Yesterday, I took a trip up to Howard High School in Ellicott City, Maryland for the MPSSAA Student-Athlete Leadership Conference. The conference, designed for rising juniors and seniors, featured two talks from a distinguished guest speaker, four discussions about different athletics-related workshops and two team-building activities and lasted from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. We also got free lunch, which was a huge plus. I really enjoyed my time there and learned valuable insights that I’ll be able to take back to my cross country team in the fall. These are my highlights and takeaways from each of the parts of the conference.
Opening Guest Speaker Session
Starting the day was a talk by comedian Kathy Buckley, a motivational speaker and actress who is deaf. Buckley drove home the importance of equality and that putting judgments on people only affects the giver of the label, not the person.
74% of varsity athletes are hazed. That was the shocking statistic that opened the conversation about hazing, a tough and controversial topic. To show the damage of hazing, the presenter told us the effects- emotional harm, psychological harm, damaged relationships, anger and resentment, mistrust and abusive culture. While bullying is similar, hazing is different in that it is usually not over time and is designed for inclusion rather than exclusion, meaning that it comes from peer pressure and the desire to belong.
Social Media Workshop
Social media is an essential part of modern culture and high school athletics are no exception. While the possible negative effects of social media were discussed, this workshop focused on the benefits of using social media for a cause, such as a campaign or event.
Group Dynamics Workshop
In this workshop, we were divided into groups of five or six and had to design an invention out of a bag of different materials without talking. This activity, though confusing, demonstrated the hierarchy of people who influence a team- the leaders at the top, followed by the supporters, followed by the positive examples, followed by the followers.
Captains of high school sports teams are going to face tough situations, so this workshop provided a number of difficult scenarios in preparation for the upcoming seasons. In addition, this workshop defined an effective team captain- a person that is selfless, invested, skilled and hardworking. Also, I learned that decisions are about the results, not the popularity, that captains can make the most crucial mistakes because they are placed in the most crucial situations and that captains must stand out from the group- extra effort. Another takeaway is that the workforce wants athletes because athletes are grinders and can work with others.
Second Guest Speaker Session
This session was also with Ms. Buckley and drove home that we need to look beyond outward appearance in others.
Team Building Workshop
For this workshop, we were divided into groups and had to solve ten team-building challenges all over the gym. Though I only knew a couple other people in my group, the workshop was a perfect example of how to plan beneficial team activities. My favorites included the human knot, which we were unable to solve, a game where we had to throw tennis balls in a certain order and a game where we had to get a marble from the baseline of the court to the three-point line using short pipes. I think I had more fun than I was educated, but I’ll be sure to arrange some human knots when I get back to school.
Allstate Supply Drive
Another team building activity, the Allstate challenge, finished the day. The challenge doubled as helping charity, as we packed school supplies for students of a less privileged school in the state. We got done pretty early and I talked to some other cross country dudes.
I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to go to the MPSSAA Student-Athlete Leadership Conference and am eager to apply what I learned to the cross country team this summer and fall and the track team in the spring!