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Learning From Our CAA Student-Athletes

Nov 15, 2013, 11:15 AM EDT

New York Yankees General Manager spoke to the CAA SAAC Summit student-athletes. (Credit: Brian Ballweg)

I recently had the fortune of traveling to Hempstead, N.Y., for the 2013 CAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Leadership Summit hosted by Hofstra University. The primary reason for attending was to enlighten the group regarding the digital initiatives the league office continues to use in telling the CAA’s story. I approached the meeting time with a clear-mind, although I knew upon my return to the office I would face loads of unfinished work during a busy weekend. Little did I know I would walk away with a greater appreciation for what and who it is we service in college athletics on a daily basis.

While I was on the train heading north from Richmond, Va., the student-athletes and their campus SAAC advisors were focused on learning the different styles of leadership and communication from Shamaree Brown — Director of Student-Athlete Programs and Compliance at the Atlantic Coast Conference. A brief synopsis of Brown’s presentation given to me by Donna Jones, organizer of the Summit, showed that the DiSC Behavioral Assessment was discussed. The group was able to learn that different types of people have differing goals, fears and motivations in life. Applying that understanding forces leaders to adapt their approach accordingly. Leaders cannot have one type of style, rather a multitude of styles in order to connect with each individual they lead.

Hofstra Athletics Director Jeff Hathaway remained very tight-lipped in his conversations with the group about a special guest speaker for the Sunday evening session. The Summit organizers, including the CAA’s Jones and Kathleen Batterson, were even left out regarding who the individual was. Myself and CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager arrived Sunday evening in time to join the group for dinner at Borelli’s, around the corner from the Hofstra campus, and only then did a few group leaders learn the identity of the evening’s speaker. We all made our way back to the campus, where Hathaway informed the entire group that Brian Cashman would be the evening’s special guest speaker…needless to say I was floored. Cashman is now in his 15th year as the General Manager of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees where he is responsible for the day-to-day management of the individuals who scout, plan, manage and play for the Yankees. He deals with contract negotiations, player personnel, coaches & managers and a multitude of organizational structure issues…and that list doesn’t include half of his duties.

Cashman’s overall message to the Summit group had a flavor of striving for perfection in every task an individual chooses to take on. He spoke about being relentless and focusing on goals, but more importantly be good and efficient at what you do in the moment. One statement I took away included, “You never know who is watching you do what you do when you’re doing it.” His point: Strive to be the best at what you do…you never know who or what can come your way because of the effort you gave in a specific task.

Cashman did not shy away from questions from the group. He remained very candid with the student-athletes and told them to remain diligent in their lives as both student-athletes and students. The baseball geek in me also learned about the increasing use of quantitative analysis in baseball. The amount of data collected in one game, let alone a season, is now an imperative focus for Cashman and others in Major League Baseball leadership positions. Without the numbers and measurements decisions are likely made due to “gut” feelings, of which Cashman despised…”I will not make a decision, until I feel I have all of the information needed to make an ‘informed’ decision.”

What an experience to hear from someone in leadership at the highest level of sports. Cashman isn’t just someone who is at the highest level, he is also someone who is scrutinized daily no matter what decisions he makes or does not make given society’s digital media way of life. His tenure with the Yankees, 15 years as the GM, shows his willingness to adapt to leadership roles, management styles and personnel both above him and below in the Yankees’ organization. I considered it an honor to hear his words of wisdom.

The next day included some group discussion sessions focused solely on the current events affecting CAA student-athletes. The group had an opportunity to ask Commissioner Yeager questions for about an hour before I was called on for my presentation. I got several questions regarding my topic and was happy to share with the group our digital offerings. My hope is that all of the student-athletes at the Summit will serve as CAA brand evangelists, and help push the league’s initiatives to their teammates and fellow students.

We wrapped up the day with a group meeting focused on the advancement of opportunities for our league’s student-athletes. Some discussion involved leadership of the NCAA, possible restructuring at the NCAA level, student-athlete well-being at the school, league and national level and other pertinent topics. The day closed with further discussion about each school’s philanthropic events on their respective campuses and how they tie back in to the CAA’s community involvement.

I approached the trip as a means of doing business, but left the trip relishing the learning opportunity. I learned by listening to Cashman and his career growth advice, but just as important was the opportunity to listen to the individual student-athletes. Each of them use their opportunity to play a sport in college as a means to shape their lives as well as the lives around them. Some have been afforded leadership roles because of their success in athletics, while others consider their opportunity to play sports as a way to go to college. Regardless of their ability on the field, each conveyed a desire to leave their campus and the CAA a better place than when they began their collegiate careers. Surrounding myself with those types of individuals, even if for only two days, proved my trip to be far more rewarding than I ever thought it could be.

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