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Leadership skills in student-athletes

Leadership Skills in Student-Athletes

Introduction

According to TimTebowFans.org (2007), Tim Tebow is one of the nation's top-rated quarterbacks who is playing in his final year at the University of Florida. Born in the Philippines to parents who served as Christian missionaries during the summer months, Tebow was the product of a deeply religious homeschool environment. When the Tebow family lived in the United States they made their home in Florida and continued to homeschool their children. At the time Tim was of high school age, the state of Florida passed legislation which enabled homeschooled children to participate in high school interscholastic athletics at their district school of residence. Tim took advantage of the law and played linebacker and tight end for Trinity Christian in Jacksonville for one year. Since Trinity Christian did not pass the ball much, and Tebow wanted to play quarterback, both he and his mother moved to an apartment in another town. This made Tim eligible to play at the high school of his choice. It was at Nease High School in St. Johns County, Florida that Tebow made a name for himself. As a senior, the 6'3", 225 lb quarterback led Nease High School to the state football championship. In his tenure at Nease High School, Tebow earned multiple honors including being named to the Florida All-State Team and Parade's All-American Team. In his high school career, Tebow finished with 9,800 passing yards, 3,186 rushing yards, 95 passing touchdowns, and 62 rushing touchdowns. He was also the feature player in the nationally televised U.S. Army All-American Bowl Game.

Tebow, one of the top high school prospects in the nation, was highly recruited by many successful and high profile colleges and universities. He was very close to signing with the University of Alabama, but, in the end Tebow signed with the University of Florida because he preferred their style of offense (TimTebowFans.org, 2007).

While playing at the University of Florida, Tebow played very well, quickly becoming one of the country's premier quarterbacks. According to University Athletic Association (2009), Tebow's collegiate awards while playing football are prestigious and numerous and include winning the Heisman Trophy, the Sullivan Award, the Davey O'Brien Award, and the Maxwell Award. In 2007, Tebow was named an All-American, the first sophomore in Florida Gator history to do so. Also in 2007, Tebow as the first University of Florida player to be named to the first-team Academic All-American Team in over a decade. Finally, Tebow was the second player in the history of collegiate football to repeat as Maxwell Award winner, winning it in 2007 and 2008. On the playing field, Tebow is the only player in NCAA history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in a season. Tebow has thrown for over 8,500 yards and 85 touchdowns in his collegiate career, while having also gained over 2,850 yards on the ground with 56 rushing touchdowns, both school records by a Florida quarterback. Tebow is also the only quarterback in school history to have rushed for 100 yards in five games (South Carolina 2007, Ole Miss 2007, Oklahoma, 2008, Kentucky 2009, Florida International 2009) (ESPN,com, 2009; Comcast.com Sports, 2009).

Leadership Skills

As quarterback for one of the top ranked teams in college football, Tebow has displayed leadership skills second to none. What is it that makes Tim Tebow a successful leader in the venue of major college football? What differentiates Tim Tebow from the many other highly-skilled quarterbacks competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)? Is it his hard work or his ability to both run and pass the ball? Is it his motivating words and actions or his tremendous passion for the game? These are all qualities that can be found in many successful athletes at the collegiate level. What does separate Tim Tebow from all the other highly-skilled athletes in NCAA college football are the values he espouses and his tremendous leadership skills. The most noteworthy qualities that Tim Tebow displays are his love of truth and his devotion to God. Everything in Tim Tebow's life is a reflection of his strong faith and ongoing trust in God.

According to White (2009), a good leader displays seven specific qualities including an exemplary character, an ongoing commitment to excellence, confidence, seeing the whole picture and the parts that make it function correctly, enthusiasm about one's work and the specific role that is played, order and purpose in difficult times, and a cool demeanor

The first quality of a good leader is the demonstration of an exemplary character (White, 2009). This demands the leader lead a life a virtue, being trustworthy, honest, and displaying integrity in all facets of life. The good leader earns the right to the role of responsibility by "walking the talk" (White, para. 4). Dirocco (2009) states:

What Tebow has done away from football in his four seasons at Florida, however, is just as significant. His mission and charity work, his Christian faith, his work with children and his ability to briefly touch a life yet leave a lasting impact also are a legacy that Tebow cherishes more - and one that will last beyond touchdowns and victories. (para. 6)

Tom Rogeberg, the executive vice president for communications and marketing for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes notes the following: about Tebow:

In the annals of Doak Walker and other great college football players, Heisman-winning players, he stands out as having made his mark on the field, but off the field he continues to impact people . . . He's approachable by anyone: other athletes, young children, elderly grandparents, non-sports figures. He just gives them a great deal of attention [and] his time. What he has done with prisoners and what he has done with orphans and the hospital visits he makes, it is hard to imagine that anyone is like that . . . He's an exemplary role model. (as cited in Dirocco, 2009, para. 7-8)

Tebow's father Bob is a devout Christian who runs his own evangelistic association. Tim joins his father each summer as they travel to the Philippines spreading the Gospel and working in an orphanage. While there, Tebow preaches, teaches, helps give medical care, and helps with the necessary daily chores. When in the United States, Tebow actively speaks at prisons, schools, churches, and youth groups. Tebow does not push religion at people. His primary goal is to witness to others what God has done for him, and them hopefully it will inspire others to do the same. Tebow says:

How you are going to influence someone is they see something in you that is different or seems special . . . They see something in you that they think, "Wow, that's really cool. I'm going to look into that," or maybe, "He's nice about this. He goes about this a different way," and then they'll look into it. But it's not because I'm forcing anything upon anyone. I try to make [faith] a part of my life, just like it is. And I will never deny or force it. But I will always have it as a part of my life . . . I hope that people can see it affects my life and how I am so passionate about it, and that's the biggest effect I hope that people see. (as cited in Dirocco, 2009, para. 12-13)

Tim Tebow walks the talk as evidenced by his admission at the SEC media event last July that he practices abstinence and is saving himself for marriage. Rogeberg comments on Tebow's wanting to remain pure:

I hope it makes him a role model . . . If someone with that opportunity for fame and so highly recognized wants to keep himself pure, then [he hopes people will ask], "Is that not something that I should model, as well as his other attributes, his work ethic, his competitiveness, his desire to win, and to care for his body the way he has?" That's part of what he's doing by remaining pure. (as cited in Dirocco, 2009, para. 21-22)

Tebow has a special place in his heart for kids who are suffering from illness. Though unpublicized, he often takes time to visit with sick kids on his own or with the Goodwill Gators organization at the university. He is also involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Tebow notes:

Being with kids, being with sick kids, making them smile, I think those [memories] will probably be even more special to me than some of the games and some of the wins and the championships and what not . . . Because you know what? At the end of the day, that is more special, being able to use football as a platform to make a kid smile, to make a kid's day . . . That kid, that's his life. It's his opportunity or his Make-A-Wish to see me or to talk to me before a game. That's a lot more special than even winning a game. When you put all the glitz and glamour aside, that's what's really special. (as cited in Dirocco, 2009, para. 24-25)

Leaders inspire others to get involved, and this is exactly what Tim Tebow has done for those around him. In fact, both players and coaches alike have responded to Tebow's charitable acts by doing charitable acts themselves. Florida head coach Urban Meyer, his wife, and their three children traveled to the Dominican Republic in July 2008 with a mission group and helped feed 100 families each day. Their trip also entailed visits to an all-girls orphanage and a leper colony (Dirocca, 2009, para. 26).

The common denominator is that Tim Tebow is a man of great character and faith. It is this strong character and faith that have propelled him to be a leader who is not afraid to teach and preach what is good and true on the football field and to apply that goodness and truth to life.

White (2009) states the second quality of a good leader is having an ongoing commitment to excellence. This signifies that the person strives to be the best that he or she can possibly be in all circumstances. It is obvious that Tim Tebow is excellent at what he does both on and off the playing field. His off the field involvement in charitable causes speaks for itself. His achievement awards for being an excellent student-athlete along with demonstrating that he is one of the top players in college football also speaks volumes for Tebow's commitment to excellence.

According to White (2009), the third quality of a good leader is confidence. Confidence is a powerful attribute because confidence breeds more confidence. Confidence helps motivate and draws out the best in people. After the Gators lost a close game to Ole Miss last season, Tebow displayed great confidence and inspiration during his "The Promise" speech at the postgame interview. Tebow first apologized to all the Florida fans for the loss and then confidently stated:

I just want to say one thing . . . to the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, um [pause] you know what [pause],I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida's never done here. But I promise you one thing: A lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season, and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season. God bless. (as cited in Dirocco, 2009, para. 33-34)

A fourth quality of a good leader is being able to see the whole picture and the specific parts that make it function correctly (White, 2009). It is like reading a roadmap, noting all the stopping points along the way to the final destination. Tim Tebow sees the big picture as evidenced by his commitment to others, his education, and his football career. So many student-athletes live only from game to game, endlessly pursuing fame and pleasure only to have little or nothing when their athletic career all said and done. Tebow is investing in his present and future by going about his life in a way that is preparing him well for family and career.

White (2009) asserts the fifth quality of a good leader is enthusiasm about work and enthusiasm for one's role played in the work environment. Enthusiasm is contagious. The leader who exhibits authentic enthusiasm will motivate and inspire, leading to positive action toward a common goal. A good leader also holds a vision, a vision that can be explained, shared, and enthusiastically sold so that all involved are in unity and harmony. Once again, Tebow's enthusiasm and passion can be readily observed in both the public and private sectors. His passion for life is evidenced by his love for God and others, along with his quest for perfection on the playing field. According to Beard (2006):

On the field, Tebow runs the gamut from fiery to positive encourager depending on the situation. He's not afraid to get in the face of a teammate but if he admonishes a teammate for a mistake it is always followed by words of encouragement and a slap on the shoulder. (p. 8)

A sixth quality of a good leader is being able to show order and purpose in difficult times (White, 2009). This is the time for those who follow to be shown reassurance and security through a leader's confident and positive demeanor. Tim Tebow has not seen too many difficult times on the playing field, but when he does suffer defeat he can turn the circumstance into an opportunity to improve and become even better. His speech after the Old Miss loss is proof of this.

The final quality of a good leader is displaying a calm demeanor in the face of challenges that arise (White, 2009). Tim Tebow is noted for his cool disposition, especially during challenging circumstances. He sees the potential in situations where others lose hope. He understands that challenges will come and go, and that he must stay true to the values he espouses until the game is over. When playing in the US Army High School All American game, Tebow stood above the rest in displaying a superior quality of leadership. "What made that so amazing was the quiet and unobtrusive way that he took command. There was nothing obnoxious about it. It was natural and his teammates automatically followed without reservation" (Beard, 2006, para. 4).

Conclusion

Tim Tebow embraces the challenge of being a leader. In Beard (2006), Tebow states the following:

My parents always told me that I had a choice. I can either be a follower or I can be a leader. I've always been encouraged to be a leader but most of it comes naturally. I think it's a God-given ability and I'm really thankful for it. (para. 5)

Tim's father Bob Tebow maintains that Tim has always had leadership qualities. In fact, "Ever since he was a little guy, kids have just gravitated to him. Wherever he is, kids just follow him" (as cited in Beard, 2006, para. 7). Carl Johnson, offensive lineman for the Florida Gators says "We'll follow Tim anywhere. He's a great leader, a great person and a great quarterback" (as cited in Beard, 2006, para. 12).

Tim Tebow is a leader who lives a life of virtue based on values such as hard work, accountability, conviction, excellence, faith, goodness, honesty, respect, and teamwork. This, along with his love for God and search for truth, needs to be promoted and encouraged, especially during times when the shallow pursuit of prestige, power, and money has been made the priority in the lives of so many.

According to University Athletic Association (2003), the Mission Statement for the University of Florida Athletic Department is as follows:

The University Athletic Association, Inc. exists to advance the University of Florida's teaching, research and service missions. Through the education and the promotion of the health and welfare of students, the University Athletic Association seeks to link experiences of all backgrounds, races, origins, genders, and cultures to prepare generations of students and staff, including women and minorities, to be productive members of society. The character of the athletics programs at the University Athletic Association reflects the character of the University of Florida as a major, public, comprehensive institution of higher learning. The University Athletic Association is dedicated to the intellectual, physical and personal development of student-athletes, as well as staff, including women and minorities. Demonstrating leadership in all decisions affecting college athletics, the University Athletic Association will act in an ethical and honest manner, will promote an environment fostering the professional and personal achievement of coaches, administrators and staff, will attain excellence in athletic performance, sportsmanship, financial strength, and superior fan satisfaction. This vision in athletics is at the core of our responsibility to the University, to our students, and to the public at large. (para. 1-2)

Student-athletes such as Tim Tebow are a perfect fit for the mission of the University of Florida Athletic Program. His portrayal of excellence in academics and athletics, and his social outreach to help those who are less fortunate is a model for all student-athletes to emulate. His quiet but strong leadership skills combined with personal qualities of honesty and good ethics makes Tim Tebow an outstanding student-athlete. It is the goal of all collegiate athletic programs to find and recruit student-athletes such as Tim Tebow who display sound character and lead by word and example. When student-athlete recruits fall short and do not exhibit ethics and leadership, they not only hurt themselves, they hurt the athletic department and the university as a whole.

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