Release: February 06, 2013
By: Caryn Maconi,
INDIANAPOLIS–Imagine two weeks of rigorous training on a Division I college football team. Imagine showing up to practice day after day, pushing through countless drills and workouts, aiming for that starting spot.Now, imagine all of that work thrown away because of one raucous night at a bar.

At the Apple Conference, a three-day seminar devoted to substance abuse prevention for student athletes, junior inside linebacker Derrick Webb of the Colorado football team learned just how damaging substance abuse can be to athletic performance.

“Going out and getting drunk one time can erase 14 days of hard workouts. We all know how hard we work in two weeks of training, it’s ridiculous,” Webb said. “I think if a lot of student athletes knew how much it would impact their workouts, they’d think twice about doing it.”

Webb and three other CU student athletes, including teammate Josh Moten, Kelsey Spencer of the CU volleyball team and Darcy Jerman of the CU soccer team, attended the Apple Conference last weekend in Indianapolis.

The conference was hosted by the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the University of Virginia, with the CU student-athletes’ participation arranged through the Leadership Development Program for CU Athletics.

The “LDP,” a four-year program targeted at all CU student-athletes, defines leadership as a skill that can be learned and improved through specific experiences. The Apple Conference is one such experience.

“Part of the LDP is psychological health and physical health, so part of this is getting the kids to go to conferences so they can be in leadership roles and bring that back to their teams,” said Emily Canova, the assistant director of Guiding Principles for CU Athletics. “We want them to be able to take whatever they learn and keep it moving forward.”

For Webb, the conference’s message was that leadership can and should expand beyond the football field.

“A lot of freshmen come in and don’t know a lot of the facts, they drink too much, and it can be dangerous,” Webb said. “They get caught up in that when they want to be accepted. So a lot of what leadership is is just saying that it’s ok, you don’t have to drink or do this and that just to be a college student.”

Kelsey Spencer, a sophomore middle blocker on the CU volleyball team, said that knowing the facts about alcohol and drug use would help her develop her own leadership role.

“Now if our teammates need it, they can ask us questions,” Spencer said. “They can learn from us and spread the word.”

And while student athletes that are of age can still drink legally, Spencer said the conference emphasized being safe and acting responsibly on and off the field.

“We just talked about how to prevent bad things from happening when you are drinking,” Spencer said. “Just increasing intelligence about it so that you can do it safely and make decisions with more knowledge about the subject.”

Though CU volleyball and many other collegiate teams have promises to “look out for each other” in social situations, Spencer said that after attending the conference she’d like to make those guidelines more clear.

“With our coaches, it’s just, ‘Don’t do anything stupid,’” Spencer said. “But one thing I came back with is just kind of emphasizing those policies and making them more consistent, so that’s something I’d like to implement now that I’m back.”

Another topic addressed at the conference was the danger of hazing — something that can happen on a college team just as it can in a fraternity house.

“Even in football, you know sometimes we try to put a lot of weight on the freshmen coming in, and we learned at the meeting that that’s not okay,” Webb said. “We’re coming down on them mentally, trying to make them stronger, but you never know what background people come from or what interactions they had before, and some people can take those things a lot more seriously. “That’s a big thing in leadership — to be a leader, you can’t be the one causing harm.”

And despite all the statistics, the effects on performance and the like, Webb’s takeaway point couldn’t be clearer: being a leader is about trust. Whether that trust is built by setting a responsible example or standing up for younger teammates, the focus is the same.

“People look up to you as someone who they can trust,” Webb said, “And you’ve got to be that person.”