It’s a first in Canada, and its potential is significant.
St. Francis Xavier University is the first university in Canada to launch a comprehensive athletics leadership academy, partnering with worldwide leader in sports leadership development, the Janssen Sport Leadership Centre, to offer a formal leadership program on campus.
The StFX Athletics Leadership Academy launched in October with 54 student-athlete participants, representing all varsity sports. It will run throughout the academic year.
“I’m extremely proud we will be able to deliver Canada’s first sports leadership academy at the university level. It’s a great fit with the leadership culture at our university,” says StFX Athletics Director Leo MacPherson.
“Certainly much is learned in the classroom and on the playing surfaces, but a substantive and systematic development initiative will ensure that StFX student athletes are exposed to top-notch training that will help them lead now and in the future.”
Not only will the academy strengthen the attraction of StFX to student athletes, it will intensify the leadership environment that already exists, and it’s aligned under StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership, he says.
“This academy will provide cutting edge leadership training to StFX student athletes to continue and enhance their impressive successes both on and off the playing fields,” says Jeff Janssen, president of the Janssen Sports Leadership Centre.
Mr. Janssen says the centre is thrilled to partner with StFX to launch Canada's first comprehensive leadership academy in university athletics.
“We appreciate Leo MacPherson's pioneering vision in bringing this innovative leadership programming to Canada. We look forward to working with him to help develop StFX's next generation of leaders.”
The Janssen Centre has a number of American universities as key clients including the University of North Carolina, the University of Michigan, University of Illinois, Yale University, and Georgetown University among others.
Effective leaders, whether in sports, business, or non-profit, are critical to success, Mr. MacPherson says, and without a deliberate and formal pipeline structure, leadership development is often random at best.
The academy provides leadership development through programming, interactive workshops, one-on-one coaching, supplemental online training and educational resources.
It’s designed to provide student athletes with the short-term strategies they need to be effective leaders on their athletic teams and on campus, but also on a long-term basis.
“It prepares our students for the ultimate challenge, life,” Mr. MacPherson says.
“We’re teaching life skills.”
Student-athlete reaction has been extremely positive.
"I had really good feelings about StFX when I visited and I believe with hard work, the opportunities are unlimited. The StFX Athletics Leadership Academy was a large selling point for me and I'm sure as it grows, it will be a large selling point for future recruits,” says Cole Grbavac of Calgary, AB, a StFX business student, forward on the X-Men hockey team, and StFX’s recipient of the Danny Gallivan Memorial Scholarship, awarded to Canadian male and female varsity athletes who combine qualities of leadership with academic excellence.
Mr. Grbavac is the former captain of the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League where he was awarded the team’s leadership award and hardest working player award, along with the Medicine Hat community service award.
“I believe this academy will be an unbelievable experience to continue to learn things that aren't taught in the everyday classroom," he says.
“They know the importance of leadership to team success,” Mr. MacPherson says. “Every organization is looking for leadership, and having successfully completed these programs, our student-athletes will be well positioned to articulate their skill sets and demonstrate leadership competencies.”
Mr. MacPherson sees this initiative as a positive way of helping to address the void in leadership programming across Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) in terms of how we support our student athletes growth and development.
The seeds for the academy were planted last year while listening to former U.S. president Bill Clinton and the Hon. Frank McKenna speak at the opening of StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre. Mr. MacPherson started thinking about what could be done to elevate leadership within StFX Athletics. He was aware of university athletics leadership programming available in the United States and quickly realized it could be adopted to suit needs here.
Mr. MacPherson, already in a national leadership role as president of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), successfully completed the Lead the Leaders Certification and Training Program at the Janssen Sports Leadership Center in North Carolina in June and is now trained as an accredited facilitator.
The leadership academy offers three program streams – Emerging Leaders, Veteran Leaders, and Leadership 360 for those who have completed the first two programs.
In the future, Mr. MacPherson says he hopes to broaden leadership so StFX becomes a beacon for sports leadership in our region. Even something as simple as introducing an element of leadership in our summer sports camps will serve to plant the seed about the difference great leadership can make.
“It’s got so much potential.”