SE: Leadership at its Finest

Cori Pinkett (second row, third from left) with her group of NCAA administrators, coaches and student-athletes at the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Phoenix, Arizona. (All photos courtesy of Cori Pinkett)

Earlier this spring, Cori Pinkett was given an opportunity to share her knowledge of leadership skills with student-athletes, coaches and athletics administrators from universities around the country. 

Pinkett, K-State Athletics’ Director of Student-Athlete Development, was selected by the NCAA as one of just 20 facilitators from across the nation to teach and lead at this year’s NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum from April 7-10, in Phoenix, Arizona. 

“It was the best day ever,” said Pinkett about the day she found out that she was chosen to be one of the forum’s facilitators. “I applied back in November and was so excited about the opportunity that, as I was planning my spring calendar, I had already blocked off the dates just in case I was selected. Then, when I got the email from the NCAA, it was awesome. I knew I’d have a whole lot of work to do between the training and the event itself, but I was extremely excited and humbled to be chosen for it.” 

The NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum provided 300 select student-athletes, coaches and athletics department administrators the opportunity to grow their leadership skills through a series of projects, discussions and lectures. 

Pinkett got her first taste of what to expect at the forum from Feb. 24-28, when the NCAA provided in-depth training to the 20 facilitators at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

“Not every facilitator was a student-athlete development professional,” explained Pinkett. “There were people from compliance and from the national office. There were a broad range of professionals from all divisions, and it was really, really cool to be around them and be able to work together and learn from them. It’s a really unique experience.” 

At the training, Pinkett dove deep into the NCAA’s curriculum for the forum, met her co-facilitator Alex Winnicker, interim athletics director at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, New York, and began forming a plan for the sessions she’d be leading during the four-day event. 

Then, following the training in Indianapolis, Pinkett had six weeks to perfect how she would deliver the material to her group and to fully prepare herself for the forum. 

Once she arrived in Phoenix, Pinkett and Winnicker were in charge of a group of 34 student-athletes and coaches dubbed the Green Squad (each group was given its own color to embrace) who were eager to dive deeper into their leadership skills. 

“We had about five administrators and coaches in our group, then the rest were student-athletes from Division I, II and III,” explained Pinkett. “We had a great variety of sport: basketball, volleyball, tennis, soccer, track, bowling. The NCAA did a really good job in the dynamics of the group and insuring that all of our groups were diverse in sport, division, ethnicity and sex.” 

During the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum, Pinkett helped her group find their individual strengths as leaders and then worked with the group in using those strengths in a variety of different situations. 

“Our theme for the weekend was ‘Inside Out Leadership’ and helping our participants understand their strengths,” explained Pinkett. “We talked about how you can lead with those strengths. We touched on characteristics of a leader, effective communications and transformational leadership. We talked about leadership challenges, how difficult it is to be a leader and to have to make the not-so-popular decision sometimes. We talked about bystander intervention, conflict resolution, social justice, emotionally intelligent leadership. There was some really, really good discussion. 

“The experience at the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum reaffirmed to me that I’m doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do.” 

Since her return to the Little Apple, Pinkett has applied the experience and knowledge gained at the Leadership Forum to her job working to develop K-State student-athletes into leaders both in their sports and in their lives. 

In her three years with K-State Athletics, Pinkett has given K-State student-athletes numerous opportunities to go above and beyond in all areas of their lives. She provides leadership to K-State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), organizes “Career Cats” where student-athletes learn how to create resumes and conduct interviews with future employers, and is the driving force behind K-State Athletics’ many community outreach programs. 

She created the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy where young student-athletes from each of K-State’s 16 sports meet once every month and, over the course of two years, learn how to grow into successful, efficient leaders in their respective programs, and helps incoming freshmen by providing an in depth summer program to help them ease into their new life as student-athletes. 

“What Cori adds to our staff, student-athletes and coaches is immeasurable,” said Jill Shields, Senior Executive Associate AD/SWA and Director of Student-Athlete Services at K-State. “She is a true talent working with our athletes in leadership development, career development and is a terrific role model for so many. She works extremely hard and is always trying to find a way to make our programs operate more efficiently.”

There’s no doubt Pinkett has her plate full, however, along with all the events she facilitates at K-State, her door is always open to student-athletes who are looking for advice or simply need someone to talk to. 

“Cori has been a big help to me,” said K-State football senior Dante Barnett. “She gets us to do the things that she knows will pay off after we’re done playing our sport like setting up resumes or learning how to interview for different jobs. She is there for us and helps set us up on the right track for when our sports are over and done. She’s been a great influence on all of us.” 

With the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum behind her, Pinkett is now excited to be back in her office sharing what she took away from the forum with the student-athletes she works with on a daily basis. 

“It doesn’t even feel like a job; I come to work, we do fun stuff, have great conversations and then you get to come back the next day and realize the impact you had. It’s amazing,” said Pinkett with a smile on her face. “Seeing our student-athletes excel, that’s the most rewarding part of my job, it’s what brings me into work every day. It’s just so fun to be a part of that developmental process because college, those are the years where you figure out who you are, what you want to do, and it’s just a really, really cool to be able to develop young people, help them realize their potential and help them get there. It’s a great, great opportunity, and a great, great job.” 

For more information on this year’s NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum, please click here.

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