Brandon's Blog: Important Leadership Lessons Learned
Andrew Copp

July 3, 2014

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

A few weeks ago, the University of Michigan ice hockey captains found themselves on Woodward in downtown Detroit, wondering what they were going to say about health promotion and risk reduction topics for teens within the Detroit Public Schools.

It was the Healthy Teens Community Care Center's inaugural teen conference. U-M student Jessica LaKind, who is participating in the Semester in Detroit Program at the University of Michigan-Detroit Center, knew student-athletes would make an impact. She emailed Wolverines ice hockey coach Red Berenson a request early in the spring.

The workshops held during the conference focused on six areas, including athletics. LaKind wanted members of the hockey team to talk about mental and physical health as it relates to playing a sport at Michigan.

Red pitched the idea to his captains, Andrew Copp and Zach Hyman, and they volunteered to be presenters.

For Andrew and Zach, this was a chance to do something good for the Detroit community, and after all, they had this presentation nailed. All they had to do was give general advice on nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, exercise and decision-making skills. They could answer a few questions and the 30-minute presentation would be complete. They could drive back to Ann Arbor knowing they did something nice for the community and maybe even helped out a few kids.

In the workshop, there were approximately 50 students in a standard classroom setting. It wasn't going to be easy to get the students' trust, but the Wolverines knew those in attendance were looking for advice, direction and/or some type of story they could take home as part of a greater learning experience. Like Andrew and Zach, these young people wanted to be in attendance.

The two Michigan captains didn't have to prepare a full-blown presentation. They just had to talk about their daily routine and how they had to work as a student and as an athlete to compete at a high level of competition.

They extolled the virtues of a healthy diet, proper sleeping habits and overcoming adversity -- both physical and mental.

Then something surprised both of them, especially Copp.

What Andrew didn't know is what words were actually going to come out his mouth. For the first time in public, he talked about his own vulnerability. He didn't plan to discuss how a small issue became a bigger problem than even he realized; it just came out.

He lost a friend. No, he said, a friend didn't die or get hurt. It was a buddy who he shared his life with for almost a decade and suddenly he was gone.

The buddy was Jacob Trouba. Andrew and Jacob played on the same hockey teams since 2004. Then almost after a decade of playing together, it was time for Jacob to leave the University of Michigan and join the Winnipeg Jets in the National Hockey League.

Copp lost his best friend. He lost the one person who helped him make the transition from high school to college that much easier. He lost the most important hockey teammate in his life.

Oh, yes, Andrew told them in the big picture of life, it really wasn't a big deal. Still, he reminded them even this minute issue played tricks with his mind. A friend going to play for another team is not even a sliver of a problem compared to almost any issue in the world, but if he didn't have the proper mental attitude after Jacob left, his performance in the classroom and on the ice could be negatively affected.

Andrew went on to say that the college and professional athletes they watch perform have flaws, questions and issues. They must have the right mindset and make the proper decisions to be successful in a competitive world.

The presentation must have resonated with the audience. It became more personal. The trust factor increased.

One student asked Andrew and Zach how they make the right decision when they are in a certain environment. The student wanted to know how to make the correct decision in an environment susceptible to drugs, alcohol and violence.

That hit home with the U-M captains. They had never had to face most of the issues these boys and girls battle. It changed the tenor of the discussion.

Now, they had an opportunity to talk about self-esteem, not others-esteem.

They talked about how it is okay to show vulnerability. They talked about being a leader, not a follower. They talked about making the right decisions when they are with their friends.

The session ended on a high note as the students showed admiration for the two captains and the U-M student-athletes gained a greater appreciation for those young people they bonded with.

Andrew and Zach hope their presentation had an effect on the young students from Detroit, but what those young people probably didn't realize is they made an impact on the Michigan hockey team through those two captains.

Andrew and Zach know they will be having plenty to say in the locker room in the coming season. Now they know that even the smallest of situations can have an impact on the entire team.

The U-M captains know how they had to gain the trust of the young students. They also know they will have to continue making the right decisions to continue gaining the trust of their Wolverine teammates as they lead them through upcoming season.

Go Blue!

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