LEWISBURG, Pa. – Year No. 6 of the Bucknell Athletics Leadership Institute officially got underway earlier this week, when more than 150 “principal” and “aspiring” leaders representing all 27 Bison varsity sports programs gathered in the Terrace Room for a kickoff dinner highlighted by keynote speaker Dr. Joe Thomas.

“What a great way to start the year, with the entire Leadership Institute in one room, sharing ideas and setting a framework for what we hope to accomplish this year,” said associate director of athletics Lauren Wicklund, who coordinates Bucknell’s comprehensive leadership training program for student-athletes, coaches and staff. “We have many new initiatives planned this year, but most importantly, we have a great group of student-athletes who are genuinely interested in the topic of leadership, and how it can help them both athletically and in their futures after Bucknell.”

One of the Leadership Institute’s themes for this year is “Find your Why”. Dr. Thomas, the Robert & Mary M. Looker Deputy Director of the VADM James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy and a regular contributor to the Bucknell Athletics Leadership Academy for the last four years, began his address with a short video clip from Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, based on his best-selling book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

The gist of the talk is that great leaders inspire action not by “what” they do or “how” they do it, but because of “why” they do it. That great leadership requires the backing of a fundamental purpose. Dr. Thomas then advised the Bucknell student-athletes that to answer the question of “why”, one must have a personal mission.

They were then asked to write a mission statement that clearly and articulates their life’s purpose, which will serve as a compass for how to approach the coming year. Once they discover the “why”, then the path to becoming a leader becomes clearer.

“It was a very useful exercise, to work on bettering ourselves and therefore bettering our team,” said Kimbal Mackenzie of the Bison men’s basketball squad. “It was a very useful session to have all these Bucknell athletes out here together.”

Softball’s Celina Antonellis and her teammates have a keen interest in continuing to work on their leadership skills, as that program recently introduced a new head coach in Joey Lye.

“Specifically to the softball team, we’ve had to go through a number of coaching changes, and now we are transitioning to a new coach,” said Antonellis. “That’s something that has forced me and my teammates to step up and be leaders.”

For Ben Bliss of the wrestling team, he and his teammates are working on leadership under the backdrop of a sport that combines both individual and team elements.

“You have to cater to the individual needs of everyone on the team, but overall the bulk of the season in dual-meet season, which means we are working together as a team,” said Bliss. “Wrestling is very stressful on your body and on your mind, so just having your teammates behind you and working toward a goal is really important.”

A new element to the Leadership Institute this year is that in addition to the programming for select principal (primarily seniors and team captains) and aspiring (primarily sophomores and juniors) leaders, there will also be tracks for every first-year and every senior student-athlete. The first-years will focus on core values of authenticity and awareness while working on transitioning to Division I college athletics. Seniors will have a “Bookbags to Briefcase” seminar geared toward transitioning to the work force and understanding personal finance, and they will focus on the core values of stewardship and inspiration.  

Also new this year is a mentoring program, where student-athletes will meet with coaches from different sports than their own, along with Bucknell Athletics staff members. Student-staff pairings are based on the results of “Real Colors” personality assessments that both groups have undergone.

Leadership Institute programming is ongoing throughout the year, with the next event on the calendar a seminar entitled “Stepping Up” for aspiring leaders on Sept. 5.