Be significant.

Make a difference.

Think outside of the box.

Those were some of the messages Craig Hillier offered to Redwood Valley High School students during a recent presentation as they prepared for the start of a new school year and news sports seasons.

“What you do early will determine how the reason of your season goes,” said Hillier, adding it is up to those leaders to be the example, and that starts at the top. “The senior class sets the stage.”

Hillier, who is a 1985 graduate of Redwood Falls High School, told the Redwood Valley students they are in a great place, adding the person he is today began with the experiences he had and lessons he learned in Redwood Falls. 

Hillier is in his 28th year as a speaker.

For him, the road to his role in getting up in front of people started in high school. He said a speaker came to the school, and the message Hillier heard hit him “right between the eyes.”

The addition of an experience he had through the Hugh O’Brian (HOBY) youth leadership program opened up his eyes to a new world and a different perspective.

In school Hillier said he was involved in speech at the junior high level, and he was able to serve in leadership roles in high school, including serving as a team captain.

After high school, Hillier attended what was then known as Mankato State University where he earned a degree in marketing with a minor in speech.

Now 51, Hillier continues to speak to people, including youth and over that time has been in 47 states and has spoken to more than 2 million people.

After nearly three decades, Hillier said he is able to stay relevant simply by keeping up with what is going on in the world and in the lives of kids. Having two kids of his own and a wife, Kelly, who is also a Redwood Falls graduate serving in education, helps him keep up with what is going on with today’s youth.

Yet, he added, some of what he shares is timeless.

“Some of the messages are 1,000 years old,” said Hillier, adding the concepts have held true with every group he’s spoken to over the years.

In addition to speaking with the students, Hillier also had the opportunity to speak with the teaching staff prior to the start of the new year, adding he enjoyed the privilege of meeting and sharing with them.

Hillier has written three books, and his most recent, “High School Sports Leader: Coaching Team Leaders and Captains to a Season of Significance,” is being used by local student athletes as they prepare to be leaders in their own way.

Hillier said he does about 100 programs a year, adding he still enjoys being able to get up in front of an audience to speak and challenge them.

The messages he shared with the students encouraged them to be creative but also to take some personal responsibility for who they are and what they do.

“Whether you are wearing your uniform or not, you represent the Cardinals,” said Hillier, adding in a small town, wherever you go, all eyes will be on them. “People know who you are.”

For Hillier, there are some basic actions students, and people in general can do to help make themselves more successful.

It starts, he said, with good nutrition, especially in the morning. Hillier emphasized the importance of having a good breakfast every day, as it not only provides what they need to succeed in the classroom but even will impact what they do in practices and when it comes to competition.

There were other life lessons Hiller encouraged the students to make part of their life, such as:

• Being people of integrity.

• Engaging in the classroom and in practices.

• Paying attention to the fundamentals in school and sports.

• Having the courage to talk to coaches about concerns.

• Being willing to ask coaches and teachers what you can do to help.

• Leaving it in the locker.

Hillier said there are days when challenges come, and they can impact what you do.

Being a good leader means having the ability to decide that those things will not be a distraction in practice.

• If you understand how something works and see others are not grasping them, become a teacher.

“If you get it, go and teach it,” said Hillier.

• Be willing to demonstrate trust in those on the team.

“Drama happens when there is a lack of trust,” Hillier said.

• Listen and keep learning.

• Be a welcoming force for the younger students who are participating in the activity you are involved in as a student and athlete.

• What happened last year was last year. Each season is a chance to do something new.

• Be willing to mix things up.

• Put in the work if you want to get ahead of others.

“There is nothing better than being part of a team that is working hard together,” said Hillier.

• What you do early will determine how the rest of the season goes.

• There is no place for hazing.

“Give yourself a chance to be successful, and make Redwood Valley proud,” said Hillier.

Learn more about Hillier and his program on his Web site at www.craighillier.com.