Taking the Lead: How Special Olympics New York Athletes Learned Leadership Skills from West Point Cadets

Leadership isn’t a fixed trait—it’s a skill. And, like any skill, it can be developed. Several of our Regional Athlete Leadership Council Members recently learned this lesson from some of the best young leaders in the country.

Who taught them? The cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The Partnership

West Point has a long history of giving to Special Olympics New York. They’ve hosted our Spring Games since 1975, and five years ago, they strengthened the partnership by offering leadership training to our Hudson Valley athletes. This year, leaders from the Capital District and North Country Regions were invited as well.

Athlete Leadership Councils are regional and statewide groups of Special Olympics New York athletes who meet regularly to advocate for their communities. They often assist with marketing and fundraising efforts, deliver speeches and presentations, or talk to the media. In the words of athlete leader Will Smith, the Athlete Leadership Council “gives athletes opportunities to grow leadership skills off the court and helps provide opportunities to have bigger roles within our organization.”

Will was among the invitees for this year’s West Point seminar. Not only is he a Special Olympics New York athlete—he’s also a coach and staff member.

“We got some great messages to bring back to our teams,” Will said about the experience. “We covered so many aspects of how to be leaders in our communities.”

The Experience

Our athletes spent the entire day with the West Point cadets, joining several seminars related to leadership.

“We began with an icebreaker,” Will explained. “Everyone took the letters of their names and matched them with traits about themselves. So for mine, I said W was ‘willing,’ because I’m always willing to help. It was a great way to get to know everyone.”

From there, the athletes proceeded to their breakout sessions. These covered several subjects, including teambuilding, organizational structure, and comradery.

Will said, “One of my favorite breakouts was about identifying the traits of successful teams. The cadets asked us to pick some of our favorite teams, whether they were ones we competed on or professional teams we liked watching. One of my fellow athletes, Tommy Mooney, talked about his powerlifting team, the ABC Spartans, and about their willingness to work together and be their best. It was a really cool moment.”

In addition to all he’s done in New York, Will was recently selected to join the Board of Directors for the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games. What lessons did he learn to prepare for that role?

“I think I now have a strong understanding of the structure of meetings and how to run them efficiently,” Will said. “I’m looking forward to working with my fellow board members to deliver a great event.”

Thank You, West Point

Our thanks to all the cadets who made this partnership possible. We learned so much at this year’s leadership training. Furthermore, our athletes enjoyed yet another great year of competition at Spring Games on April 22. Looking forward to more in the future!