By Andrew Smith
The Adelphi Sport Management Program welcomed Athletes Helping Athletes for a three-day conference Jan. 4-6 in the University Center. Athletes Helping Athletes (AHA) is a program that provides high school students with the tools they need to teach elementary school students about sportsmanship and other important lessons learned through sports. During each day of the conference, high school students from all across Long Island visited the Adelphi campus and worked with AU students, faculty and other special guests. The high school athletes that participated in the conference spend time with elementary students, give presentations, discuss their life experiences and how being an athlete shaped them into the person they are today.
Warren Breining, the executive director of AHA, was present at the conference and served as the leader and coordinator of the day's events. Breining, an Adelphi alumni, graduated in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in social work. He elaborated on the purpose of this conference and what it means to him. “These high school students will be given training on how to help elementary school students. This will help them grow as leaders and as mentors.”
Breining was joined by several powerful guests who led different activities and breakout sessions, which were visited by the high schoolers throughout the day. Each focused on a specific topic that was meant to motivate and encourage the students.
One breakout session focused on the importance of sportsmanship. During this activity, the high school students were encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and form small groups with students who they had never met. This was the first step in becoming more confident and improving communication skills. The groups were assigned to discuss a given scenario and how to handle it and then share their responses with the entire room. Some of these scenarios were how to handle a teammate or opponent who was “trash-talking” during a match or how to settle an argument with a friend during a friendly competition. The groups played out these scenarios and participated in effective communication and dialogue.
The final activity of this breakout session was to then compare these “sports” scenarios to a “real-life” scenario. For example, groups were discussing how to handle a situation where a peer was speaking poorly of another student, or if you saw someone cheating on an exam. This exercise reinforces many important life skills that elementary students can relate to as well. The high school students will be speaking to all kinds of different elementary school students, some who are already athletes and some who may become athletes in the future. Relating issues in sports to real-life ethical issues allows the elementary school students to better understand the underlying message.
In addition to problem-solving group work, the students also listened to motivational messages. These groups were led by several guest speakers, including Billy Taylor and Larry Hardesty.
Billy Taylor, a former running back in the National Football League, who played for the New York Giants and the Oakland Raiders, joined Athletes Helping Athletes when he was approached by a friend of Breining. Taylor commented on what he enjoys about working for Athletes Helping Athletes. “I love to watch them [high school students] grow and become leaders.”
During his motivational speech, Taylor gave the athletes words of encouragement and advice, stressing the importance of loving what you do. Taylor, an active alumni at Texas Tech University, often returns to the college campus to speak to current collegiate athletes. He said he truly enjoys helping people and wants to inspire the next generation.
Another motivational speaker was Larry Hardesty, who is a current employee of 98.7 ESPN Radio and current co-host of “ESPN NY Tonight with Hardesty and Damer.” Hardesty’s exercise was focused on bullying and how to combat it. He spoke on the importance of empowering the youth and to minimize retaliation. Hardesty does not want the individual to be afraid and scared. Instead, he encouraged students to reach out to a trusted adult, whether that be a parent, coach or even former teacher.
In addition, Hardesty also shared a personal reflection on what working with Athletes Helping Athletes has meant to him. He said as a father, working with high school students helped him better understand and relate to his son who is currently in high school. In addition, Hardesty also shared career advice. He stressed the importance of versatility and how in the current world you must be familiar with all aspects of the career you aspire to be.
Both undergraduate and graduate sport management students volunteered their time and assisted in the event. Current second-year graduate student Edwin Chinyemba said, “It was an amazing experience. I've always felt that peer mentoring and coaching works in a group setting.”
Chinyemba is also an international student who was not able to participate in this program when he was in high school. “The idea of sharing their experiences with the younger generation as most were ex-professional and college athletes was very powerful and left an impact on me as an observer.”
Lastly, student testimonies played a major part of the conference. In one of the breakout sessions, an anonymous student shared a story of sportsmanship, which was the underlying theme of this conference. This track and field student shared an experience that occurred during a long race. A teammate of his gave him a pat on the back during the final lap of the race. This small action gave him the boost he needed to finish strong. Sportsmanship is about demonstrating respect not only to your opponent, but also to your teammate.
The student mentors at this conference learned not only sports skills, but life skills as well. These students will continue to inspire young students and give them the encouragement they need to continue to progress not only as potential athletes but also as positive individuals.