Character Connection

April 26, 2015

The following article appears in the April/May 2015 issue of Athletic Management.

Chad Briscoe has a unique perspective on how student-athletes develop into leaders. The current Athletic Director at Grace College, he served as Athletic Director at Mooresville (Ind.) High School for two years in 2012 and 2013, and from these two vantage points, believes scholastic student-athletes need continuous programming addressing issues of character.

In response, Briscoe has helped launch several events, including the Sportsmanship Summit, which he hosts at Grace. Now in its second year, the summit brings together 80 high school student-athletes to arm them with tools they can use to make good decisions off the field.

The 2014 event was held in December and included student-athletes and athletic directors from eight schools in the Northern Lakes Conference. The athletes were chosen by their athletic directors, and were underclassmen who are slated to ascend to leadership roles.

“We want younger athletes to attend, because they’ll bring the lessons we teach them back to the schools, share them with their classmates, and have time to practice what they’ve learned as they get older,” Briscoe says. “Hopefully, that starts a cycle of positive behavior.”

Briscoe’s first goal is to break down barriers between attendees who view each other as rivals, not cohorts. “I don’t want kids to see the person next to them as an adversary from another school,” he says. “So I have them all put on a Sportsmanship Summit T-shirt to help them understand they’re all in the same boat.”

Following some ice-breakers, the students form groups and are tasked with creating a mission statement for their league. “I ask them to think about the message they’d want people to see hanging on a banner in their gym,” Briscoe says. “They come up with some creative ideas that show they have a common desire to build character and exhibit positive sportsmanship through competition.”

Another part of the program focuses on helping student-athletes realize their peers will support their good decision making. “I have each student-athlete write down a question they have about off-the-field character,” he says. “For example: ‘What do I do if I’m at a party with my teammates and everyone expects us to drink even if I know it’s a bad idea?’ Then I have another athlete talk about how they’ve handled that type of situation.

“This helps the athletes realize they’re not facing these issues alone,” Briscoe continues. “The activity lasts until every single student-athlete answers a question. It’s tough for some of them, but it forces the kids out of their comfort zone and helps them see that their fellow athletes will back them when they take a stand against bad decisions.”

One big topic of discussion was social media. “So I asked the students to go to their Facebook and Twitter pages, and think about whether the things they posted were positive messages that could build people up or examples of poor sportsmanship that tore others down,” Briscoe says. “Then I challenged them to post only positive messages for the next week.”

There were also several formal presentations. Indiana High School Athletic Association Assistant Commissioner Sandy Searcy spoke about sportsmanship initiatives and programs at the state level, as well as the importance of character. Jim Swanson, a Vice President at Grace, discussed internal fortitude being the critical part of showing leadership. “His message was that the things you project on the field on Friday nights have to be part of who you are on a Tuesday,” Briscoe says. “The kids really latched on to that.”

The summit concluded by polling the student-athletes to see what changes they could make, even if it was something small. “Several of them said they wanted to thank the school custodians for cleaning up the locker rooms after their games,” Briscoe says. “That’s when I could tell they were getting the concepts down, and I recommended that they take those lessons back to their teammates.”

 

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