Background and Information
The pandemic has been tough but one silver lining to come out of it is top-notch and easily accessible professional development.. People from all walks of life and all professions are finding ways to improve through webinars, online courses, podcasts and chats. Like never before, international teachers top the list of those that are finding ways to connect with colleagues around the world.
Even before the pandemic, Matt Fleming (AIS Budapest) and I realized that Athletic Directors and Coaches from International Schools were in need of ways to connect regardless of country, conference or continent. From this, the Globetrottin’ ADs podcast was born. When we were sent home to our computers in 2020, our podcast and online resource library evolved into online conferences which successfully attracted more than one thousand participants.
As we moved into the 2020-2021 school year, we wanted to put more out there for ADs and Coaches but realized that one important stakeholder to our development was missing – the student athletes who we serve. With this came the idea of the online Student Athlete Leadership Conference.
Fast forward to February 12th, 2021 and almost 500 high school students were online live and engaged in presentations given by other high school students from around the world. Over 100 international schools registered for the conference to either join in live or watch the recordings at a later time. Fifteen of those schools had students lead sessions about topics such as competition anxiety, promoting equality, motivation, and the importance of sports. Bookending the student sessions were two amazing keynote speakers; Sebastien Bellin and Greg Dale. Sebastien Bellin, a professional athlete, terrorist attack survivor and international school student, kicked off the conference talking about his four pillars of life. Later on, the world-renowned sports psychologist from Duke University, Greg Dale, finished the day talking about how to be a leader that others want to follow.
The students involved in the conference, either as participants or presenters, came together as a global community of international school students. They conquered fears, they asked questions, they learned new things, they met new people, and realized that they are not alone throughout this pandemic. Fabrizio Vergara, a senior from Escola Americana Do Rio De Janeiro realized “that there are many other student athletes who are going through the same experiences” as he. Fabrizio loved the conference and said it really motivated him. Eduardo Bentes Rengifo, a schoolmate of Fabrizio, thought “it was a great chance to know what the rest of the world thinks” and “how people approached things differently”.
Since the conference, there have been a flood of thank you emails and a sharing of experiences like those from Rio De Janeiro. Most of the students feel energized and empowered by the voices and experiences of the presenters, and what they will do with that energy will remain to be seen. However, the work put into this event has the possibility to benefit these students tremendously in a number of ways for years to come. It’s common to hear someone say that as long as I get one nugget of information out of a workshop or presentation then it is worthwhile,. however, how often does that one piece of information or idea really change the way to live or even see the world? The students involved may not remember the one or more pieces of information they picked up in each conference session, but the overall aspects of the conference do have the potential to remain with them for the long term. The three long term effects that I see are; global connections, connections across subject areas, and becoming content creators.
Depending on the country and part of the world that you are in, the next like-minded international school might be a flight away. Thankfully social media is connecting the world like never before, but it’s rare for students to see into the minds of other students like them and really hear about the issues that concern them. This event helped students connect and learn about each other regardless of continent, country, or regional conference. It is a global connection like this that may help students formulate ideas for CAS projects or independent (extended?) essays. It may help them ease into transitions to other secondary schools and even open their eyes to the fact that their problems are the same ones many other international school students are struggling with. All of this being done in a relaxed setting where the participants are all there voluntarily and nothing dependent on grades.
Connections Across Subject Areas
It has been scientifically demonstrated time after time that physical exercise is related to higher academic performance and that competing athletically is an outstanding way to teach the skills most needed in the real world. However, athletics are still not viewed as something that is academic. One of the goals of this conference was to embed the topic of athletics and athletic leadership into that academic realm. Presenters performed countless hours of research for their presentations and many of them related their experience in athletics to different subject areas such as units taught in math, science, economics. Physical education class is, of course, directly related to most of the workshop sessions and many of schools involved are using the recordings in their PE classes. If so many of our students love athletics, then teachers may just want to incorporate more athletic examples into the classroom. University degrees related to athletics have only grown in recent years with more universities offering coaching, sports management, sports marketing, and athletic administration degrees. This might just be the spark one of our students needs to help them find their career path.
For the few students who were presenters, the conference will have a more lasting effect because they became content creators. Students are all content creators in some way as they work on projects and make presentations in their classes. Some take it to the next level by presenting to their whole grade or school but not many make something that is shared outside of their school communities, let alone with people around the world.
Becoming someone who creates content for others takes even more preparation and attention to details. For high school students to have the opportunity to do that not only makes them more prepared for the real world but it also makes them become better consumers of content. Knowing the hard work that goes into a finished presentation gives them a better appreciation for the things that they consume. Perhaps students may even gain a better appreciation for their teachers and coaches.
As Lexi Roberts, a junior at the American International School Vienna, worked through her presentation, she realized it was more important to add personal experience into it so that (she) could really relate to the audience.
This conference not only provided a unique opportunity for students to talk about their athletic passions and relate them to school and life, but, most importantly, it gave their voices a place to be heard by their peers, their parents, their teachers, and their coaches.
Now that this conference is known by students, teachers, and schools, the hope is that in 2021 more schools will embrace it, promote it, and learn from it.