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The Start of a Golden Season for CMS Athletics

Posted March 21, 2014 in News
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By Claudia Raigoza ’14

After being on campus last spring as the recipient of the 2013 Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, Olympic Gold Medalist and Right to Play founder Johann Olav Koss returned to sunny Claremont by popular demand. Founded in 2000, Right to Play is a global organization that uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. Through sports and games, the organization helps children build essential life skills and better futures, while driving social change in their communities with lasting impact.

After meeting Koss last spring, the Kravis Leadership Institute’s (KLI) Executive Director, Sarah Smith Orr, was determined to bring him back to campus to engage with the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) athletes and coaches. On January 20, 2014, KLI sponsored a Leadership Coaching Program for student athlete leaders and Mr. Koss. The end-result was a day full of interactive discussions focused on both individual and team leadership.

The day began with breakfast and introductions for the students, coaches, and the Right to Play and KLI staff. Senior Corey Argumosa ’14, a Research Assistant at KLI and Captain of the CMS Men’s Soccer team, coordinated the day’s events and served as Koss’ host. With the common passion for sports, the excitement of the day’s activities was evident from the start. Argumosa explains, “Johann Koss is incredibly inspiring and insightful. He is a role model for athletes and non-athletes alike, and I was very much looking forward to spending the day with him and hearing his leadership insight… I feel privileged for the opportunity to work with Mr. Koss and KLI in this joint initiative with CMS Athletics.” All of those in attendance were CMS spring and winter sports team leaders who were selected by the coaches to participate in the program. The teams in attendance included men’s and women’s basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, and track, as well as women’s softball and water polo, and men’s baseball.

After breakfast, the group broke off by teams to attend the workshops. The smaller group size created an intimate space for the athletes to engage in the conversation with each other and Mr. Koss. As an Olympian and humanitarian, Koss offered immensely valuable leadership lessons and models. In his discussion, Koss diagrammed a Capacity Analysis that he said could be helpful at both an individual and team level. He explained that it was a tool that the Norwegian Olympic skating team had actually used in training—further adding to the uniqueness of this coaching program. The day concluded with a dinner hosted by President Chodosh and his wife, Priya Junnar.

Johann Koss and Hiram Chodosh

Senior lacrosse player and KLI Student Coordinator, Anthea Weixel ’14, describes how speaking with Johann Koss helped the Women’s Lacrosse team identify its team values: “After the workshop, the leaders of the Women’s Lacrosse team met to come up with three core values that we thought embodied our goals for the team this season: positivity, integrity, and commitment.” In reflecting on this experience, she notes the significance of this exercise, stating, “Focusing on these three things has already helped give our team direction and will hopefully lead to a successful season!”

Indeed, the exercises and insight offered by the workshop with Koss has proven to be invaluable, not just to the individuals in attendance, but also to the teams’ overall seasons. Junior basketball player, Jack Grodahl ’15, cites the psychological insight offered by Koss to be the greatest takeaway from the day, and something that he plans to apply to his season. Grodahl describes,

Whenever [Koss] was performing and he started to sense some doubt, he would mitigate that negative energy by reciting one true, positive sentence in his head repeatedly. I think that is useful advice for any type of performance because doubtful thoughts inevitably come up, and it is beneficial if you can understand how to manage those thoughts… As a shooter, it is always a challenge to shoot the ball after missing several shots in a row, but Johann’s advice on how to block out those negative thoughts will surely benefit our team.

The Leadership Coaching Program has been tailored for student athletes, and with guests like Johann Koss, it is sure to become a regularly scheduled event at the start of each semester. Sarah Smith Orr finds it especially important to create a leadership development opportunity specifically for these students, explaining, “Due to their demanding practice and competition schedules and academic work, [college athletes] often can’t participate in the various co-curricular leadership development activities offered through the Kravis Leadership Institute.”

Reserving a day with Johann Koss served as a unique experience that would allow the leaders of various athletic teams to further develop their team leadership skills before going into the season. The most impactful component of Koss’ visit to CMC was Koss himself. Surely, athletes can learn leadership from a textbook, but having an iconic leader like Koss to take the time to tailor his message for athletes is what made the greatest impact. “I was most impressed with how humble and approachable he was,” says Argumosa, “…Instead of focusing his message around his personal achievements as an Olympic Champion Speed Skater, he channeled his focus on our athletes and made sure his message was applicable to all different types of athletes. This speaks to the type of person he is—selfless, encouraging, and impactful.”