A Defining Leadership Experience
By Emily Iannaconi
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Leadership is important to many student-athletes at Holy Cross, but it is often hard to define. Junior cross country and track runner G. Matthew Greco (Lower Providence, Pa.) had the opportunity to define what it means to be a leader when he represented the Patriot League at the annual NCAA Leadership Forum in Phoenix, Ariz., from April 7-10.
Created in 1997, the Leadership Forum has hosted nearly 5,000 student-athletes looking to enhance their personal and professional experiences at school. The Forum “engages a diverse and dynamic representation of student-athletes, coaches, faculty and administrators” as athletes from around the country are invited to the Forum every year to build networks, attend workshops and hone their leadership skills with peers and NCAA administrators.
“Every Division I school is allowed to nominate a person,” explained Greco, who expressed interest in attending the Forum at a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) meeting earlier this year. After being nominated by Holy Cross, Greco then had to fill out an application which included a short essay as well as an interview. The honor is not solely based on athletic performance however as student-athletes are selected as a result of their athletic participation as well as campus involvement.
In addition to running year-round, Greco is a member of the SGA Senate, a Co-Chair of the Student Advisory Committee for the Modern Languages Department, a student worker in Student Affairs and one of the students responsible for starting the Heel The Sole initiative at Holy Cross. Heel the Sole is a fundraiser that encouraged all students to donate any spare shoes in decent condition in order to help Veterans Inc. in Worcester. The footwear drive was chosen by the Patriot League to be implemented as one of two initiatives to be put directly into effect by the conference.
Each day at the Forum began with a keynote speaker. The moderator of the event, Chris Grant, the Associate Commissioner for the Pac-12 Conference, energized everyone in the morning. Greco said that the group was divided into color teams of about 30-35 people, including students-athletes, administrators and coaches from Division I, II and III. Despite meeting with the same group every day, Greco said that he had the opportunity to meet new people during various activities. “Every day I sat with different people that helped me make instant connections - talking and networking,” said Greco.
For example, Greco found himself sitting next to Marcus Lee, a basketball player for the University of Kentucky. “He told me that he thinks cross country runners are the toughest athletes out there,” said Greco. “It was unbelievable for me to hear from one of the most well-known athletes in college sports that my sport is tough.”
The remainder of the day was spent doing different types of leadership workshops, including workshops on how to be a good leader, emotional intelligence and how leaders connect emotionally with others. “It was an eye-opening experience because we did scenarios and skits of conflict resolutions about real areas of improvement that people have on their teams and how to best improve those different areas,” said Greco.
Greco further admits that he returned to Holy Cross with about 30 pages of notes. “I have so many ideas that I think will help,” said Greco.
In addition to the workshops, Greco also had the opportunity to listen to a lecture given by LaChina Robinson who played basketball at Wake Forest for four years and then moved on to be a basketball analyst, who calls college basketball games for ESPN and Fox Sports 1, among other networks. Robinson spoke about the idea of branding yourself and how student-athletes present themselves on social media. Greco said that he found the lecture relevant and helpful. “When you’re consistent, people can trust you,” added Greco.
Finally, the student-athletes, administrators and coaches at the Forum participated in a service project during their three days in Arizona. Together, all of the participants assembled jump ropes and wrote 250 notes to kids about the importance of health and education while simultaneously practicing effective communication with the other members of their group. “All of this was timed,” said Greco. “We were told that it wasn’t a competition but you have some of the most competitive people in the country in the room so it turned into the biggest competition.” The backpacks and notes were given to foster children in the surrounding Phoenix area.
Greco said that the importance of communication was an important theme throughout the conference as better communication leads to more effective leadership. “It was very helpful to talk about the core components of communication, the barriers to communication and the importance of discovering blind spots,” said Greco. “Identifying blind spots means recognizing parts of yourself that you are not necessarily comfortable with.”
Greco was able to utilize these communication skills when talking to other athletes from different backgrounds. In Greco’s group alone, there were people from Canada, Hawaii and California.
“It was super cool to learn about their experiences,” said Greco. “These places are so different - Holy Cross is not a lot like Texas Woman’s University - but we have the exact same problems and experiences, and can therefore learn a lot from each other.”
Greco is excited to use what he has learned from his peers at the Forum and apply it to the cross country and track team on the Hill. “One of the speakers we had, who is the head women’s basketball coach at St. Michael’s, said that she runs her program around four words: Transparency, consistency, accountability and positivity,” said Greco. “I believe in these four words and I am so excited about what we can get done on campus.”
Greco has already begun to utilize the idea of being his own CEO - Chief Energy Officer, a term he was taught at the Forum. “You’re responsible for the energy you bring and you can’t be responsible for people’s reactions,” said Greco. “What you do is your responsibility.”
After attending the three day Leadership Forum in Phoenix, Greco can more confidently define what leadership means to him. “A leader is someone who rises above to challenge the status quo,” said Greco. “A leader needs to be open to new ideas. You might think that your method for leading a team one year was right, but next year when you have a totally different group of guys, you have to be responsible enough to adapt to change.”
“Everyone is saying that this is a really exciting time to be a part of Holy Cross athletics and it is,” continued Greco. “There are so many ideas that we can continue to suggest.”
Greco spent last summer working at a hedge fund that emphasized finance. After attending the Forum though, Greco has started to envision a new career path. “I’m really starting to shift my focus to maybe getting involved in NCAA Athletics because of the connections I made and the people I met,” said Greco.
For now though, Greco is excited to apply his new definition of leadership to the cross country and track teams and make his final year running at Holy Cross one of the best yet.