Leadership On and Off the Field

Earlier this year, recent graduate Phil Hession ’11 came back to 10 Campus Drive during a student-athlete leadership workshop. He spoke to a group of 2011-12 varsity captains about their roles both on and off the fields. Here is an excerpt from the speech he gave:

During my junior year, the soccer team had one of its worst seasons… Prior to senior fall, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past soccer season, as I tried to figure out what went wrong.  And that brings me to my first piece of advice.  Spend some time reflecting on last year’s season.  You all must have been prominent leaders on your teams last year; otherwise you would not have been elected as captains this year, and would not be sitting here now.  That means you had a significant responsibility for how last year turned out.  Think about what you did that worked, and then think about what you did that failed…Then look at what your captains did last year.  What you thought worked, and, once again, what you thought failed.  No captain is perfect.  In any endeavor in life, your past experiences are all you truly have to help prepare yourself for the future.  Use them to your advantage; do not waste them.  For me this process lead me to many ideas about what I needed to be as a captain.  I knew I needed to work harder than anyone else and care more than anyone else in order to lead by example.  I also thought I needed to yell more, demand more, and be tougher than any of my prior captains.  Some of this ended up being true, while other parts proved false.

This leads me to my second piece of advice, be prepared to change.  What I found to be my greatest asset as a captain is simply that I believed—above all other things—that a captain should be what the team needs him/her to be.  At the end of the day there is nothing else to being a captain, from my experience, than that.  So while I quickly found that some of my ideas were right, many of my pre-conceived notions about being a captain were wrong.  Yet, because I believed that I had to be what the team needed, I was able to change and become a captain…

The final piece of advice I have about being a captain is what I found to be the most important to my success as a captain.  I just gave a lot of advice on what I believe are the right things to do as a captain, and how I believe they should be done.  But “the what” and “the how”—all the advice I just gave—can’t be worth nothing without “the why”.  It is the part that I had the most trouble with as a captain.  It is the question: why is this important to me?  Now that might seem like a simple question at first, but I found that when I really tried to dig, the answer was not so simple.  Why is winning an ISL title important?  It’s the goal of every team, it’s what I thought I wanted more than anything else, and it’s the most obvious answer to why a season is important.  Well, the boys soccer team won the ISL last year, yet I don’t believe for one second that’s what made the team special.  Fifty years from now who will remember or even care that we won?  What tangible good will it actually do?

In the months leading up to the season I seriously struggled with this question.  I couldn’t find an answer, because now I could not find any real significance in simply winning…Instead I came to the conclusion that the reason why I was there was the people I was there with.  Without the people, there is no team, no ISL, no game, no wins.  If I didn’t show up to practice, or if I didn’t work hard one day, the game did not care, the ISL championship did not feel for me, only the people I was with, through the relationships we had, were affected by that…

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