Workshop shines light on youth sports leadership and ethics

School of Community Resources and Development

Center for Sustainable Tourism

Phoenix Mercury vice president Ann Meyers Drysdale played basketball at UCLA when legendary coach John Wooden was coaching the men’s team.

“He only had three rules,” she says. “Don’t criticize your teammates. Don’t be late. And no cursing.”

Meyer explained the importance of each of those rules to attendees of a youth sports leadership and ethics workshop held at the ASU Carson Student Athlete Center. She was one of four speakers on a panel of sports professionals that included Sandra Day O’Connor high school coach Matt King, former high-school All-American wide receiver Cameron Colvin and Laurel Prieb, vice president of western operations and special projects for Major League Baseball.

“These are the people we need to be listening to, not the few who get in trouble,” moderator Denise Meridith told the audience.

The workshop was sponsored by the ASU School of Community Resources and Development in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. ASU Athletics and the Phoenix based nonprofit Linking Sports and Community, run by Meridith, helped organize the event. It was funded by a Super Bowl Host Committee Foundation grant aimed at enhancing the lives of youth and families through education, health and wellness.

“Young athletes can learn important values, ethics and life lessons from their engagement in youth sports,” says workshop organizer Kathleen Andereck, director of the School of Community Resources and Development. “It is therefore imperative that adults working with young athletes understand the extent to which they can influence lives, and have the leadership tools to have positive, meaningful, and long-lasting impact.”

The workshop sought to do just that.

Sandra Day O’Connor high school basketball coach Matt King spoke about the approach USA Basketball takes to developing kids who are part of the Give & Go Hoops program. As director of basketball operations for Give & Go, King says the goal is to teach kids how to have fun, how to be in safe environments and how to develop—not only as people—but also as productive individuals.

“We’re using basketball from a different perspective to some degree,” says King. “Not from a career vocation, but an opportunity to teach life skills so they can be productive later in life.”

Scottsdale real estate executive Cameron Colvin spoke about overcoming adversity. By age 16, both of his parents had died. And his best friend was murdered just as the two were preparing to leave the Bay area to play football at the University of Oregon. During his last year in college, Colvin began having a breakout year when something unexpected happened again.

“My senior year I was leading the Pac-10 in receiving,” says Colvin. “And I had a conversation with my godfather the night before one of my games and I told him I feel fortunate I haven’t gotten hurt during my college career. The next day I shattered my ankle.”

Colvin never played another game for the Oregon Ducks. He graduated with a degree in business and was signed as a free agent by the San Francisco 49ers the next year. Colvin says he worked hard to overcome his injury, but his ankle never recovered. That’s where his education came into play. Colvin says he focused on academics in school and took advantage of internships during summer breaks. He simply transferred the work ethic he had for sports and academics into building a career outside of sports. He now runs a real estate development company based in Scottsdale.

“Stay focused on your goal,” Colvin says. “Always keep your goal in mind.”

Laurel Prieb has spent 38 years in professional baseball.  Fourteen years with the team he grew up rooting for, the Minnesota Twins, 14 years with the Milwaukee Brewers and the past 10 years for Major League Baseball at its western region office in Phoenix. 

He reminded attendees that those involved in sports are human and make mistakes no matter what the motivation.

“People fall short and sometimes it’s the people who run the sports, oftentimes its people who play the sports,” says Prieb. “Whatever it is, we’re all human and we all have our shortcomings.”

Prieb underscored the importance that sports plays in society today by pointing out that many families come to watch games or that nursing home residents listen to every pitch on the radio,

 “It means so much to so many people,” says Prieb. “Sure, it’s only a game, but its much more than a game for the difference it makes in peoples lives."

That’s why Prieb says it’s so important to maintain the integrity of a sport, to be respectful of others and to have “ethics that go beyond what you would just do otherwise.”

The panel discussion capped off a daylong program that featured several speakers. Retired Army Lieutenant General Benjamin Freakley, a professor of practice of leadership at the ASU School of Public Affairs, talked about how to develop ethics at an early age. Sandra Price, a lecturer in the ASU School of Community Resources and Development and executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Arizona Chapter, discussed balancing the need to win in sports with maintaining the best interest of young athletes. And Eric Legg, assistant professor at the ASU School of Community Resources & Development, worked with attendees on how to develop a transformative leadership style that inspires athletes.

“Young athletes are tremendously impacted by their coaches, recreation leaders, and other adults with whom they interact as part of youth sports programs,” says Andereck. “Dr. Legg’s research has found that this impact is enduring, remaining with an athlete for years to come.”

Those who attended the workshop came away with valuable information.

“I coach a Little Athletes program,” says Queen Creek recreation technician Nia Fanaika. “So, I’ve got a lot of useful techniques on how to gain leadership and how to teach student athletes the ethical and right way to approach sports.”

Erica Perez, a special event coordinator for the town of Queen Creek, says what she learned from the workshop will help her as an administrator.

“Although I don’t coach youth sports anymore, I supervise staff like Nia who oversee the youth programs, so I really wanted to come to see how I can be a support system to her,” says Perez. “I liked the panel discussion and the different topics on the ways to empower your team, ways to motivate your staff and how I can help them to achieve their goals.”