Online Captains Course teaches leadership lessons

Carman-Ainsworth’s Caleb Ruffin tucks and runs last season.

Carman-Ainsworth’s Caleb Ruffin tucks and runs last season.

EAST LANSING – The valuable lessons student leaders have received over the last decade during Captains Clinics presented statewide by Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) staff are now available to students nationwide and beyond as part of an online Captains Course produced by the MHSAA and available from the National Federation of State High School Associations on its Learning Center website.

The Captains Course, created over two years with assistance from Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS), is broken into 10 segments providing instruction on leadership styles and skills to how to handle situations faced by leaders of teams in any sport. A total of 20 past members of the MHSAA Student Advisory Council speak during the program, providing peer-to-peer guidance that has proven effective in student leadership campaigns.

The online Captains Course has been started 2,881 times since its release in July, including 802 times during the first 10 days of this month. The first MHSAA Captains Clinic was conducted in March 2005, and clinics are presented in person on a league-by-league basis to approximately 1,000 students each school year.

The online Captains Course is free and can be downloaded after an account is created on the NFHS Learning Center website at

“Many student-athletes have characteristics that allow them to become leaders, but rarely do they receive lessons in how to be an effective team captain; this has been the goal of our Captains Clinics and is the aim of this Captains Course,” said MHSAA assistant director Andy Frushour, who coordinates the association’s student services programs and advises the Student Advisory Council. “Our in-person Captains Clinics are still a great way to deliver leadership lessons and to get students from rival schools to interact with each other in a fun and worthwhile way. But we can only do so many in-person clinics per year.

“With the online version, we can deliver the same message, albeit through a different format. And we can do it 24 hours a day, at the user’s convenience, using a medium that kids use like the rest of us use oxygen, and potentially delivering our captains message to exponentially more students than the in-person version; even to students outside of Michigan.”

The online Captains Course is an introductory program, with plans for two more advanced leadership courses that will be facilitated online but with activities and discussions to take place offline in local communities. The goal for the “hands-on” portion of later training courses will be for leaders to conduct interviews with coaches and administrators, write short answers and interact with teammates for a more transformational learning experience.

The first course is made up of 10, 10-minute segments, and takes about two hours to complete – but is meant to be completed over multiple days. The short “bite-sized” segments make it easier for students to digest all of the information being given to them, and are based on research by the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. Doctoral students working with the institute serve as instructors during Captains Clinics.

The Captains Course is hosted by recent high school graduates Caycee Turczyn of Lapeer High School and Connor Thomas of Marlette. Both were two-year members of the Student Advisory Council; Turczyn will begin studies this fall at the University of Michigan, while Thomas will start at Oakland University.

“All of the lessons are based on research conducted by MSU’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports,” Frushour said. “Dr. Dan Gould and his doctoral students are rock stars in the field of youth and leadership development, and we are lucky to have them as partners on this project “

The Institute for the Study of Youth Sports was launched in 1978 to establish a world-class institute that would scientifically study the beneficial and detrimental effects of sports participation on children and youth and then work to maximize the beneficial effects. The mission of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports is to provide leadership, scholarship and outreach that transforms the face of youth sports in ways that maximize the beneficial physical, psychological, and social effects of participation for children and youth while minimizing detrimental effects.

The Student Advisory Council is a 16-member group which provides feedback on issues impacting educational athletics from a student’s perspective, and also is involved in the operation of MHSAA championship events and other programming. Members of the Student Advisory Council serve for two years, beginning as juniors. Eight new members are selected annually to serve on the SAC, with nominations made by MHSAA member schools.

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