A new leadership program has been developed by the university to help student-athletes improve their communication skills, social skills and involvement with the community.
The Lion Leadership Institution is a program that began this August and is run by Benjamin Gipson, interim assistant athletic director for student services.
Gipson explained that the program was created to help student-athletes with their transition in life.
“It’s a life skills program for our student athletes,” said Gipson. “It’s about really helping them through transitions. It’s kind of the primary thing.”
The program will mainly help these students with their transition from high school to college.
“We want to help them with their transition from high school to their freshman year of college,” shared Gipson. “That’s a big transition. Then, we want to help them transition from underclass to upper class.”
In the program, athletes learn to see the bigger picture in life rather than just focusing only on their school work.
“‘I’m in college, I’m doing course work, I’m doing all this,’ but let’s look at the big picture and figure out what we’re really trying to get this degree for, to get out and become good members of society, of the workforce, of a family,” stated Gipson. “So, helping them transition from just going to school to thinking about their career, between that underclass and upper class, and then from upper class to real world. So, there’s a lot of components to it.”
The Lion Leadership Institute is based around five main pillars for these student-athletes.
“Basically, we built it around five main pillars,” explained Gipson. “Community engagement, so we want to be active in our community. Personal development, so everything from mental health to nutrition. Career development. Financial education. Leadership.”
Gipson is satisfied with the outcome of the program so far.
“You know, all of those things, we’re trying to give them resources to improve their lives in those areas,” said Gipson. “So, it’s been good so far.”
Gipson explained the process of planning for this semester.
“I got into this position in the first part of June and spent all summer developing the curriculum, how we were gonna go about doing this,” explained Gipson. “Put it all together. It was presented to coaches at the full staff meeting in August and it’s been going since then.”
Gipson elaborated on the programs the Lion Leadership Institution holds throughout the year for the different levels of study.
“We do a freshman deal in the summer called ‘Summer Bridge,’” said Gipson. “That’s a program that basically helps them adapt from high school to their freshman year. We do a financial education piece with them during their SE 101 class. Then, basically, from there, we do some career development stuff with the juniors and seniors in the spring.”
The coaches also play a role in this program by selecting other requirements for their athletes.
“But everything else they do is kind of selected by their head coach,” explained Gipson. “So, the head coaches have a catalog of resources, which are people in our community, people on this campus; whether it be professors or business people, that can come in and speak to teams on certain topics that are within their realm of expertise.”
Having coaches participate in the program also helps to maintain the participation.
“Obviously, when we host things and have people here to talk about leadership or personal development or career development, we want people to be there,” said Gipson. “So, we wanted to run it through the coaches, because when the coaches pick what their teams go through, they don’t make it a voluntary thing, you know, you’re gonna be there.”
The main goal is for the athletes to be pillars of society.
“To be really good members of society,” stated Gipson. “As an overall athletic department, we tell them that we want them to leave with a championship ring on their fingers and a degree in their hand.”
Gipson used the analogy of tools in a toolbox to clarify.
“All along the way, think of it in terms of a toolbox,” explained Gipson. “They enter their freshman year with a toolbox, every year, every semester, more tools get thrown in that toolbox from things that they’ve learned. Whether it be through their teams or Lion Leadership Institute, and then by the time they graduate, they have a full toolbox to handle anything that might be thrown at them throughout their life.”
More information about the Lion Leadership Institution is available on the university’s sports website.