Leadership Lessons from Student-Athletes

Whether o​n the field, the court, the mat or the course, these CSU athletes take home more than a win.


CSU students are impressive. They balance rigorous academic courses wit​h volunteering, jobs, internships and roles in campus organizations. And, many of those students also add sports to that list of activities.

In time for the Tokyo S​ummer Olympics, which were p​ostponed to 2021 due to COVID-19, we asked CSU student-athletes who have shown leadership both on and off the field what lessons they've learned through competing in their sport.

Justina King

Cal State Long Beach
Liberal Studies, Human Development Concentration, Senior

“Basketball has taught me so much more than just how to dribble the ball or shoot a hoop. It has taught me how to be a leader. I have learned how to keep my team motivated whether we are losing or winning a game. It has taught me to communicate in the best way to get the most potential out of my teammates' abilities. That is the beauty of sports. There is so much more that athletes gain than just the skills we learn for our sport; we gain life lessons. To be a part of a successful team, you must learn to work with others, to communicate appropriately and to be able to understand people's strengths and weaknesses and how to put them in positions to be successful for the betterment of the team. Sports resemble life, and we can learn so much from them."

Matt Smith

Fresno State
B.A. Business Admin-Sports Marketing, '21; M.A. Curriculum and Instruction, Enrolled

“I have learned many leadership lessons while competing on the Fresno State football team. The first is that many times, actions speak louder than words. If I want to lead my team to success, I must hold my teammates accountable to the standard we have set as a team. In order to do that, however, I must uphold the standard in every situation I'm in so my teammates can look to me and see how things are done. I've also learned that listening is extremely important, and as a leader, I'm a servant for my teammates. My job is to lead my team in the right direction while also looking out for their and the team's best interest. By listening to my teammates and understanding what's going on within the team, I can lead them better.

These lessons I've learned also help me in my everyday life. I strive to live my life with great character and integrity and try to do the right thing even when no one is watching. I also try to listen to my friends and family to make sure I'm being the best son, brother and friend I can be. Sports have taught me numerous lessons on how to be a leader, and I am thankful for the opportunities I have been blessed with."

Sarah Emigh

Chico State
B.S. Nursing, B.A. Psychology, '21; M.S. Nursing, Enrolled

“I have learned that personal relationships are a very important aspect of leadership both in the game and outside of it. I can influence people by the way I compete and lead by example, and I have also seen how this can carry over into other aspects of life. No matter what kind of team you are working with, people with all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives have the ability to come together in order to reach a common goal."

Albert Urias

CSU Bakersfield
Kinesiology, Senior

“Athletics in general have taught me how to hold myself and my fellow teammates accountable for every action, whether it be during playing time or in personal life. From wins and losses, everything is a lesson to build better habits and become a better person. Athletics has taught me to always aim to better myself, and as a leader, I try to elevate my teammates to the same standard of always improving."

Nick Iwasa

Sacramento State
Communications Studies, Senior

“There are two main leadership lessons I have learned during my time playing college baseball. The first is that true leaders show up every day to give everything they have to help the team. Nobody can bring their A game every day, but leaders will always give whatever they have. That lesson has really helped me, especially later in our baseball season. Toward the end of the year, a lot of student-athletes are tired or maybe dealing with an injury, and it can be hard to try to give your all when your tank is empty. That is what sets people apart, not just in baseball, but in life.

The next lesson on leadership is, in my opinion, one of the most important things an incoming student-athlete can learn. A lot of people think only the top players on a team can be leaders because they are the ones who are always in the game and get a lot of the recognition. However, during my time at Sacramento State, I have learned how untrue that notion really is. A number of teammates who did not see a lot of playing time are still guys I constantly look to as guides for the type of person and teammate I would like to be."

Macy Thomas

Humboldt State
Business Administration Major, Health Education Minor, Senior

“Competing in volleyball over the years at a variety of competitive levels has taught me so many lessons regarding leadership. Ultimately, when you're a part of a team, you learn to make sacrifices—you may have to sacrifice personal gains or wins, and you will have to make decisions that are for the greater good of the team. A true leader does what's best for the team. Competing in volleyball has also taught me two other very important leadership skills: learning to listen and to take initiative. These go hand in hand because you want to be the one who steps up and leads by example, and takes the risks associated with taking initiative. But it's also just as important to listen, which sometimes requires taking a step back. Competing in any sport, and furthermore a team sport, teaches you very important and relevant lessons regarding leadership that will help you later in life."

Quentin Hill

San Diego State
Business Administration, Junior

“I have learned a lot about myself and how my sport correlates to other aspects of life over my first two seasons on the SDSU men's golf team. In addition to playing for the golf team, I try to balance running two businesses. Like many D1 athletes, in high school athletics I often felt like the 'star player.' However, when I arrived at SDSU for my freshman year, that was no longer the case. I struggled with my golf game, and my confidence quickly dropped. Where I struggled the most, I learned the most. My biggest takeaways have been that while athletics will get tough at times, there is always a way you can positively impact teammates and those around you. Secondly, I learned to keep everything in perspective. My sisters and I started a charity during the pandemic to help the often-overlooked homeless population. This has really helped me keep athletics and life in perspective, regardless of if things are going smoothly or poorly."

Carolyn Gill

Cal State Fullerton
B.A.​​ Communications, '20; M.A. Business Administration, Enrolled

“Playing on the basketball team here at CSUF has taught me numerous lessons that have not only helped me become a better leader, but have equipped me to handle life off the court as well. One lesson I feel has guided me the most is that consistency is key. Making sure I stay consistent in my habits (whether that's putting up shots after practice, eating a full breakfast every morning or taking good notes in class) really has an effect on a person's leadership capabilities. Similarly, if I want to become good, knowledgeable or even a professional at anything, I must learn how to be consistent in my pursuit. Before I can hold anybody else accountable, I must initially learn how to hold myself to that standard. In my experience, sometimes the best way to lead is through example."

All Eyes on Us

This summer, the world is watching as a number of CSU students and alumni compete for gold at the Tokyo Summer Olympics July 23-August 8.​

See more about our CSU Olympians.