Jason Cummins Working to Build Leaders Off the Field
08/23/2016 08:00 PM
For Jason Cummins, being a leader was not an easy position to have.
“I was a young, 22-year old lieutenant that showed up at Fort Campbell right after flight school. The Army said ‘Here you go lieutenant. Here’s six Apache helicopters. Here’s 20 guys. You’re in charge. Go prepare for war,” Cummins said.
Cummins served in the United States Army for 20 years before retiring in 2013. During that time, he was challenged to be a leader of a small unit, and he fell in love with it. The former Apache helicopter pilot now serves as a different kind of leader. He is the Director of Athletic Operations for a group called Horizon Performance. Horizon is a consulting team whose mission is to “make elite teams better.” They analyze how humans interact in the workplace and on the playing field to see how they can maximize the potential of every individual.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Cummins now works with his alma mater to help grow and develop UK athletes into better people. Being a leader of an athletic team is no easy task and Cummins says it takes a few key components.
“Leadership really revolves around three things,” Cummins explained. “Number one is influence. The art of influencing others by providing purpose, direction and inspiration. And that’s critical because every person has the opportunity to influence others. The second thing is operating. Make no mistake about it, we have to operate to accomplish our mission, which in many cases is winning. Winning takes place on the field, but also in life…The third is improving, improving the organization or the team. To me, if as a leader we can accomplish those three things; influence, operate and improve an organization, then we’re really serving that organization and we’re really leading them well.”
Cummins and his team work with each UK athletic team on a personal basis. Each team develops a customized plan of how they need to grow and develop on and off the field. Horizon works to make that plan come to life. If you ask those in the athletic department, it’s important to have an outsider perspective, no matter what sport it is.
“Sometimes, they say experts are from a far and when you’re too close to it you don’t have that expertise,” says Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. “If I say something, it might not quite have the same feel as someone that comes in from the outside and says ‘You know what? You might want to look at it from this lens.’ So we brought him (Cummins) in and true to form, his thoughts have been very well received and very helpful.”
UK Volleyball head coach Craig Skinner echoed Barnhart’s statement. “He doesn’t look at it at all from a volleyball perspective and I think that’s refreshing for our players. They hear enough from me and our coaching staff that they’re ready for a different voice.”
Cummins came to UK around the same time as head football coach Mark Stoops did in 2013. Their special bond has helped Stoops and his staff work through the ups and the downs of the past three seasons. As this season approaches, Cummins’ role is no different.
“Jason makes a big difference. What’s really nice is I see the growth in our team,” Stoops said. “As I talk to them and when speakers like Jason come in and talk to them, you see the guys sitting on the edge of their seat, taking notes, paying attention and being very much into it and that’s what it takes and that’s what we talk about.”
Sophomore wide receiver Kayaune Ross appreciates Cummins’ words of wisdom, saying quote, “Every time I listen to him talk is like, you sit there with a little numb face. It’s kind of almost like reading a Bible. You hear those things and you want to apply them to your life and when you hear him talk, you really need to do those things and then you go back to your own regular life and you try not to forget about those things that you hear about. That’s just a part of growing up and I feel like he’s done a great job with the team.”
Whether it’s on the gridiron, the hardwood, or the diamond, developing young athletes into leaders is a passion for Jason Cummins. He knows that if he can tap into their potential, special things can happen.
“I’m confident that no matter what happens here on the fields of play that they’re going to go on and be more successful in life,” said Cummins. “That’s as spouses, as parents, as well as business people, teachers, whatever field they choose to go into.”