Leading the right way: Cardinals, Jonathan Gannon host high school coaches for panel on uplifting athletes

May 23, 2024, 7:07 AM

Cardinals leadership and mental health awareness discussion...

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — With organized team activities kicking off this week, there’s not a whole lot of extra time built for head coach Jonathan Gannon and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals organization.

But on Tuesday, the head coach took time away from the Xs and Os to sit down with those impacting the next generation.

He along with running back James Conner, RBs coach Autry Denson and team clinician Dr. Sophia Murphy spoke with numerous high school football coaches and administrators in a leadership and mental health awareness discussion with the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Gannon kicked off the inaugural event by peeling back the curtain on his definition of leadership.

The head coach touched on a number of areas from what his mentors passed down to him, the impacts of positive and negative leadership and what works best for him when it comes to leading his team.

He also spoke on what he asks of those within the walls of the Tempe training facility.

To sum it up (which should be no surprise to Cardinals fans):

1. Team
2. You

From there, the Positive Coaching Alliance’s director of community impact Daycia McClam jumped into a panel discussion alongside Conner, Denson and Murphy. They hit home the impact coaches can have throughout a player’s life and the balance they must strike.

“They need us. Be unapologetic about setting extremely, extremely high standards,” Denson said. “We live in a society that wants you to water it down. We are not their friends. That’s the worst thing we can do. We know what we’re talking about only because we’ve been there. They need us to lead them. They cannot lead themselves.”

“Every single athlete that you work with is going pro in something,” McClam added. “Some of them are going to go pro (in football), but all of them are going to go pro in something. You are preparing professionals in some space and you want to get them ready for the next level.”

It wasn’t just reserved for high school coaches or administrators, either, with Arizona State manager of player development and former Cardinal D.J. Foster taking in what was said.

“It was an incredible presentation and panel,” Foster said. “Hearing James Conner and coach JG, just a lot of stories about their personal journeys and what it took to get to the level they’re at and also the people along the way that helped them reach these heights of professional football and being elite at what they do, it was great for a lot of the Arizona community.”

The event is the latest in a recent partnership with the Positive Coaching Alliance after Arizona and PCA pledged a $70,000 in support of girls flag football in the state.

And it certainly won’t be the last, said McClam.

“One month ago was when we established (our partnership), specifically focused on expanding the girls flag football program in the area,” she said. “We know the importance of having those competitive options for girls. … The Cardinals said, ‘We really want to kick this off this month because we start on that preface of positive leadership and mental health awareness so our coaches are aware of what we’re focusing on moving forward.’

“Trust me there’s going to be more coming,” she added. “(The Cardinals and PCA) have been working in an informal fashion. This is the first time we’ve been able to establish that formal one. … We’re going to go hard really quickly.”


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