CWU News

Wildcat Football Learns Leadership Lessons from ROTC

Central Washington University’s football team recently discovered that leadership is fundamental to success whether it’s on the battlefield or the gridiron.

About 100 members of the squad received leadership reaction training this week from cadets from the university’s award-winning US Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The training was designed to evaluate and hone team leadership.

“There were five stations and each one had a unique challenge,” explained Maj. Aaron Johnson, CWU military science professor, who led the training sessions. “We used that challenge as a catalyst to put somebody in charge of a group of people and then watch them as they led that group through the challenge.”

The partnership was the idea of CWU football coach Ian Shoemaker, who said he saw similarities between training to be a leader on the football field and in the military.

“We want to build leadership throughout the team and make sure that the young guys coming into the program understand our values,” Shoemaker said. “We carry a core-value system and this falls right into it for character and leadership development.”

Players were presented with five challenges: bridge building, an obstacle course, blindfolded navigation, blindfolded object extraction, and blindfolded maze crossing. While the training was tailored for the football team, it is similar to the ROTC challenges. 

“We use this for guys we look at as leaders and are in leadership positions on the team, some guys who have been captains,” Shoemaker added. “We also picked some incoming freshman who we wanted to challenge and see what their skills are going to be in leadership moving forward.”

Following each challenge, team members received feedback on what was observed by the ROTC cadets who headed up the challenges.

“The main effort was to get that team leader and team members to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses in leadership,” Johnson noted. 

While providing the training, the ROTC cadets were also being evaluated and critiqued on their leadership skills.

“The army is trying to build adaptive leaders,” Johnson said. “Towards that end, we want them to have a certain amount of leeway in terms of the decisions that they can make. I got to look at my cadets as they were leading the football players through the challenges and see how they did as well.”

This was the second year that the Wildcat football team partnered with the ROTC program. Based on its success at competitions from the regional to international levels, the Wildcat Battalion is considered one of the nation’s top collegiate detachments. The CWU track and field team has received similar training. 

“Everybody can lead if they understand the expectations and live up to them,” Shoemaker stated. His team begins the 2015 football campaign Sept. 5 at Colorado State University Pueblo.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of Content Development, 509-963-1487,

August 20, 2015

Photo: Maj. Aaron Johnson addresses members of the CWU football team during the ROTC leadership reaction training.