Free Student Section Advice

Student leadership is the most vital element of building and sustaining a dominant student section, and it’s also one of the biggest challenges schools face.

I am writing this and offering this free advice to help schools fix this problem. It’s up to you if you will take 6 minutes to read it and implement these steps!

If you have read previous blogs or perhaps I had the pleasure of speaking with you on the phone, then you know how much I emphasize student leadership. In fact, one of my blogs discusses how it is more important than technology regarding your student section.

So, I have explained the WHY (read my “Why leadership trumps technology" blog if you haven’t already). And you know the WHAT (student leadership). But the big question is HOW?

My first priority when working with a school is identifying and onboarding student leaders because this is often the first question or challenge schools pose. How do we empower students? Where do we find these students? How can we keep them accountable?

In fact, some schools are hesitant to invest time and resources into the student section until they find those student leaders. Although I train schools and provide them the resources to seamlessly identify, onboard and train top 1% student leaders, I felt I needed to share these 3 steps with you. If nothing else, you can address the student leadership challenge for your student section.

You might be thinking, “We already have student leaders”... Perfect. Then the following may not apply to you. However, I’m happy to chat about how I work directly with those leaders and train them to scale your student section to become one of the best in the country.

So, here is my free advice…

1. Identify leaders

Problem: No current student leaders OR current leadership is not dependable

Question: “Where do I find these students?”

Answer: Look for low hanging fruit. Start with “warm leads”. Headhunt.

Do you or does any student/intern/employee around campus know anyone who may be a good fit?

Who is THAT person on campus, the student who has the “IT” factor, the student who is well known on campus and connects with anybody? The student who is already attending athletic events with their face painted and leading chants and cheers?

Who are some students who currently serve in a leadership role at the university and might be willing to take on this challenge of scaling the student section? Are they willing to commit their time and energy?

That is a great place to start. Write down 3-5 names of students that come to mind. Then ask your peers and colleagues to do the same.

Are there any recurring names? You may be surprised when you start asking around and observing students.

If no students come to mind or you’re striking out, that’s okay. The next step would be to simply market the student leadership position. Yes, like a job posting. In fact, this is how I stumbled across the leadership position of the GCU Havocs. I was scrolling jobs and came across “student section leader”, and my life has been forever changed since that day.

Create a position with a job description, responsibilities, expectations, requirements and blast it out to your students. Utilize various social channels, teams, coaches, the university, athletics and get this position into the eyes of students.

Vet the applications, interview students and see who is a good fit.

Does this work? Yes. Two schools that I’m working with (both public Division 1 institutions) created and marketed a student section leadership position and each have identified and onboarded two top 1% student leaders.

Recap - headhunt warm leads & market with cold outreach.

2. Onboard leaders

Problem: No dependability, lack of commitment from students, no sustainability

Question: “Do we pay them?” “How do we keep them accountable?” “How do they gain ownership?”

Answer: Compensation is the best way to create expectations and maintain accountability.

Yes, I recommend compensating student section leaders. I argue a student section leadership role is the most ambitious leadership role on campus. Where else does a student get to be the voice of the students and strategically plan with athletic directors, coaches, administrators?

Plus, this position will equip students for the “real world” marketplace better than the majority of student “leadership” positions.

So compensate the students and they will take more ownership. Compensation can take many different forms: hourly pay (student worker), annual/semester stipend, scholarship funds, or even intern hours. Students in the sports management major at one of the schools I’m working with are required to attain a hefty amount of intern hours, so they’re hungry for them. What a great way to incentivize leaders on a lower budget.

Now what about expectations and accountability? You set these upfront. Create a job description. What will be expected of this student? What are the requirements leaders need to meet? What will be their tasks and responsibilities? What type of student are you looking for?

Make sure students understand how much work is required. Not only do they lead students in chants and cheers at games, but they’re responsible for the backend operations during office hours.

This is the first step in creating a structure that will last year after year.

Now if you need help with specifics of creating a position, or you need help training those students on HOW to create a student section, or you need direction on WHAT the students should do… sure, I can help.

But if nothing else - I want to help you find student leaders so you do have the bandwidth to invest your time and energy as a liaison or advisor.

Recap - compensate leaders, create a job description with clear expectations, hold students accountable

3. Train leaders

Problem: Students don’t know what to do or how to scale the student section, they graduate and the student section loses momentum.

Question: “How do we train students on what to do and how to do it?” “How do we ensure we have a succession plan and don’t lose momentum year after year?”

Answer: The best training for student leaders is to start doing something.

There is no better way to learn than through experience. That’s how the GCU Havocs were built and how in my 3 years as a leader we grew from 100-2,500 students at games, 3 student leaders to a team of 9, $0 in revenue to $30,000+... all of which have continued to grow.

We just started doing and optimizing. We did more of what worked and less of what didn’t.

Encourage your students to do the same.

Tell your student leaders to find 1-3 younger students that could replace themselves and do a better job to scale the student section. That is the sign of a true leader isn’t it? Replace yourself with someone who is more competent and capable?

Now some practical tips for a liaison... Do leadership trainings. Do personality tests. Encourage team building. Trust the students. Empower them with decision making opportunities.

If you follow step 2 and create internal structure and then follow step 3 and train and empower your leaders, then you already have a mini-succession plan. You will be well on your way to avoiding the leadership crisis plaguing student sections across the country.

If you need help, it’s a joy to work alongside student leaders and train them with the specific mindset, tools and processes to build a robust new-age student section. It took me 3 years to figure out as a student, they learn it in 8 weeks.

Recap - encourage students to start doing something, empower leaders with decision making opportunities, challenge leaders to replace themselves.

This is my longest blog but it was necessary to share and make this information available to anyone who is willing to take the time to learn and implement these steps.

There are no guarantees with these steps, but I am confident if you start with student leadership and implement these steps, you will see your student section grow more than if you either sit around and do nothing or continue to rely on free giveaways and technology. Please excuse my brash honesty, but I care too much about seeing your student section grow.

As always - if you’d like to chat further about your student section, feel free to book a call to my calendar.

To your success!

-- Brandon