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December 16, 2011

Virginia Tech athletics is growing leaders

By: Reyna Gilbert-Lowry

The Iceberg, Velvet Covered Brick and Golden Buddha. Are these song titles from the latest Grammy Award-winning artist? No, they are all images used to take you on a leadership journey through a series of books in the Growing Leaders Habitudes curriculum. Habitudes is a collection of 52 images that form leadership habits and attitudes. This four-book curriculum teaches life and leadership principles through images that enable students to lead themselves and positively influence others.

Take the Iceberg, for instance. This image represents leadership. The 10 percent above the surface is your skill and the 90 percent below is your character. Dr. Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders and mastermind behind the Habitudes program, believes it’s what’s below the surface that counts and can make or break a successful student-athlete.

Get the picture? It’s images like these that flood the pages of the Habitudes books, making the ancient adage ring true, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Each habitude is specifically designed for the current generation, The Millennials, also known as Generation Y, and is a fun, creative and engaging way for students to learn and practice leadership. This seems like a perfect fit for college-age students since their generation is so image-driven and since so many are visual learners.

Although the Virginia Tech athletics department is not the first program with a deliberate focus of leadership development for its student-athletes, it is one of the few programs where leadership development impacts such a large percentage of the student-athlete population. The current program at Tech will reach approximately half of its student-athletes. Habitudes author Dr. Tim Elmore believes, "The Virginia Tech athletics department has demonstrated a commitment to build not just great athletes, but also great men and women. Through the use of images, conversations and experiences, these young athletes are developing a backbone in addition to their biceps. Long after the sport is over, Virginia Tech athletes will graduate and transform their communities."

During the spring semester earlier this year, the wrestling, volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer teams took part in a pilot program that was facilitated by four members of the athletics department staff. The teams met on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and went through the images in the first book, The Art of Self Leadership, and used this time in their offseason to develop leadership skills that could be implemented on and off the court and field.

Feedback from the teams was very positive and several more teams expressed interest in participating in the program during the fall semester. Currently, 80 percent of the athletics teams are participating in the program or will participate during the spring of 2012.

Word of mouth was probably the best advertisement for the program, and it was as if those teams who weren’t participating were missing out on something. With the growing interest in the program from coaches and student-athletes, a definite need for more facilitators evolved, and coaches and staff were asked to step up to the plate. Those who were interested took part in an information session and were paired up with a team. They received the workbooks and facilitators guide and were off and running.

A new plan was also created in an effort to accommodate those teams who had already gone through the book one curriculum. For this past fall, a 10-week/10-image curriculum was created that encompassed images from books one and two and allowed student-athletes to learn about self-leadership and connecting with others during the semester. The plan for the future is for teams to take part in the Habitudes experience on an annual basis.

With the next generation of leaders in our midst, there is no limit to what the future holds. Habitudes is just one of the many ways the athletics department is living out its mission of promoting the development of the whole person and assisting student-athletes in reaching their full potential.