Sophomore pitcher Steve Wagar and senior coxswain Annika LaVoie attended the prestigious NCAA Leadership Forum this fall and took some time to answer some questions about their experience for us.
The NCAA invited student-athletes from institutions across all three divisions to attend the forum, which focused on improving their leadership skills. Wagar and LaVoie joined hundreds of fellow student-athletes in San Antonio, Texas and outline some of their experiences below.
How did you first find out about the leadership forum and what motivated you to accept the invitation?
Wagar: I was asked if I would like to attend by my coach, and I couldn't think of a better way to become a more well-rounded leader in order to lead my team to it's full potential. I also saw it as a great opportunity to grow in my personal walk as a leader even outside of sports!
LaVoie: Amy Hackett contacted me over summer to ask if I wanted to attend, and, of course, I was thrilled to say yes! As a team captain on my crew team, I'm always looking for new ways to work on my leadership. What better way to hone in on some new skills than a forum put on by the NCAA with other student-athletes from all divisions around the nation?!
Did you have any expectations going into the forum?
Wagar: Going into the weekend I thought we were going to be sitting in a room talking about being leaders a few hours a day, and then have a lot of other time to relax. I was completely wrong, they had us doing something all day, and it was all so great! Everything we did had a purpose and allowed us to grow as leaders as well as network with individuals.
LaVoie: I didn't really have a lot of expectations; I figured we'd have different talks about leadership skills, and I hoped to meet some cool student-athletes and share our experiences. As soon as we stepped off the bus at the hotel, I knew that all my expectations were about to blown out of the water. The hotel was massive, pump up music was blaring from a huge ballroom, and towering student-athletes from all nationalities were milling around. Honestly, I was a little nervous and was keenly aware of my height as a coxswain. As the week progressed, expectations continued to be exceeded as we met in smaller groups and went through an entire leadership manual, discussing leadership topics, sharing stories, and gaining insight from others' experiences.
Was there a particular session or moment that stood out as the most impactful for you?
Wagar: The particular part of the forum that stood out the most to me, was the servant leadership exercise we participated in. We put together care packages for homeless veterans, and it really taught us the value of servant leadership!
LaVoie: On one of the days, we all gathered for a service project for the homeless veterans of Dallas. We first heard the story of one of the guys at the shelter and how much our contribution meant to him. If anything, his testimony just fueled me to work harder and made me feel good as I could give back in just a small way. We broke into our smaller teams to fill bags with all the necessities for the men, like toothpaste, deodorant, granola bars etc. And of course, what happens when you fill a room with more than 400 of some of the most competitive athletes in the nation? It became a competition as to which team could fill the most bags. The atmosphere was charged and we ended up giving over 3000 bags to the veterans.
What is the biggest lesson or experience that you took away from the conference?
Wagar: I think the biggest lesson that I learned through all of this, is that there is more than one way to lead. I have a very forward, action-based leadership style, but I learned about the other types of leaders in our group and how I can cater to my whole team with my style of leadership.
LaVoie: One of the biggest lessons I took away, was that my leadership doesn't stop when I'm not with my team. I can be a leader in all facets of my life, as a student, friend, and family member. The leadership skills I learned can be applied in many ways in or out of my sport, and this especially hit home since I'll be graduating and entering the "real world" after my last season with the crew team in the spring.
What have you done since then to apply those lessons or what are you planning to do during your spring season?
Wagar: I plan to develop relationships and trust with each and every one of my teammates this year in order to better understand what I need to do to cater to the needs of the team, and figure out how best to motivate certain teammates!
LaVoie: Some of the leaders on my team (captains, seniors, coxswains) are going through a leadership manual with our coach before our actual season starts, and I was able to share some of the ideas and skills I learned with them. In the spring, Steven and I are going to give a presentation to SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) and hopefully jumpstart some ideas on events for fundraising and reaching out to the greater Tacoma community.