Erin Blasko | March 5, 2018
Natalie Johnson, a defensive specialist on the University of Notre Dame women’s volleyball team, sat comfortably on the hardwood floor with a group of kids gathered around in a half-circle, quiet but anxious to run and play.
It was about 10 a.m. on a chilly Saturday, and Johnson and two other Notre Dame athletes were talking with the kids about “Keeping Your Cool” as part of Pass It On, a pilot leadership program for third- and fourth-grade students at Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy in South Bend.
Lesson one: Take a deep breath.
“It just kind of slows your mind down a little bit,” Johnson said, demonstrating the technique in a corner of the gymnasium. She turned to one of the kids. “Can I see your ‘basketball breath’?”
Taking turns, the kids took deep breaths, competing to see who could exhale the longest.
Developed by Student Welfare and Development, a division of Notre Dame Athletics, Pass It On uses basketball to teach kids about leadership in collaboration with the South Bend Community School Corp.
The curriculum, based on principles of respect, kindness, honesty and hard work, draws from Student Welfare and Development’s Rosenthal Leadership Academy, which aims to develop and enhance strong leadership on University sports teams with progressive annual programming for emerging and existing leaders.
“Ok,” Johnson said when they were finished. “Let’s recap. What did we learn about keeping your cool?”
“Drink water,” one kid said.
“Take a deep breath,” said another.
“Walk around,” said a third.
Afterward, the athletes, some of them veterans of the Rosenthal program, signed the kids’ “passport books,” indicating that they had completed the lesson. Then they moved onto drills — shooting, dribbling, passing, agility.