Johnson said the program strives to prepare athletes for lives outside of sports and give them the best chance to find success in the professional world.
“These are fully transferable life skills that we’ve seen anecdotally that they’ve been able to use beyond Carolina,” she said.
Chase Jones, a former member of the UNC baseball team, said the program taught him leadership skills he hadn’t fully honed coming into college.
He eventually grew into a pivotal voice on and off the field after fighting off a stage 4 brain cancer diagnosis during his first-year season at North Carolina. After graduating in 2011, he applied the tools given to him from the Leadership Academy to become an outspoken supporter of the fight against childhood cancer, starting the Vs. Cancer Foundation.
“I found that even after graduation, some of these lessons that I have been instilled with really took me a leg up on some of my peers,” he said.
Outside of the skills it teaches, Jones said the best element of the Leadership Academy is its ability to bring players from other teams together. Athletes have the opportunity to interact with people who they’d be less likely to meet outside of the academy and learn from one another.
He recalled when the UNC women’s soccer team approached the baseball team and asked them for help in preparing for playoff games.
“We had one of the leaders on our team, who was catcher, put together this 50-minute documentary basically making fun of our team,” he said.
That video was shown right before the playoff game, and the Tar Heels ended up winning. Jones saw it translate into the women’s soccer team’s locker room. He recently saw a Twitter post of the team dancing in the locker before a big match, and it took him back to that experience at the Leadership Academy.
UNC women’s soccer redshirt senior Taylor Otto has played a role in maintaining a lively locker room environment, believing that players perform their best when they’re having fun.
“The majority of the team is in the locker room jumping around, dancing and making jokes,” she said. “I think it’s a really cool atmosphere to have that lightens the mood in such a serious situation.”
Otto has risen through the levels of the Leadership Academy and was a recipient of the Leader of Distinction award, the program’s highest honor. She also appreciates the help she gets from interacting with athletes from other teams.
“When I’ve been in situations where I don’t really know exactly what to do,” she said, “I’ll ask another team, or I’ll ask one of the people in my groups about how they would’ve handled or if they’ve had to handle something like that before.”