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Taking the Lead© June 2013
As part of their sponsorship of the NFL’s High School Player Development program, the National Guard is taking an active role in the HSPD Leadership Program.
When most people think about the National Guard, they envision “Weekend Warriors” devoting several days each month to military training and, if necessary, participating in disaster relief or serving overseas. But in reality, many of the Guard’s activities revolve around the community in the interest of “giving back”.
Case in point – the NFL’s High School Player Development program presented by the National Guard. Since becoming the sponsor of the HSPD program, the National Guard has taken an active role in HSPD events that are designed to help young athletes succeed as individuals not only on the playing field but in the classroom, in the community, and at home.
At the hundreds of HSPD multi-day camps around the country for high school football players, Guard Soldiers speak to participants as part of the character development sessions that are integral to the camps’ mission. The National Guard is synonymous with readiness, leadership, and integrity so it’s natural to involve them in activities that help build high school athletes’ character off the field.
Last year, HSPD introduced a new, one-day Leadership Program that was conducted as a pilot program in three cities. Designed to take the HSPD program beyond the football field, the Leadership Program was intended specifically for athletes who demonstrated leadership potential in the classroom and in the community. The Leadership Program is divided into three sessions – character development, community service, and a National Guard team-building Leadership Reaction Course.
As with other HSPD events and activities, a primary focus is to prepare high school athletes for life beyond football and beyond high school. The fact that so few high school football players ever advance to play in college and even fewer ever become part of the NFL makes the mission of the HSPD program – building character that leads to success in life – an important lesson for all young athletes.
From the beginning, the National Guard accepted a greater role in the execution of the Leadership Program activities. Having the opportunity to address young leaders about character and life choices is an ideal way for the Guard to share their experiences and wisdom with participants. Leading the group in community service activities builds on the Guard’s experience serving communities across America. And the Leadership Reaction Course, which is based on actual National Guard drills that put a premium on teamwork, provides Leadership Program athletes with a fun and rewarding experience that shows them how essential it is to work together as a team in situations outside of the football field.
This year, the HSPD Leadership Program is growing and the National Guard’s involvement is growing as well. Projected to be staged in 12-15 cities, the Leadership Program will have greater impact for the National Guard as well as for high school leadership candidates and for service organizations where the program takes place.
From the Leadership Program events conducted so far, hearing from the National Guard participants themselves demonstrates the positive influence of their involvement. “The NFL HSPD Leadership Program was a great opportunity for our Soldiers to demonstrate their various talents by running an event that helped teenagers test and improve their leadership skills, allowed those teenagers to experience the satisfaction of mentoring a younger child, and developed the team dynamic in all of the groups involved from elementary school student to Soldier as well as showcasing the versatility of the Army National Guard,” according to Major Michael Gieraltowski.
Staff Sergeant Anthony M. Tucciariello was proud of the National Guard’s contributions to the athletes as well as the individuals that his Leadership Program served. “The Leadership Development aspect of this past HSPD event was an important element,” he said. “I think both groups of students, the student-athletes and the special needs students in the community service activity gained a lot from the experience. The student athletes got a lesson in selfless service, a core value of the National Guard. Our society’s most capable members must try to help those less capable. That’s part of being a good citizen. The special needs students had a day of learning, problem-solving, communicating and interacting with others, and fun. I think it was a very successful event.”
PFC Abigail Rodriguez’s comments show that participation in the HSPD Leadership Program provides great benefits to the Guard Soldiers in addition to the athletes. “I felt honored to have been chosen to participate in the event,” she stated. “As a person and an American Soldier, giving back to our community was an amazing experience. One word and one action can make a difference in a child’s life or a community. As a representative of this great nation, the opportunity to change even one person’s life brings serenity and honor to me. I look forward to further events.”
Two themes that come through loud and clear from the Guard Soldiers are teamwork and service. Specialist First Class Jackeline Hernandez found the Leadership Program experience to be a great reflection of the Guard’s ideals. “It was rewarding to see the students share their talents while mentoring those less fortunate. In any team, you always have weak and strong members. The point is to accomplish the mission together!” According to Staff Sergeant Joseph Herndon, the Leadership Program was eventful. “We exemplified leadership and taught them the importance of team camaraderie,” he said. “The competition between teams kept the morale and motivation high as well as their spirits. Both the Guard and the high school athletes appreciated the time we were able to spend doing something positive.”
Perhaps Master Sergeant Mohammed provided the best summation of the ideals that typify the HSPD program and illustrate why the National Guard’s involvement is so vital to its success. “The biggest takeaway from the NFL HSPD event to me was this: the greatest act of a true team player is seen in the service to others. When you can do that without looking for something in return, that epitomizes the true Army Value of “Selfless Service”.
GET INVOLVED IN 2013 If you’re a coach who wants to share your expertise with athletes in your area, you can contact the NFL HSPD program and volunteer your services as a coach at your local camp. If you can spare more time and would really like to give something back to the game, you can organize a new HSPD camp in your region. Either way, you’ll be part of the nation’s best summer camp program for deserving athletes – improving football skills and building character with the NFL HSPD program presented by the National Guard.
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