Notre Dame tight end Billy Palmer interacts with Dr. Brian Biro during his lecture on the foundations of leadership at the Notre Dame Leadership Institute last February.

Notre Dame's Student-Athlete Leadership Institute

Oct. 1, 2004

By Cory Walton

To most college students, the idea of waking up early on a Sunday morning in the middle of winter and attending an all-day workshop seems less than appealing, Once a year, however, a select group of Notre Dame student-athletes jump at the chance to do just that.

The Student-Athlete Leadership Institute is an annual event, held on a Sunday in February, on the Notre Dame campus that offers “opportunities for leadership development and lifelong learning” to a group of the university’s male and female athletes.

“We strive to provide the student-athletes with leadership skills they can use to become better teammates and better leaders on their teams,” Jannifer Crittendon, Assistant Athletics Director for Student Development, says.

“The skills they learn at the Institute can also be used in their lives outside of sports. They learn to be more effective leaders and how to get the most out of themselves and those around them.”

Athletes who participate in the program, which opened in 2002 after a donation from former Notre Dame athletics director and basketball All-American Richard Rosenthal, must receive nominations from their respective coaches to be eligible for the Institute.

“Coaches generally nominate athletes who are going to serve as a team captain, those who they see as potential captains in the future and those who they just want to see be better team leaders,” Crittendon says.

The program is divided each year into three sections that each highlight a different aspect of leadership: Foundations of Leadership, Images of Leadership and Ethics of Leadership. For instance, the Images of Leadership portion of the seminar deals with the interaction and etiquette facets of the subject. Student-athletes are also required to write an essay on their experience and devote time to a community service project as part of their Institute requirements.

The most popular part of the workshop, according to Crittendon, is guest speaker and former Olympic swimming coach Dr. Brian Biro, who lectures on the foundations of leadership.

“The students really enjoy Brian because he is very interactive and he knows how to engage student-athletes,” Crittendon says.

“He has the students break a board at the end of the day, and it’s really symbolic because they write on the board barriers that might prevent them from developing and reaching their full potential. The breaking of the board symbolizes them breaking those barriers. He starts off with the smallest person in the room, usually a female cheerleader, and she breaks the board. After that, it’s amazing to see how excited the biggest person in the room, who’s usually a football player, gets when he breaks his board.”

In 2004, the program’s third year, more than 60 Irish student-athletes received nominations and participated in the Institute, marking a 40 percent increase in the previous year’s attendance. 13 of Notre Dame’s varsity sports were represented at the workshop by a group of student-athletes that was almost equal in terms of gender.

“Such an interest has been sparked that we have students who call us and want to participate, and some students who ask their coaches to be nominated. We used to have to go out and recruit, but now we have people who really want to be a part of this program. Students consistently rate the program very highly, which is an indication of how much students appreciate it,” Crittendon says.

Senior basketball player Jacqueline Batteast, a 2004 All-American and Institute participant, seems to agree with Crittendon’s assessment of the program’s value to the student-athletes it serves.

“I think it was a beneficial thing to be a part of. Before the program I thought being a leader was all about being vocal, but now I know there are so many other ways to be a leader. It really made me look forward to being a captain this year,” Batteast says.

For some, spending an entire weekend day in a leadership seminar, and subsequent community service project, is the last thing on their mind. In the case of a select group of Notre Dame student-athletes, though, the board-breaking, skill-developing experience of the university’s Student-Athlete Leadership Institute is, at least once a year, an opportunity too good to pass up.