Athletic director James Coffey explains why leadership programs are more beneficial than ever to high school athletic programs.

Whether it’s a program that’s open to all students, or only used as a training program for your captains and team leaders, the benefits of a leadership program can be huge for your athletic department. 

I’ve had the opportunity to start and also participate in many leadership programs during my career. Some I started myself, others were team efforts with members of the coaching staff or our league. Every one has been different, with their own strengths and challenges, but the overall result has always been the same—we gave student-athletes valuable lessons in leadership and skills for the future. 

Make sure the program you create is geared towards your student-athletes.

There’s no right or wrong way to create a leadership program for your athletes. Every high school in the country is different, with all of us having unique communities. It’s important to make sure the program you create is geared towards your student-athletes and addresses the issues you all face as a community. 

Ask yourself these questions as you get started:

  • What makes your community and school unique? What programs can you tap into?
  • What area does your community and school need to improve?
  • What can your student-athletes benefit from knowing?

Here's how we set it up.

This year, at Falmouth High School (Maine), we’re conducting our second cohort of the Casco Bay Leadership Institute. It’s a terrific leadership program that fits our student-athletes well.

The roots for this program were actually growing before I came to the school. One of our head coaches was interested in doing his own leadership program for his student-athletes and had started planning it out. He had a long career in the Maine Community College System and used that experience (and his contacts) to recruit some highly qualified guest lecturers and teachers for the program. 

During the interview process for my current position, I talked about wanting to start a leadership council. After starting at the school, this head coach learned about my interest and approached me with his proposal. I was blown away by what he had created.

We sought funding through a grant from a local bank and were able to open the first cohort last year to fifty student-athletes.

Here's how it works. 

We have four main components that make up our program.

  • Seminars—we cover the essential building blocks of effective leadership.
  • Self-discovery—instruction on how to find your leadership style and how it translates into leading others.
  • Group lectures—proven leaders, from a variety of professions and backgrounds, share and discuss their experiences.
  • Service learning projects—gives students a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills.
Guest lecturers give our students a glimpse of the professional world they'll soon be entering.

We run our program over two consecutive Saturdays. The seminars account for seven hours of classroom time, and include:

  • Core Principles of Leadership
  • Leading Groups Effectively
  • Identifying and Understanding Personal Leadership Styles
  • Leading with Ethics and Values

Once the seminars are completed, students participate in an eleven hour community service project. They can immediately use the leadership skills they learned in the classroom.

The service learning department is one of the strongest components of our program. Our staff does an incredible job of reaching out to community partners in the greater Portland area to give our students the opportunity to perform hundreds of hours of community service each year.

Make your program work for you.

Our students are very driven academically. We send kids to the best colleges in the country year after year. It’s a high-performing district with students who want to be well-rounded and are focused on their own achievements. I know this isn’t the case for every high school, but that can just be another reason to implement a leadership program—to motivate the unmotivated student-athletes. 

This type of program fits our school and student-athletes well, but it’s important to remember this certainly isn’t the only way to conduct a leadership program. We used the resources we had to benefit our student-athletes in a way that helps us. 

If you concentrate on your community’s resources, and finding the right fit for your student-athletes, the benefits will be worth the effort.

James Coffey attend­ed Endicott College in Beverly, MA where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sport Management. He has spend the last four­teen years as an ath­let­ic direc­tor at three dif­fer­ent high schools. Coffey was named the Massachusetts Secondary School District A Athletic Director of the Year in 2012. He has also spoke about the pos­i­tive effects of social media on ath­let­ics at sev­er­al New England conferences.