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Adulting 101: Mike Gawlik helps prepare Central Michigan volleyball players for what comes next


Mike Gawlik is more than just a volleyball coach at Central Michigan. 

Along with being the head coach of the Chippewas, Gawlik is a Max and Emily’s sandwich connoisseur. He's also a teacher. 

Many students, including student-athletes, take courses that are designed to help them later on in their chosen careers. 

Classes and internships are designed to put you in a better spot following graduation. Yet, college doesn't prepare you for everything in life. There are concepts that all adults should know and understand that is not taught in the classroom. 

This is the premise of Gawlik’s Adulting 101 class.

Gawlik made the observation that his players were underprepared for the world after college and volleyball. He felt like students should be offered a class where they can learn life skills, hobbies and other things that will be beneficial to their professional and personal post-college lives. 

The fourth-year coach's solution was to put together a class – Gawlik as the teacher, his volleyball players as the students.

Throughout the season, Gawlik schedules events with speakers and topic experts to meet with his team for roughly 40 minutes to discuss various aspects of adulthood and teach players the basics of the topic for the day.

The topics vary and have included knowing and understanding credit score, picking out produce, sewing, taxes, proper attire for different occasions, car maintenance, events, museums and much more.

A tour of the grocery store that taught student-athletes and their coaches how to pick out the best produce was a personal favorite for Gawlik. 

“I now know how to pick out a good pineapple,” Gawlik said, jokingly.

Volleyball coach Mike Gawlik poses for a photo Oct. 16. in McGuirk Arena.

One of the experiences Gawlik found most beneficial for the players dealt with appropriate attire.

Junior outside hitter Kalina Smith agreed that this was one of her favorite classes.

This particular Adulting 101 event took part during the spring season when the roster was not as filled as the fall. Gawlik and his assistants put 10 completely different scenarios in envelopes and handed one to each player. They were tasked with returning the following week dressed as if they were attending the event inside their envelope. 

The events ranged from playing golf with their boss at a country club, going to their friend's wedding and even meeting their significant other’s grandma at Thanksgiving. 

”Coaches brought in a panel of professional women and we showed them our outfits,” Smith said. “They told us, 'yes or no,' and 'I wouldn’t do this, but an alternative would be this.'”

The panel Gawlik and his staff arranged had judges from all over the university including Laura Alford, the wife of CMU Athletic Director Michael Alford, to assess each player based on how prepared they were for the event and if the clothes they were wearing fit the part.

“It wasn’t a fashion show, but are you dressed appropriately for the event?” Gawlik said. 

Gawlik said that was one of the topics where he received the most positive feedback. Players wanted to know exactly what business casual meant and how to dress if they had never been to a country club.

“That was actually really helpful because when it came time for a job interview a few weeks ago, I felt comfortable getting ready for it,” Smith said. “It’s just nice life things that we can learn.”

Another favorite of those around the program was an event where they learned how to change a tire.

Junior middle blocker Megan Sivertsen picked that as her favorite topic.

”That was helpful because it’s important to know your car,” Sivertsen said. “If you’re on the side of the road and you don’t have service, you just have to know your car to be able to take the tire off and put it back on.”

As a parent of an athlete on the team and the athletic director, Michael Alford noted changing a flat tire was one he felt was most beneficial. 

“As a parent of three kids, getting stuck on the highway one day and not knowing how to change a tire is scary," Alford said. “I love that they go to Graff (dealership) and have contests among the team and learn how to change a tire."

During the season Gawlik tries to have speakers as often as possible, but it can be difficult with the traveling the team has to do, especially early in the season. That didn’t stop them from using a tournament in Brooklyn, New York, to schedule some Adulting 101 events.

While in New York, the team went to a broadway show and visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Those might not be life skills, but Gawlik said they can be just as powerful and are important for everyone to help formulate their own view on the world.

Gawlik clearly has passion for the idea he hatched and continues to grow in his time at Central Michigan, but it is the players who encouraged Gawlik and his staff to keep the Adulting 101 program alive.

“We got away from it for one semester because timing didn’t really work out,” Gawlik said. “At the end of the semester all of our players came up to me and said, 'What about that, we need to get back to that.' That was awesome (to hear)."

Hearing the plea from the players helped keep Gawlik and his staff in pursuit of more ideas. While it takes extra time and effort to get things scheduled, it was beneficial for the student-athletes.

While the lessons taught are the “meat” of the program, Gawlik said it has other benefits such as team bonding and allowing the players to take periodic mental breaks from volleyball. 

The players appreciate the effort from Gawlik and the rest of the staff.

“We’re all very interested in it,” said senior Jayla Wesley.

According to Wesley, parents and family members of players on the team are often impressed by the idea and effort put in by coaches. They love the fact someone is teaching them skills they’ll need long after college is done.

Kendall Braate is a sophomore who came in during the third year of Adulting 101, noting the program is proof that Gawlik has his players' best interest in mind – not only as athletes, but as human beings.

“Not only does he care about us on the court,” Braate said, “he wants us to learn things off the court.”

A favorite of Braate and Wesley was an event they referred to as “painting with a twist." The team traveled to a shop in Rosebush to paint and eat dinner, another event that Gawlik refers to as something the players may need to do when they're out of college.

Senior Megan Kern loved the self-defense class they attended. 

“My favorite was when we did the self-defense class last spring,” Kern said. “We had this guy who is an ex-Marine, and he showed us ways to get out of bad situations, if you’re trapped or somebody is trying to attack you.”

Adulting 101 seemingly never ends for Gawlik and his coaching staff. Whenever Gawlik sees the opportunity to help a student-athlete improve an important area, he does what he can to help. 

Post-game and post-practice interviews and press conferences are a great example. Gawlik enjoys giving his players opportunities to speak to the press and improve their confidence when speaking publicly. 

In the case of junior Lisbeth Rosario-Martinez, who comes from the Dominican Republic and has played on the country's national volleyball team, he encourages her to speak in those press opportunities to build confidence when speaking English. Of course, he makes sure to encourage her along the way and give positive feedback, especially knowing how difficult those situations can be.

The team comes together in preparation for the game Saturday Oct. 12 at McGuirk arena.

Gawlik plans to operate on a three to four-year cycle, ensuring that each student-athlete who comes to play volleyball at CMU can experience most of the topics at least once.

Gawlik and his team are always looking for new ideas to add to the rotation, but for now, they have a few ideas on the docket for the future.

Insurance and loans are two topics that Gawlik is looking forward to. 

How to get a loan? Information on car loans. Looking at student loans. What is a mortgage, and how do you get one? What to do when you’re no longer on your parents' insurance. What is inside that first benefits package you receive? Those are important aspects of life.

Gawlik’s focus is to prepare his team to win volleyball games, but by preparing them for things outside of college and volleyball, he's improving their odds for the rest of time.

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