Women's soccer junior Hope Flanegin attempts to kick the ball during the women's soccer team's game against UPenn on Sep. 3 at the Ulrich Sports Complex. Flanegin finished the year with two goals on 21 shots and is a member of the team's leadership council. (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

Student-athlete leadership councils provide individualized guidance for each team


Some Lehigh sports teams have stepped away from the traditional team captain leadership role and adopted new group-based leadership structures. Sports teams such as the track and field team, cross-country teams and the women’s soccer team have adopted committees referred to as “leadership councils.” 

Women’s soccer assistant coach Gina Lewandowski said this system has been implemented since her arrival at Lehigh a year and a half ago.

In an attempt to get more athletes involved, the team decided to establish a leadership council composed of the three captains, as well as five leaders from across all class years on the team. 

The three captains are a separate entity from the leadership council, as they represent the team on and off the field. However, they are all members of the council. 

“We wanted to be able to get a pulse of the entire team,” Lewandowski said. “So we have individuals, personalities and leaders in each class that come and partake in the leadership council meetings.” 

Lewandowski said the council is a mix of players who start and players who don’t get as many minutes, so they can have voices from all perspectives on the team. 

She said the council meets every week with the coaching staff during the season to check-in. 

“We kind of have that two-way street communication where they can provide feedback or anything that the coaches need to know,” Lewandowski said. “Then, we as a coaching staff can provide little insights into what we are thinking and how we want to move the team forward.” 

Junior midfielder Hope Flanegin was voted in by her coaches and peers to serve on the team’s leadership council this season. She said the council has been able to provide the coaches with many different perspectives from people who have different roles on the team. 

During Flanegin’s first year playing for Lehigh, the team did not have a leadership council, and she said it was more difficult for individual players’ voices to be heard. 

“I think (the council) has been positive for the team’s culture because people feel like they have a voice and can speak their opinions,” Flanegin said. 

Men’s cross country coach Todd Etters said he started implementing a leadership council on his team when he arrived at Lehigh in 2008. His council typically differs from women’s soccer since it’s made up of all the senior runners. 

Lehigh men’s cross country coach Todd Etters (left) and first-year runner Thomas Smigo (right) stand beside each other as Smigo is awarded the Patriot League Rookie of the Year trophy at the Patriot League Championship on Nov, 8. 2023, in Hamilton, NY. Etters established a leadership council on the men’s cross country team when he arrived at Lehigh in 2008. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

However, this year’s roster features only one senior, causing the team’s council to also consist of three juniors. 

“I think the structure works great in the sense that you’ve got guys that are able to develop and go through the program and get a better understanding through their experiences of what they have to do,” Etters said. “Then they get to have a little bit of their spin on what they want the culture to look like as seniors.”

He said having a group of seniors in leadership roles puts expectations on the first-years to see they are eventually going to be called upon to be leaders of the team. 

Etters also said having a council structure allows for the seniors to share some of the responsibilities of being in a leadership position so they can play off of their strengths and take on different leadership roles that fit them better. 

“Once they become seniors, I trust that they’re ready to lead,” Etters said. “There’s always naturally going to be guys that are a little bit better, and I might lean on the stronger leaders a little bit more, but the way I see it, everyone can have a role.”

The cross country team also incorporates some of its leaders with the track and field council, Etters said, so even during the cross country season, the leaders are occasionally meeting with the track and field leaders. 

Lehigh senior women’s track middle distance runner Simone Davey poses for a picture on the team’s media day. Davey won a 2023 Patriot League championship as a part of the 4×800 meter relay team and is a member of the team’s event council. (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

One of the women’s track and field leadership council leaders, senior Simone Davey, mentioned their leadership council was renamed to the “event group council” which consists of distance, throwers, jumpers and other running events. The team uses this to stay involved and updated with each other.

“I think when there are more leaders on a team, every event group feels like they have someone they can talk to,” Davey said. 

She said she primarily helps out with running team study halls and places a lot of emphasis on team spirit activities like decorating the locker room and keeping the team energized. 

She said other responsibilities on the council include involvement in recruiting and working with the Stabler Arena dining hall. 

“I am honored that I get to be involved and give something back to the team,” Davey said. “I am honored that my team voted me to represent them, more than what is just happening on the track.” 

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