more well-rounded individual.”

Student-athletes who want to develop their leadership skills can serve on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which includes two representatives from every team. “It’s the student government of athletics,” says Baker-Watson. “It allows athletes to plan service projects, give feedback to administrators and organize special events including the annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day.”

Athletes also benefit by building relationships with student-athlete mentors, who understand the challenges of balancing sports with academics, working through injuries and traveling to distant events. “We find mentors who are good role models, who want to set good examples and help younger athletes adjust to North Central,” says Baker-Watson.

Athletes like wrestler Joe Norton find they learn as much about themselves as others through athletic-leadership activities. “I’ve served as a mentor and as a member of SAAC my entire time at North Central,” he says. “I’ve learned so much about myself and how I can positively impact the lives of others.”

Other opportunities include attending out-of-state conferences, joining an alternative spring break trip to a Habitat for Humanity site and developing new programs like a proposed training/orientation event for new team captains. “Our athletes love this place and they want to do everything they can to make it better,” adds Baker-Watson.

Reflecting on her years as a Cardinal athlete, soccer player Lisa Link says she knows she made the right decisions. “I’ve developed relationships through these organizations that I will cherish forever,” she says. “Getting involved with student-athlete leadership has inspired me to seek a career in athletics and is one of the best decisions I’ve made at North Central.”