Wanted: Transformational Sports Leaders
BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - January 26, 2020 - 12:00am

The sports world has become such a powerful venue to shape lives of people, entertain people and even unite people. More importantly, sports is in a great position to form people, especially the youth. This has now become the bigger picture and noble approach towards sports over the “win at all cost” mindset. While this is already well-known among sports leaders, it is also often forgotten, ignored and pushed aside.

At a recent workshop called “Ignatian Sports Leadership Workshop” held at the Xavier School in San Juan, a group of sports directors, coaches and teachers of Jesuit schools from across the country got together to review once more why these schools give sports the attention it has been getting. The Jesuit schools represented were the host Xavier School San Juan, Xavier School-Nuvali, Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Naga, Ateneo de Iloilo, Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, Loyola College of Culion, Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, Ateneo de Davao and Ateneo de Zamboanga. It was ironically the first-ever formal workshop for the group even if they had exchanged notes and have had meetings in the past. But the workshop set everything aside for all to take a second look on whey they were into sports and what kind of sports leaders were needed to run such sports programs.

Allow me to discuss a few points from one speaker of the workshop for now as I surely won’t be able to put all talks in one column. Ateneo de Zamboanga President Fr. Karel San Juan, SJ kicked things off with a talk about Ignatian Leadership. It was a summary of what is expected of leaders working in Jesuit schools as they embrace Ignatian spirituality and work for the vision and mission of the school. Before anything else, we have to accept and face the hard realities of being leaders. We recognize that we are deficient; we have fears, and we may misuse the power given to us. And because of all this, we at times, fail as leaders. Thus, there is the call to be inspiring leaders. “Leaders need to inspire people not just so they can follow, but so they can be leaders as well. More leaders and followers build the communities we desire,” Fr. Karel stressed. We can be inspiring by being humble, having courage and being magnanimous. All three have to integrate. “Humble leaders, courageous leaders, magnanimous leaders can inspire,” Fr. Karel added.

Fr. Karel then quoted Pope Francis, citing one of his Ted Talks videos where the Holy Father spoke on “Power and Tenderness.” Pope Francis said, “And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future.” And for leaders who wield a lot of power, “Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

Having heard all that, it would seem that to be a leader is a task straight from the movie “Mission Impossible.” Can I truly change lives? Can I really transform the coaches and athletes under our care? Can I inspire them to become better versions of themselves?

“Where lies our hope as leaders?” Fr. Karel asked. “Our hope is in Jesus, our leader, teacher, formator,” he replied. This is why spirituality is necessary for one to become an inspiring and transformational leader. “We need His spirit and our dependence on Him will keep is in line.” There is a need to be formed to become servant leaders and we must allow ourselves to be formed.

With this as a starting point of the workshop, I already felt loaded with heavy reflection, humbled at our littleness as a leader, and asking if we were up to the task. Under our care as sports leaders are coaches and student-athletes who have chosen the path of sports to grow as human beings. And by choice, we are there as their leaders. Whoa! This had set the tone for the rest of the three-day workshop that included talks from Noli Ayo of Ateneo de Davao and Rey Reyes of Ateneo de Zamboanga who gave a talk on “On Culture Building,” citing how the Mindanao Peace Games has become one of the most revolutionary sports events in the country. Renowned public school teacher and TOWNS awardee Sabrina Ongkiko presented to us a different outlook towards coaching when she presented “The Coach as a Teacher.” Atty. Victor Africa, a sports advocate who is also the President of the Philippine Fencing Association and a consultant of the Philippine Sports Commission, presented a thought-provoking piece, “Pamumunong Nagbabagong Hugis,” discussing what it takes to become a transformational sports leader. We then had a special guest speaker in Brianna Leverenz, a Division 1 NCAA swimmer from the University of Tennessee who is in the country on a mission to inspire athletes. It sure looks like I’ll need ten more columns to write about their talks.

Over-all, it was a refreshing review at why and how sports leaders must take their roles not only seriously, but with a mission-like madness. Coach Noli Ayo of Ateneo de Davao and lead convenor of the Mindanao Peace Games summed it all up when he said that all of us are here on a mission, and we can do two things: “We can do either something, or nothing.” Wanted: Transformational Sports Leaders.


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