Build Leaders in Your School

Athletic direc­tor James Coffey explains why lead­er­ship pro­grams are so ben­e­fi­cial to high school ath­let­ic programs.

Build Leaders in Your School

Athletic direc­tor James Coffey explains why lead­er­ship pro­grams are so ben­e­fi­cial 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.