Pac-12 student-athletes learn and grow at NCAA Leadership Forum

Faith Morrison of WASHINGTON gymnastics and Casey Benson of OREGON men’s basketball represented the Pac-12 this past weekend at the NCAA’s annual Student-Athlete Leadership Forum. The forum focuses on helping student-athletes develop their personal leadership styles and learn from each other about issues in intercollegiate athletics. 

One of Morrison and Benson’s favorite parts of the experience was getting to network with such a diverse group of student-athletes and administrators. 

“I think my favorite part of the whole weekend was the people that I met,” Morrison said. 

Benson echoed those sentiments. “Our small group ended up getting really close,” Benson said. “I got to meet a lot of different athletes from around the country who played different sports and it was so cool to learn from them and develop relationships I’ll have for a long time.”

Student-athlete leaders from all over the nation and from schools across all three NCAA divisions were in attendance at the annual conference, held in Orlando this past weekend.

“Not everyone was a Division I athlete at one of the biggest schools,” Morrison said. “It was interesting to see how the experiences of some Division II and Division III student-athletes mirrored my own, and how some of the things they deal with are very similar to the things I deal with.”

“It’s so cool being united by sports,” Benson added. “We all definitely had more similarities than we had differences.”

One of the Leadership Forum’s major goals is to help student-athletes become better leaders on their campuses, on their Student-Athlete Advisory Councils (SAACs), and in their communities.

Morrison said one of the things she learned is that “no one is perfect, but there is a such a thing as the perfect team—it takes people who are leaders in all different areas.”

Benson says he was drawn to the program because of his natural tendency towards leadership.  He added that he has always been the type of leader who has focused more on actions than words, but after this experience has learned he may want to be more vocal in the future.

Morrison noted that she prides herself on being a servant leader: “even if something might be uncomfortable or inconvenient for me, it’s about meeting the needs of everyone else.”

The group also discussed the myriad issues facing student-athletes today and the importance of the student-athlete voice on campus and within Conference and NCAA governance structures.

When asked what she would most like to change about collegiate athletics, Morrison said that she feels strongly about helping develop legislation that would mandate access to top-notch mental health resources for student-athletes.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” Morrison said. “We have access to our trainers at the snap of a finger and psychologists shouldn’t be any different. We need to condition and train our minds the way we condition and train our bodies.”

During Leadership Forum, the student-athletes also helped to put together backpacks with school supplies for children in need. 

“Some of the student-athletes at the forum had received services like this when they were younger, and it made a difference in their lives,” Morrison said. 

Morrison, who spends her free time volunteering at a local Seattle homeless shelter, said her long-term goals include becoming a social justice advocacy lawyer as well as starting her own non-profit.

Benson, too, wants to give back. He plans to major in education or a related field and become a high school teacher.

Overall, the experience helped Benson and Morrison become more well-rounded leaders, better equipped to lead their fellow student-athletes through this crucial time in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

“Leadership isn’t something you inherit,” Morrison said. “It’s something you work towards everyday.”

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