Leadership in Sports

Sport And Higher Education: A Joint Jump To Excellence


Prof. Dr. Martinus Buekers

The Future Leadership Institute* asks thought leaders and decision makers to write down their views on the “Business of Sport”. The below article comes from Prof. Dr. Martinus Buekers, Vice-President International Policy from The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, the oldest Catholic university in the world. Prof Buekers is also a renowned volleyball coach.
Some time ago one of my master students asked me what was the most memorable experience of my coaching career. As probably most coaches would agree, the answer to such question is carved into a coaches’ memory, so I did not have to muse over the response for a long time.

The incident – still appealing to me and probably equally instructive with respect to the theme of this expose – occurred when we played against a low ranked team for the national championship. The goal was a straight victory, not allowing the opponent to score more than 7 points per set, each point above this limit resulting in running an additional lap in the volleyball hall. Against all expectations, we almost lost the game, leaving the players and the coach with a feeling of distress, and resulting in a dark winter night run of more than 3 miles following the first training session after dropping this clanger.

Except for the cathartic effect, this run also brought about another advantage as it was instrumental to pouring some perseverance into the mind of the players, i.e., to get rid of a kind of the feebleness that prevented them to perform well under certain types of pressure. In spite of this faux pas, the individual players and the team as a whole benefited from this experience during the rest of the season.

This example clearly illustrates the influential effect sport in general and sport competition in particular can generate on the mental strength and the personal abilities and competencies of an individual. Sport involvement, especially under competition pressure, creates conditions calling for personal and team actions and activities related to well defined goals. To accomplish these goals the actions need to be well choosen and embedded in a carefully designed and enduring training process. It is precisely this process, these numerous training sessions in combination with the intense and challenging games that provide the perfect breeding conditions for the creation of quality and excellence.

The advantages of sport are numerous – many articles and papers have documented these sport benefits, from physical to psychological health and well being, from team to character building – yet the following three appear essential to me. First, it has an inherent and generic appeal to people (albeit in many cases limited to the receptive field of the ‘Schlachtenbummler’), it almost invites players and athletes to strive for the best. Second, it provides the youngsters with a ‘protected environment’ to learn and cope with victory and, even more important, defeat; to find acceptable routes to explore and express their emotions, and, finally, to find a balance between expectations and actual success. The third benefit is intimately related to team sports and the impact they can have on interpersonal competencies, such as communication skills, motivation skills, emotional intelligence, leadership and the so widely and highly respected quality of fair-play.

These three apparent benefits are of great value, not only for an individual person but also for a team, an organisation, a company or a community. In focussing on the individual profit, it is clear that persons who were plunged into the sea of competitive sports are not only trained in technical and tactical skills (this latter skill also of importance for strategic decision making in general). They are also shaped to the basic character of sport: a ‘never give up’ mentality, requiring hard work, positive energy and, as mentioned before, the capacity to deal with failure. This latter quality is significant as it offers the individual the strength to overcome problems he or she will be confronted with at different times of their personal life.

The different personal qualities mentioned in the previous paragraph exactly represent those that play a substantial role in the proces of excellence. Of course excellence, especially in higher education, is based on intelligence. The opposite would be rather strange. Yet in the usual course of events excellence also requires something extra. Intelligence will preferably blossom into excellence when the above mentioned qualities are part of the personal repertoire.

For this reason sport can play a crucial role in the pursuit of excellence. Sport not only has the potential to cultivate excellence, sport also cultivates the excellence potential. So the question if sport participation has a positive effect on success rate in higher education can be answered succinctly: yes. The more comprehensive answer would be that sport is an appealing and supportive companion for a successful life.

Martinus Buekers

(*Between 2007 and 2011 the Institute carried temporarily the name ‘The Wall Street Journal Future Leadership Institute’)
Authors’ CV (dd 1 may 2009)
Address: Oude Markt 13, 3000 Leuven, Belgium, Martinus.Buekers@rec.kuleuven.be
Date of Birth: 26-10-1955

Academic career
•- Master in kinesiology, K.U.Leuven, 1977
•- Ph. D. in Kinesiology, K.U.Leuven, 1984
•- Post-Doc: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA: 1989
•- Sabbatical leave: Université de la Méditterannée, UMR Marseille, France: 1998-1999.

Academic Appointment:
•- Assistant Professor: K.U.Leuven, 1990-1996
•- Associate Professor: K.U.Leuven,1996-2000
•- Full Professor: K.U.Leuven, 2000 –

•- Dean Faculty of Kinesiology, K.U.Leuven: 2001-2005
•- Vice-President International Policy, K.U.Leuven: 2005 –
•- Vice-President Student Affairs, K.U.Leuven: 2005 –

Honors and Awards: Fullbright-Hays Grantee.

Research interest:
•- The control of human locomotion.
•- Anticipation behavior.
•- Feedback mechanisms in motor learning.

•- 47 papers in peer reviewed journals.

Sport coaching career
Coaching functions:
•- Head coach university volleyball teams K.U.Leuven (1979-1988).
•- Head coach several high ranked volleyball teams (1979-1994).
•- Head coach Belgian National Female Volleyball team (1990-1992).

•- Theory of training: a deliberate process on the road to success.
•- Volleyball: theory and practice
•- Youth volleyball: the efficiency of modified games.

Peer review publications 2004-2009:
•Lavrysen A, Buekers MJ, Feys P, Helsen W, Elliott D, 2007, Eye-hand coordination asymmetries in manual aiming,  OURNAL OF MOTOR BEHAVIOR 39 (1): 9-18.

•Bleumers L, Ceux T, Buekers M, Wagemans J, 2006, Synchronising horizontal arm movement with transparent motion BEHAVIOURAL BRAIN RESEARCH, 173 (2): 199-204.

•Lavrysen A, Helsen WF, Elliott D, Buekers MJ, Feys P, Heremans E, 2006, The type of visual information mediates eye and hand movement bias when aiming to a Muller-Lyer illusion
Source: EXPERIMENTAL BRAIN RESEARCH, 174 (3): 544-554.

•Ceux T, Wagemans J, Rosas P, Montagne G, Buekers M, 2006, Perceptual-motor adaptations in a synchronization task: The joint effects of frequency and motion coherence manipulations,

•Feys P, Helsen W, Buekers M, Ceux T, Heremans E, Nuttin B, Ketelaer P, Liu XG, 2006, The effect of changed visual feedback on intention tremor in multiple sclerosis, NEUROSCIENCE LETTERS, 394
(1): 17-21.

•Ceux T, Wagemans J, Rosas P, Montagne G, Buekers M, 2005, The influence of motion coherence manipulations on the synchronization level of a perception-action task, BEHAVIOURAL BRAIN RESEARCH
162 (1): 83-89.

•Camachon C, Buekers M, Montagne G, 2004, Is the learning of goal-directed displacement effector- independent? HUMAN MOVEMENT SCIENCE 23 (3-4): 239-255

•Camachon C, Montagne G, Buekers M, Laurent M, 2004, Learning to use visual information, ECOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY 16 (2): 115-128.

•Delecluse C, Colman V, Roelants M, Verschueren S, Derave W, Ceux T, Eijnde BO, Seghers J, Pardaens K, Brumagne S, Goris M, Buekers M, Spaepen A, Swinnen S, Stijnen V, 2004, Exercise programs for older men: mode and intensity to induce the highest possible health-related benefits PREVENTIVE MEDICINE 39 (4): 823-833.

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