What does effective student-athlete leadership development look like in action? We sat down with the energetic duo leading Bucknell University’s athletics department to find out.
A true marker of an effective leader can often be seen through the success of those they have led, and whether they too become great leaders in their own right. Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director, Jen Kentera*; and Assistant Athletic Director, Student-Athlete Enrichment, Eline Vermeulen, share a unique history that led them into the professional partnership which sees them working together to lead the Student-Athlete Enrichment Program at Bucknell University.
Rewinding to 2015, the pair were both at Boston University, Jen was working as Associate Director for Student-athlete Support Services which saw her take on a role as academic advisor to Eline, a senior student-athlete and then captain of the rowing team. Eline shared,
“Jen was the best academic advisor I’ve ever had. I know she technically was not the academic advisor assigned to the Women’s Rowing Team, but she was awesome and I’m claiming her.”
During her five years at Boston University, Jen led the coordination of the Bloom Family Leadership Academy and Lifeskills programs, which Eline later worked until 2019 in, after graduating from her alma mater. In 2016, Jen moved to Boston College serving as the Assistant Athletic Director for student-athlete development, before joining Bucknell University in 2018.
Jen’s expertise in creating a deeply immersive student-athlete development programs was utilized, and five years down the track, Jen oversees the program which impacts over 750 student-athletes at Bucknell. Jen is also responsible for the Leadership Institute, which is aimed at cultivating individuals with strong leadership potential within the Bucknell Campus. Embedded within the program are three key values; develop, lead, and engage, which incorporate an aligned and comprehensive schedule of workshops, events, community interaction, and speakers designed to extend student-athletes and prepare them for their careers to come.
Though their last decade seems so intertwined, Jen and Eline had no initial plans to team up at Bucknell. But a fundamental element of the student-athlete enrichment program that Jen established, involved students developing their self-awareness and building their ability to interact and grow relationships with the people around them. To facilitate this process Jen decided to revisit her use of Athlete Assessments DISC Profiles, a tool she had used in her previous role working with the Bloom Family Leadership Academy at Boston University, of which Eline was a part.
“Eline had such a comprehensive knowledge of DISC as a student-athlete, was able to understand the model and use it in her everyday role with her team. It just made sense to get her involved with the Bucknell program”.
And as a true testament to the strength and impact of their professional partnership, Eline shared that when Jen called to offer her a position which required moving from coast-side Boston to join her in the middle of Pennsylvania, she jumped at the opportunity.
Both Jen and Eline undertook the Athlete Assessments DISC Accreditation to consolidate their understanding and bring the knowledge, application, and interpretation of the DISC reports in-house.
Now through the department’s Student-Athlete Enrichment Program, Jen and Eline work with many teams, building on their reach each year, including; men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, women’s lacrosse, men’s tennis, women’s golf, and most recently this Spring, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and field hockey.
Though the program is department wide, Eline and Jen emphasized the individuality of their approach, highlighting that the development focus is specific to what the team is going through. Each of the teams are at different stages of development and competition, some are in a ‘maintenance phase’, entering the postseason and looking to continue and build on their in-season progress; others are working specifically on relationships and team dynamics, while some are just beginning the Enrichment Program.
Bucknell uses Athlete Assessments’ AthleteDISC and CoachDISC Profiles which outline each individual’s unique spread of strengths, style of communicating, way of building relationship and approaching tasks, their motivations, and what they need to be successful, along with their potential areas for improvement. An individual’s 40-page DISC Profile report details the way their behavioral preferences influence how they practice and compete.
Explaining the scheduling of their development sessions with teams, Jen shared,
“We don’t give our student-athletes their profiles until the end of the first session. We break them into groups, they share a lot of information about themselves and by the end of the session, they’re hooked! They want to know what their profile is and what their teammates are, and of course we give it to them then.”
“A lot of people around the department know about DISC now, so we’re getting asked to contribute and work with teams more often.”
Across all sports Jen shared that the student-athletes are highly engaged and love to guess what profile their coach is. Alongside their student-athletes, coaches also take their DISC Profile to understand their own preferences and then use it as a point of reference for tailoring their coaching to meet their athletes’ needs.
Sharing an example Jen added, “The women’s basketball team have really embraced the DISC, they use it in their communications and their coaching staff understand the power of it. They have become very aware of their behaviors at practice and the conversations they may need to have afterwards.”
The team at Bucknell have maximized their use Athlete Assessments’ reporting capabilities over the years; including AthleteDISC and CoachDISC profiles, Team Dynamic Report, Summary Report, and the DISC Card Game, with Eline noting that the One-page Summaries have been most utilized by coaches recently.
Jen highlighted that one of the most pivotal learnings is when the team sees how their profiles sit together as a group in their Team Dynamic Report. When looking at what strengths or challenges a team might have, Jen and Eline can ask who is ‘flexing’ in the team and reinforce the value of adaptability to create better outcomes from the situation or person in front of you.
“Because I can adapt and articulate better after years of working with my DISC Profile, the student-athletes often try to guess what my profile is! They are always wrong, because they see Eline and I in a specific role, doing what we need to do to get an outcome. That misconception is a valuable tool to show them the power of adapting.”
Explaining a valuable insight that flowed from using DISC, Eline shared,
“Some of the challenges DISC has helped us overcome include misconceptions about how things are being delivered or not delivered, accountability, communication and more. It provides people with a better overall understanding of their coaches and teammates.”
Jen explained that accountability has been one of the bigger challenges they are tackling in all teams, as initially their leaders had different standards for themselves, their teammates, and their coaches. She added, “Leaders expressed their challenge with holding teammates accountable and shared that DISC has helped them feel more confident in doing so.”
Jen shared a real-life example where a student-athlete was breaking team rules which her teammates were aware of at the time. Once they undertook DISC, it gave the team the tools to have difficult conversations, with Jen sharing,
“DISC gave us a safe language to talk about the things our players were having trouble talking about.”
Feedback from current and former student-athletes is overwhelmingly positive and assures Jen and Eline that the Enrichment Program is on the right track.
In addition to working with individual teams the Leadership Institute is also part of the Student-Athlete Enrichment Program and is dedicated to developing future leaders. As they continue to build on the program, they will look to incorporate Athlete Assessments’ DISC Observer Feedback with those further along in their leadership development.
“The number one thing I hear from students who are graduating and entering their careers, is how they get to show their DISC knowledge in their new jobs. They tell me how their workplace was doing DISC assessments and they got to share what they already knew about themselves and their profile.”
The working relationship between Jen and Eline was forged in the fiercely competitive world of college athletics, and today is delivering valuable opportunities and key partnerships for student-athletes at Bucknell University.
Underpinning their work in the Student-Athlete Enrichment Program are the opportunities for the growth and development of self-awareness that DISC profiles offer. Both Jen and Eline are trained Athlete Assessments DISC Consultants and as a result are able to work with their student-athletes’ in-house. At Boston University, Jen used Athlete Assessments’ DISC model to help students understand their own behavior, build stronger relationships, and better team dynamics when she was an academic advisor. As a student-athlete, Eline also experienced the benefits the model can deliver firsthand, before undertaking the accreditation in her professional career.
*As of May 2023, Jen has announced she is taking on a new role in leadership development for a national organization. We wanted to highlight the phenomenal work she has done in developing and leading Bucknell’s Athletics Department and Student-athlete Enrichment Program. Eline continues to work and lead the programs at Bucknell, continuing in her recently appointed role as Assistant Athletic Director, Student-Athlete Enrichment.
Where to from here?
If you are looking for a department or university-wide approach to building self-awareness in your athletes, coaches, or staff, reach out to find out about the many different ways Athlete Assessments can work with you to provide a tailored approach to meet your needs. Our sport-specific DISC Profiles are still the only validated and reliable tools available and provide valuable opportunities for development.
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