From the USA Swimmng 2019 SheLeads Workshop. Interested in attending? Contact the Montana Swimming General Chair and the Montana Swimming Athlete Representatives for more information.

She LEADS Inspires Young Female Swimmers to Build Leadership Skills

By Amy Padilla//Contributor  | Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Young high school women recently had the opportunity to attend She LEADS, a leadership summit for swimmers, hosted by USA Swimming April 5-7 (2019) in Colorado Springs. The program intends to inspire young high school females to build leadership skills and confidence so they leave with the determination to accomplish their goals and achieve success both in and out of the pool.  

She LEADS (Leadership, Education, and Diversity in Swimming) was first developed in 2017, and targets female swimmers entering the 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. The program focuses on increasing one’s self-awareness, participating in hands-on learning challenges, learning resiliency and stress management techniques, and enhancing one’s ability to provide feedback and managing difficult relationships. The end goal is to empower each participant with ways to be more intentional about how they choose to use their leadership voice and actions in all aspects of their lives.

Sophomore Sydney Atkins from Naval Academy Aquatic Club attended the conference and gained helpful insight regarding how to apply her new leadership skills to her team.

“Leadership means not only being a good teammate and supporting others, but also looking inside of yourself as well,” she said. “I think that is really important as an athlete to know yourself and how to be an asset to those around you.

“As a leader it is important to take the lead and step up, but it’s also just as imperative to let others take the lead sometimes.”

Sophomore Valentina Ishchenko, a swimmer with Altitude Performance Swim Team, desired inclusivity to be emphasized in her life, which is what drove her to attend the event.

“I wanted to build leadership skills and have a more community-oriented team and school mindset,” she said. “My biggest takeaway from She LEADS is that it’s important to give both positive and negative feedback to your teammates and to also hold everyone accountable during practice so each person works to achieve the best for themselves and for the team as a whole.”

Spreading positivity is also an incredibly important aspect that Ishchenko learned from the summit.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to get my mental attitude in the right place especially during really hard sets,” Ischenko said. “I realize I need to make sure that my entire team knows that being positive and encouraging each other will make practices a lot better and help us improve at the same time.”

During the leadership conference, the One Love organization hosted a workshop to educate the young athletes about healthy and unhealthy relationships, as well as how to avoid abuse.

“The One Love workshop was really interesting to see how to identify the signs of an unhealthy relationship and how to combat those negative patterns, and I want to spread that knowledge to more people,” Ishchenko said.

 “Learning the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships made me look into my own life to not only recognize the unhealthy relationships I've been a part of, but to see and appreciate the healthy relationships that I have that I am grateful for,” Atkins said.

Olympic swimmer Leah Smith spoke at the conference, offering advice and motivation to the attendees as well as telling her story.

“Leah’s story was very inspirational to me because every day she came to practice she tried to give it her all despite how bad she might be feeling one day,” Ishchenko said. “She said that ‘Yah, I have my bad days too, but that doesn’t necessarily define me.’”

“One thing that really resonated with me about Leah was her work ethic,” Atkins said. “She said that when she got really motivated she wanted to just go hard all the time and that didn't always work until she started trusting her coach more and that's when she really started seeing results. It showed me that while sometimes it may be hard to trust your training, sometimes it will surprise you and good things can come out of it.”

Facilitators Cathy Wright-Eger and Roberta Kraus piloted the She LEADS summit, and both have helped numerous swim programs develop the initiative and direction for more effective practices. After ending her coaching career with the Boilermaker swim team in 2008, Wright-Eger established the John R. Wooden Leadership Institute for the coaches and student-athletes. She oversees the development of leadership skills in the emerging leaders and the captains of all 18 of the athletics teams, and is currently the Leadership Advisor and Professional Behaviorist for the John R. Wooden Institute.

“Hats off to USA Swimming for creating the She LEADS retreats. It’s hard to be a leader when you are still learning about yourself,” Wright-Eger said. “She LEADS is designed to help high school female swimmers know themselves better, speak up and participate fully. Communication skills, hard conversations, bullying, team culture and mental health are just a few topics covered over the few days together. It’s incredible to witness the transformation of each student-athlete in such a short time.” 

Kraus is a Sports Psychologist who has worked with professional leaders in the corporate, nonprofit and educational sector along with professional and Olympic athletes to cultivate team leadership and peak performances. She has spent the past several years developing and implementing customized women’s leadership workshops and consistent top performance training tools for individual performers and teams in the business, educational and athletic world.

“The only two things each student-athlete has in common as they come into the She LEADS program is: they are high school students, and they swim for a swim club in their home state,” Kraus said. “ What they leave having in common is a clearer picture of who they are at their best and understanding effective ways to demonstrate their leadership voice through managing stressful situations and sustain personal energy. More NGBs need to consider adding this type of program offering to their young aspiring athletes.”

Themes: Finding My Leadership Voice

  • Building my LEADERSHIP vision of who I am “AT MY BEST”
  • Understanding different types of personalities and how to effectively work with others
  • Practicing communication tools for feedback, conflict resolution and relationship building
  • Valuing the importance of speaking up/out and take action in uncomfortable situations (cliques, bullying, drama)
  • Developing an understanding of how to manage energy and be more present/intentional living in a social media driven world