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J-Term: Leadership in Athletics

While most UVA students enjoyed a two-month winter break before beginning the spring semester, some attended classes remotely during January Term, or “J-Term.” Lifetime Learning is pleased to share a series of UVA faculty reflections on 2021 J-Term experiences.

James Detert
Gabrielle Adams
Evan Bruno






University of Virginia‘s James (Jim) Detert, Gabrielle Adams, and Evan Bruno taught “Leadership in Athletics,” engaging students in case studies of “defining moments.” Detert is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration at Darden School of Business and professor of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Adams is an assistant professor of public policy and psychology and director of executive education at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Bruno is a lecturer in the School of Law and PhD candidate at the Darden School of Business.


UVA Athletics Director Carla Williams and student-athletes. Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Athletics

Over two intense weeks in January, we taught a course entitled “Leadership in Athletics.” We designed this course for students with varying interests in leadership in athletic contexts: a desire to hold front office jobs for professional sports teams eventually, aspirations to work in sport analytics or recruiting or scouting, or plans to lead others as players or coaches at the collegiate level and beyond.

Using case studies of challenging situations, we sought to emphasize the outsized importance that skillful handling of “defining moments” has for leaders’ overall success—for example, their ability to navigate challenges related to team chemistry and character, destructive interpersonal conflicts, and racial inequity and injustice. In selecting these topics, we combined our own expertise, advice from senior members of UVA Athletics, and survey responses from most of the men’s and women’s varsity team head coaches.

Vin Lananna
Vin Lananna, director of UVA track and field and cross country, and associate director for administration. Source: UVA Athletics
Head Women’s Basketball Coach Tina Thompson. Source: NBC12

We focused on helping students develop and practice the behavioral skills they’ll need to navigate leadership challenges. Each day, students quickly prepared responses to an actual situation and then practiced defending those decisions in vigorous role-plays and debriefings. We added theories and practical frameworks as we went, but not before helping students first understand their instinctive reactions and derive their own motivations to add to their toolkits.

UVA football player Terrell Jana at the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers on Grounds. Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

Beyond our voices, students also learned from an impressive set of guests who shared their experiences and expertise. Leslie Ladd Kime (Darden ‘20), a former scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars and now head of her own firm (LLK Consulting), focused on player selection and team building, emphasizing the importance of player character. Terrell Jana (Batten ‘21), a current member of the UVA football team now focusing on the 2021 NFL Draft, described his decision to play the most recent season without a name on the back of his jersey. Steve Clagett (a current Darden MBA student) shared what he’d learned from playing varsity lacrosse at Notre Dame, serving as a Navy Seal and selecting and developing future Navy Seals, and working as an intern for the Baltimore Ravens. And Pat Lafferty, a New York marketing and advertising executive, walked students through doing the hard work of diversity and inclusion challenges in one’s organization.

UVA’s Scott Stadium. Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Athletics

Over the final three days of the course, we asked students to apply their learning to a current challenge relevant to them: how to fill Scott Stadium for UVA’s home football games. Working in teams, students studied the information presented in the “Butts in Seats” case and whatever additional data they collected and prepared their recommendations. Three finalist teams then made their pitches to Brittney Whiteside (deputy athletics director, External Operations), Steve Pritzker (deputy athletics director and CFO), and Todd Goodale (senior associate athletics director, External Affairs), who judged the final presentations before having a broader conversation with the students.

UVA Women’s Tennis Head Coach Sara O’Leary. Source: UVA Today

We were pleased to hear from numerous students that this novel course had exceeded their expectations. Despite their hesitancy to spend five hours per day online in January, students described it as a “fantastic experience” that was among their “favorite classes at UVA.” They particularly appreciated doing role-plays that helped them practice and not just read or talk about leadership.

Certainly, teaching presents an opportunity to share knowledge with others. It is also an opportunity to learn from and with others. That’s how we felt about our two weeks with the great set of students in the course. Undoubtedly, these young people are poised to become even higher-impact principled leaders in this world – both on and off the field.

Tony Bennet
Head Men's Basketball Coach Tony Bennett
​​​​​​and his team. Source:

For more on 2021 J-Term, read:
J-Term: Gender in Sport and Film: Capturing a “Moment of Folly”?
J-Term: Virginia and the Constitution