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Developing Leadership Skills

By Jeff Hutzler, director of athletics and Robert Grasso, assistant director of athletics
How the athletics department equips student-athletes with leadership skills.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” La Jolla Country Day School is filled with talented students of character who are intelligent, compassionate, empathetic, and so much more. But what we know is that even the most exceptional student in any arena needs guidance and mentorship to become an effective leader. Leadership is a skill that takes intentional practice the same way a basketball player shoots free throws, or a softball player takes batting practice. 

There was a time at LJCDS when coaches found a lack of effective leaders on our athletic teams. The missing leadership traits impacted our team morale and performance. So through research, trial and error, and collaboration amongst our coaches, the LJCDS athletic department developed a program to help student-athletes better understand leadership concepts and use what they learn to create positive team cultures. 

Today, a core group of students attends a leadership and team culture workshop before each athletic season (fall, winter, spring). The evening begins with an overview of simple (but challenging) ways to lead with an emphasis on how to:

  • Lead by example 
  • Communicate effectively 
  • Build up teammates 
  • Maintain mental toughness
  • Hold each other accountable
  • Look for opportunities to serve 

We discuss developing a positive championship team culture. Each team develops its “core covenants” for the year—the values that will guide the program throughout the year. For example, the field hockey team chose the acronym G.R.E.A.T. (growth, resilience, enthusiasm, accountability and together). 

Each team emerges from the workshop with a clear vision of the type of team they wish to play for and be a part of. Throughout the evening, players learn from each other and their coaches, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as leaders and create a plan to get the season off to a great start.

The workshop is just the beginning. Throughout the season, team captains meet to discuss their team culture, self-evaluate how they lead, proactively discern issues that arise, identify teammates who may need some guidance, and learn more about effective leadership strategies. We have learned that our students are amazing and have tremendous potential as leaders. Leadership is about helping others reach their full potential, and that is what we see happening on our campus. 

We have witnessed teams become more unified and have a clear sense of purpose through the program. Plans are in the works to teach a Flex Time leadership course in the Upper School so that more students can participate. The next step will be to bring our training to the Middle and Lower Schools to equip the next leaders with valuable skills. We genuinely believe that everyone can lead. With the right kind of support, guidance, instruction and encouragement, we can equip our students with essential skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.


La Jolla Country Day School

9490 Genesee Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037

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