Calhoun athletes are no strangers to winning. In the 2019-20 sports season alone, a number of teams had major breakthroughs, moving on to and even winning highly competitive championships. The success of the athletics program, however, is not measured solely in numbers on a scoreboard. The true triumph of Calhoun sports is the rich culture built on the foundation of four core values: self-awareness, teamwork, empathy and resilience. Below, Director of Athletics Sabrina Zurkuhlen ‘06 shares insight on the program’s values and their impact on student-athletes.
“The strongest teams I've worked with have been the teams that hold the highest levels of self-awareness,” says Sabrina, meaning that they get to know themselves on a deeper level, understanding what they need to perform at their best. Coaches help facilitate this growth by providing constant opportunities to reflect—on their sports skills, as well as their interactions with teammates. “One of the most critical skills students develop is the ability to give and receive feedback,” reflects Sabrina. “That opens the door to being able to to dissect ourselves without judgment, with the full intention of growth.” The result is teams comprised of student-athletes that understand their needs as individuals and develop the skills to support their teammates.
It is no wonder that teamwork is essential to a sports program. To build this skill, Calhoun athletes must first understand and explore the meaning of teamwork. “We begin [our work] with a conversation about what teamwork looks like and break it down,” explains Sabrina. Student-athletes reflect on their past experiences being part of various communities, pinpointing what worked and what didn’t work. By doing this, each team collaborates to create their own unique identity and ways of working together. This process gets everyone involved from the very start and ensures everyone’s voice is heard, creating an inclusive environment in which students can continue to challenge themselves.
Empathy helps to create an environment in which students can take risks and feel supported. “Every single person in the gym has experienced failure and the vulnerability that comes with it,” says Sabrina. The Calhoun athletics program teaches students to be aware of this shared experience, which allows them to develop empathy for one another. The focus on peer-to-peer interaction is crucial to both the success of the group and students’ individual growth. As a result, student-athletes feel safe to take on challenges and push themselves to keep trying even when they miss the mark. “The whole process of getting better at sports means that you're going to fail over and over again,” says Sabrina, “Whether or not you get back up and try again directly relates to the compassion and empathy of the space that you're training in.”
Resilience, the last of the four values, rests upon the foundations built by the other three. In sports, “Challenges are real and mistakes are inevitable,” reflects Sabrina, and resilience is what allows one to move forward. The program aims to teach students how to navigate challenges with confidence and intention. While the values of self-awareness, teamwork and empathy help to create an environment in which students can fail safely, resilience is what helps them bounce back.
The beauty of the Calhoun Athletics values is that they are interwoven, constantly playing off of each other to create the strong culture that drives the ever-growing program and keeps students coming back. Together, self-awareness, teamwork, empathy and resilience create an environment in which students can evolve by taking risks and pushing themselves to grow in both their athleticism as well as their responsibility to their community.
The strength of the programs’ culture is evident in the tremendous growth student-athletes exhibit in sports and in life. From bringing home championship trophies to banding together to holding various leadership positions, Calhoun athletes are the true embodiment of the program’s core values. “They are impactful people and leaders in their communities,” reflects Sabrina. “They show up with positivity and a full sense of engagement.” While the Cougars will undoubtedly see more wins and take home more trophies, it is the values of Calhoun Athletics that will continue to push students to be their best selves, and that is the biggest win of all.