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5 things I learnt at Syracuse University

By Damian Hecker, Director of Learning & Development at Leaders of Evolution

It’s not often you get the backstage pass.  No lines, preferential treatment and access to a world that most of us only ever discover through a behind the scenes doco.

To say I had the rockstar treatment during my time at Syracuse University (SU) is not the American swagger rubbing off on me, more so a humble nod to the kindness and grace shown by my host Rick Burton.

Rick is Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) at Syracuse meaning he spends time engaging with academics faculty, coaches and student-athletes in the pursuit of a truly holistic education and sport experience for students – no mean feat in a university of 20,000 students and over 600 student-athletes.  With this comes relationships developed at all levels across the University and of course, the occasional opportunity to hand out a backstage pass!

So, what did we learn and what can we share?  Here’s the abridged version of what I picked up in a couple of days at SU.

It’s about family– When you’ve got one question to ask Dino Babers, (Head Coach of SU American Football team) the pressure is on you! ‘So, what have you learnt about coaching since being at SU?’

Happily, this made him ponder.

Eventually – “It’s about family.  We need a lot of people doing things at the highest level for these young men to perform.”  This refers to not only the wider team Dino oversees but people including academic faculty, athletic directors and staff, tutors and others to ensure the student is performing both academically and from a sports performance perspective. When you’re regularly playing in front of 50,000 people at the Carrier Dome, you better make sure every box had been ticked.

Look ‘em in the eye– Emotional Intelligence and its place in coaching and leadership was an ongoing area of discussion over the two days. Speaking to Chris Fox (Head Cross Country & Track/Field coach) he summed up emotional intelligence in his role beautifully.

‘You look in their eye and you see what they’re bringing that day. That lets me know if it’s a day to ask for a little more or a little less.’  Perfect.

It takes a village to raise a child– Similar to point one but the mechanics to ensuring student-athletes are set up for life are huge. With less than 3% of Division I athletes going on to professional careers it is critical for the system to develop the person.

Sure, these young people get access to sporting facilities and support most of us mere mortals can only dream of.  However, after graduation this is over.  So what happens next?  It was impressive to see not just the resources invested in this, but more so the passion and capacity of those people involved in delivering on this outcome. Tommy Powell (Assistant Provost for Student-Athlete Academic Development) drove this point home to me as he discussed the strategy and structure for ensuring balance between academics and sport for student-athletes.

Our sporting system stacks up– We do ok in Australia. We do not have the same resources as these Universities, apart perhaps from the wealthy elite professional clubs but what we do have is a great structure.

Hearing students discuss ‘retiring’ after college as a 21 year-old and listening to the challenges of budding coaches struggling to get opportunities to coach because they’re not elite players was disheartening.

Our sporting system in Australia is amongst the best in the world, providing opportunities for people to access elite and professionally executed pathways, or play competitive sport until they are 50 if they want.  Same with coaching where numerous opportunities exist for anyone who wishes to pursue a community or professional pathway.

We like to copy much from American sport but here’s hoping our life long approach to participation stays well in-tact for a long time to come.

We feel culture– You just knew this was a good environment to work or play in.  Every person I met took the time to explain what they do and showed genuine interest in why I was there.  We were invited into the minds and facilities of athletes and players, all of whom showed enormous respect and represented the SU brand with integrity.  The culture was seen, heard and felt.

I could easily go on but this is my attempt to wrap up two incredible days of learning in under 800 words! A treasure trove of memories and learning to apply into what we do back home, in particular the growth of our Young Leaders in Sport e-learning course.

One last shout out to Rick Burton for his hospitality and organisation.  We look forward to connecting with SU again in Melbourne this July.

Go ‘Cuse!

Damian Hecker

Co-founder at Leaders of Evolution
Keeping an eye on all sports, especially the mighty Hawthorn Football Club, staying fit in the great outdoors and sneaking in some travel wherever possible occupy Damian's time away from designing e-learning curriculum for both Leaders of Evolution and our valued E-learning Hub Partners.
Damian Hecker

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