On July 13, Clemson University hosted its second annual Tiger Leadership Summit, with Clemson’s student-athlete development team organizing the conference, which drew a substantial turnout that included five guest speakers and 170 student-athletes from 21 different colleges and universities. Fittingly, the hashtag #CULead accompanied the promotional efforts for the summit, which was dedicated to opening the eyes of the athletes in attendance to the broad-based, worthwhile benefits of embracing a life of leadership.
Tiger Leadership Summit is the brainchild of Sunny Dueland, Clemson athletics’ Director of Student-Athlete Development. Along with Co-Assistant Directors of Student Athlete-Development Julian Jones and Tori Niemann, Dueland has already made the event into a glowing success that perfectly reflects the vision of life after sports that is the zeitgeist of Clemson’s renowned student-athlete development department.
“We’re building better connections that make for a better-connected world in college sports,” Dueland said of Tiger Leadership Summit. “Also, we’re creating opportunities for student-athletes to grow personally and influence the teams that they’re working with.”
This year, the speakers all provided plenty of energy and pizzazz, with the engaging presentations creating an electrifying environment in the Reeves Recruiting Room, where the summit was held. Active participation, friendly fraternization, thoughtful discussion and physical interaction were staples of the conference, resulting in complete strangers quickly becoming friends throughout the course of the day.
One of Dueland’s primary goals is to create a space where athletes of diverse backgrounds and differing mindsets can come together, share stories and ideas and become better leaders simply through having the chance to look at college athletics through different lenses. While college athletes routinely develop tight-knit relationships with teammates and possibly athletes from other schools who compete in the same sport, it is rare for athletes from different sports and different universities to come together with the same goals in mind, but Tiger Leadership Summit offers just that.
A bevy of Clemson athletes attended the seminar and were quick to embrace the one-of-a-kind occasion that afforded them networking opportunities with a diverse array of college athletes whom they would otherwise have little chance of meeting. Several members of Clemson’s rowing team attended the summit, including Head Coach Stephen Frazier Wong, rising junior rowers Maura Chozick and Makenna Farr and rising sophomore rower Auburn Dantice. The high-energy, uplifting nature of the summit inspired the rowers, as well as the plethora of other Clemson athletes in attendance, and a common takeaway shared by the Clemson coaches and competitors was a sense of pride in their school for putting on such an inspiring event.
“It’s great for Clemson University to be able to host this event and attract a wealth of people in college athletics with diverse experiences,” Clemson rowing Head Coach Stephen Frazier Wong said.
Dr. Derek Greenfield, the Vice President of Student Engagement at Kentucky State University, kicked off the event with a riveting presentation concerning inclusive leadership. Drawing attention to the wonderment of diversity and how it is given a platform unlike any other by collegiate athletics, Greenfield’s motivational speech was inspiring, moving and even encouraged a rousing rendition of the classic song “Lean on Me” by all of the athletes in unison.
“A big priority for us is to make this program extremely engaging,” said Dueland. “We want the participants to engage with other student-athletes. Our speakers were selected to create that kind of environment.”
Mark Trumbo, Syracuse University’s Assistant Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Engagement, provided participants with a taste of his acclaimed “S-Project,” which is a well-rounded leadership exercise that relies on introspective engagement from those who take it on in an effort to inspire more purposeful leadership. Purpose design served as the theme of Trumbo’s presentation, which was appropriate, as his intention was to push the student-athletes to get to the bottom of the inner drive and motivation that encompasses their purposes for engaging in college sports.
Following his presentation, Trumbo said, “Sunny and her staff have done a tremendous job of organizing this event to allow for the understanding of the different elements of leadership. The best part of this conference is that it gives the student-athletes actionable steps to take with them and apply to their lives.”
Dr. Jeff O’Brien of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice spoke on the significance of having crucial conservations when attempting to lead others. His presentation offered listeners the chance to share what they had gleaned from the summit by engaging in thought-provoking, detailed discussions with perfect strangers, who, by the end of the conservations, became colleagues and friends.
Chozick said of the experience, “Team building focuses on how athletes can help the team, whereas this event focuses on how athletes can help themselves in becoming better leaders for their teams.”
Furthermore, Dr. Janna Magette, a lecturer in Clemson University’s Athletic Leadership and Curriculum Development department, turned the tables on the leadership theme by tackling the theme of followership. She instructed the student-athletes on the necessity of having the wherewithal to incorporate valuable leadership into their lives by becoming faithful followers of worthy causes along their journeys to becoming inspirational leaders themselves.
“Competing in college athletics is not all about being a follower,” said Dantice. “It’s also about being your best and helping others be their best, too.”
David Hoyt rounded out the presentations by framing a rationale for what it means to be an ideal team player. A consultant for The Table Group, Hoyt laid out a business mindset in examining the essence of leadership in athletics and how it can translate to other realms of life.
Dueland said, “The summit is designed for the athletes to build a better understanding of who they are toward the beginning of the event and then discover throughout the day how they can work best to positively influence the spaces that they operate in.”
In addition to the presentations, the athletes partook in a DiSC behavioral assessment that was facilitated by the wide variety of professionals in the college athletics field who attended from varying schools and athletic conferences from across the nation. The assessment gave the participants the chance to discover what category of leadership they belong to and spurred meaningful dialogue between the members of each leadership group as they examined how their leadership styles can best impact their respective athletic programs.
“I’ve been reminded today of why I took up rowing in the first place,” Farr said. “My purpose is not just to build my rowing career but also to be around my teammates and help them find their purposes.”
The experience of being a college student-athlete comes with an abundance of benefits, from the impactful bonds forged between teammates and the cherished memories brought on by high-level competition. Often overlooked and underappreciated but always present in the avenues of life that the athletes follow once their sporting careers are finished is the breadth of leadership brought on by being a collegiate athlete. Now, thanks to a unique summit that has been held in each of the past two years on Clemson’s campus, Clemson Athletics is doing its part to promote an all-out embrace of leadership within the student-athlete community.