July 5, 2012
At the end of May, the seniors of Michigan's 133rd football team had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel across the nation to Southern California, where we experienced three days of "leadership training." When initially informed of the trip, most of us were excited by the prospect of a relaxing vacation. However, we were soon made aware that what the coaches had in mind was far from what we had envisioned. Looking back, however, we wouldn't have had it any other way.
After a brief look at the trip's itinerary, it was made strikingly clear to us that the staff's intention was not to spoil us with an all-inclusive vacation to the beaches of Southern Cal, or even to make us better football players. Days before departure, Coach Hoke addressed the trip's intention: to develop us into better leaders and men. He informed us that our anticipated vacation was rather a "business trip." And that's exactly what it was.
The large majority of our first 24 hours, beginning Wednesday the 23rd, was spent in the conference room of our hotel, where we met as a senior class with head strength coach Aaron Wellman and associate athletic director Greg Harden. After two lengthy meetings on Wednesday, which included the unique opportunity to hear from two Navy SEALS, Captain Duncan Smith and Eli Crane, we met again early Thursday morning. Here, Dr. Harden challenged us with two questions:
How will you implement what you learned about leadership to your life after football?
What are you most proud of in the last two years, independent of football accomplishments?
These two questions in particular truly functioned to break down any barriers that may have existed between the seniors in that conference room. It was an opportunity to see our teammates in a different light -- a face and a name far removed from football.
In response to the first question, many expressed the importance of giving back to their communities by being positive role models both on and off the field. Weekly visits to the Mott Children's Hospital were mentioned as well as recent mission trips to third-world countries. Others talked about becoming leaders in their future occupations and the many ways Michigan has bettered their ability to communicate and work as a team in all walks of life. Alternatively, some explained how they have already implemented what they've learned in recent years as they've grown into better father figures for their children and leaders of their family. When discussing the second question, teammates expressed how proud they were to have graduated from the University of Michigan, while others voiced how glad they were that they stuck with football and school even during times of financial and family turmoil. Marked by moments of vulnerability, understanding and change, it was clear that this senior class was growing closer than ever before.
After the Thursday morning meeting, the afternoon was spent in Pasadena, where we had the opportunity to tour the Rose Bowl facility and host a football clinic for local Pasadena youth. Following the Rose Bowl visit, we headed to the local Robinson Field to host a clinic, where we applied many of the leadership skills we discussed in our meetings. It was our responsibility to run the clinic in its entirety, and it was a unique opportunity to work as a team, to be involved in a community so far away from home, and most importantly, to be a positive role model for the kids. The simple and pure excitement on the kids' faces as they took the field made the clinic well worth it. After registration, fellow seniors spent individual time with the clinic's eager participants. Some participants took advantage of the time and showed off their skills, always looking over their shoulders for the watchful eye of Team 133's clinic leaders. Others chased "Big" Will Campbell around the field until he surrendered to the dog pile. Before long, we split the children into six groups and ran them through position-specific drills for about an hour. In all, the clinic was a great experience. Yes, we came in with the intent to teach them football skills, but at the end of the day, we understood that how we carried ourselves and how we interacted with these kids was more important than anything else we could have taught them on the field.
A culmination of our trip and certainly of our "leadership training" was our Friday visit to the beach; Coronado beach, that is. For those not familiar with the area, this beach is home to the world's most impressive and elite team, the U.S. Navy SEALS. And on this overcast May day, we had the privilege of training (struggling) with the SEALS through three hours of activities (torture). Before taking to the beach, Chief Rob Stella cautioned us of the "snapshot" of our teammates that we would soon encounter. Some of it would be good, and some not so good, he warned and accurately predicted.
Throughout the training on the beach, we learned a lot about ourselves as team members and individuals. As our arms began to falter and object from excessive push-ups, as our legs began to burn from the log lunges and as our minds started to wander as we rolled around on the surf to get "wet and sandy," things became increasingly and surprisingly clear. These "uncomfortable" moments are surely the most difficult times to succeed as individuals, but when fighting for your friends, brothers and comrades, it becomes one of the easiest times to succeed and endure as a team. From this experience, we learned the importance of mental strength as opposed to physical strength, communication and teamwork, but most importantly, we learned how to be selfless in times of adversity. It indeed was a lesson that we will take with us and implement far beyond the boundaries of our football identities and careers.
Once we returned to the hotel and visited once more in the classroom where the trip began, we began to reflect on the day and trip. We stripped down our egos and began to talk about how we know what it means to sacrifice as individuals for the betterment of THE TEAM. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience that will not only develop us into better leaders on the field but as better fathers, husbands and men of the community. On behalf of the seniors, we would like to give a big thanks to all of those that made this monumental trip possible. It reflected and represented everything that the University of Michigan stands for -- The Leaders and Best.