Champions for Life

Champions for Life

Preparing champions for life is a mission call heard frequently throughout Baylor Athletics since Mack Rhoades became vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics in 2016. 

During the past two years, the phrase-turned-mandate has burgeoned into a detailed plan to invest in student-athletes in ways to build character and prepare them for life after competition. 

Baylor Athletics introduced the Baylor Built program—a blueprint to the champions for life mission—in the fall semester for the University’s more than 500 student-athletes. The program, representing a collaborative effort between departments across campus and Baylor Student-Athlete Center for Excellence, adds a new component to the student-athlete experience through participation in specifically designed programming that elevates their development and character formation alongside academic and on-field success.

Character Formation

“Character formation is an area that rises to the top when we think about what we should be doing as we develop young people,” Rhoades says. “There’s a lot of focus on developing them for competition, and we’ve done that. We’ve done that in the classroom as well. But what about character formation? For us, it’s the recognition that we have a great responsibility and privilege to work with young people at this critical time in their lives and ensure that when they leave Baylor, they leave better in all areas.”

Baylor Built promotes character formation through workshops and seminars that focus on topics, including money management, healthy relationships and career management. By the time a student-athlete graduates, he or she will have completed dozens of hours of intentionally designed programs to prepare them for citizenship in post-college life.

“Over the 2017-18 academic year, we took an in-depth look at our entire athletic department and identified strategic initiatives. These are areas we anticipate moving the needle for athletics and for Baylor as a whole,” Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Success Marcus Sedberry says. “One of those areas was student-athlete development, which led us to create programming for character formation. We identified the core competencies, skills and experiences we want our student-athletes to have beyond what they receive on campus or through their sport, and we packaged those in ways that are specific to the student-athlete needs and fit in their schedules.”

The Baylor Student-Athlete Center for Excellence, which Sedberry leads, serves the holistic needs of student-athletes through the dual focuses of academic services and student-athlete development. The many accolades for the University’s long-recognized academic success include Baylor student-athletes leading the Big 12 Conference in Graduation Success Rate (GSR) four straight years, and numerous teams throughout the years posting the league’s best team GPA in their individual sports. Last year, 42 percent of Baylor student-athletes earned their personal best GPA, and six programs had their all-time highest average team GPA. 

Since Sedberry was hired in May 2017, the athletics department has focused on matching that academic success on the student-development side—leading to Baylor Built.

“This is a blueprint,” he says. “Our belief is that if a student walks through this process, he or she will be Baylor Built and prepared to be a champion for life.”

The program was developed by a strategic initiative team comprised of athletics staff, coaches, and current and former student-athletes with input from University departments, including Baylor Human Resources, University Development and the Hankamer School of Business Office of Career Management. 

Among the Baylor Built team members is Acrobatics & Tumbling head coach Felecia Mulkey, also associate AD and senior woman administrator. 

“As a coach, you’re always looking for ways to better prepare student-athletes and enhance their campus experience,” Mulkey says. “This program is so thorough and all-encompassing that I think all of Baylor will be proud, and I don’t think there’s another school out there that’s doing this.”

Blueprint Focal Points

Baylor Built programming, which launched when student-athletes returned to campus in August, is designed to focus on five areas:

1. Career Development: Workshops and experiences include networking, interviewing, career placement, job shadowing, career management and more. They will work one-on-one with character formation coaches and Baylor career development professionals.

2. Leadership Development: Opportunities include leadership retreats and a leadership institute, learning about their leadership and followership styles, and leadership seminars specific to their callings.

3. Personal Skills: Workshops include financial education, health and self-care. Sessions on these topics are geared toward their classification, progressively building on the previous year’s topic. 

4. Social responsibility: REAL Relationship Talks is designed to proactively raise awareness about healthy relationships and equip them with risk reduction strategies to avoid unhealthy relationships. Conversations include establishing healthy boundaries, bystander training, dialogue and conflict resolution. Other areas of focus are cultural humility and drug and alcohol education.

5. Community Engagement: They will participate in community engagement service projects focused on addressing literacy, healthy lifestyles, poverty and human rights.

The five core competencies, Sedberry says, are each animated by Christian faith.

“If we’re going to talk about servant leadership, where better to turn than the Bible? It has plenty of examples, and the ultimate example, of servant leadership,” he says. “If we’re going to talk about crucial conversations and managing finances, there are ways to incorporate biblical principles into everything we do. There are principles that permeate all topics and and connect with our student-athletes in practical ways.”

A Focus on the Future

Over the span of four years, students will participate in no less than 32 hours of Baylor Built programming and complete no less than 16 hours of service. Sessions, which primarily take place in the student-athlete’s off-season, are arranged in two different ways. Some workshops, such as healthy relationships, are conducted with individual athletic teams together to promote a sense of accountability among those who know each other best. Other workshops, such as financial education, connect student-athletes by their year in school, with programming most relevant to their classification and experiences.

To aid in implementing Baylor Built, three new positions were added: Assistant AD for Character Formation Cori Pinkett, Associate Director of Character Formation Quintin Jordan, and Character Formation Coordinator Fabiana Alves do Monte.

“Growing this student-athlete development team says that caring about our student-athletes is of vital importance and a priority,” Sedberry says. “It shows that we’re willing to invest our time, our money and our resources into making sure that student development is a part of who we are as an athletic department and Baylor University.”

For everyone participating in Baylor Built, the focus is on the future. As the University prepares students for life after college, athletics staff members will analyze Baylor Built’s impact, receive feedback from student-athletes, and be prepared to fine-tune and enhance the program in the years ahead.

“This is a journey, one that’s at the core of what we do, and we should be a leader in this space,” Rhoades says. “I’m excited for the Baylor Family, the Waco community and our student- athletes to see us doing that in a direct way.”