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This is not the first time I have set about teaching leadership to high school aged student athletes. Even with past experience, this is not an easy task. The teenage years are often more about fitting in than standing out, more about following than leading. And leaders, be they good or bad, positive or negative, tend to stand out. It takes a certain level of confidence to lead and developing confidence through the teenage years can be a gradual, even slow, process. Often times, in the mind of a typical student athlete, the rewards of being a leader are outweighed by the perceived risks of being a leader. How we learn to develop and teach the confidence necessary to overcome powerful emotions such as doubt, fear, trepidation and uncertainty that will determine their effectiveness and success as leaders is a process that all too often gets short shrift.
Team sports are a natural environment for developing leadership skills.
In having played, coached and observed team sports over the years one thing stands out about successful teams - that being the quality of leadership. It stands to reason then a primary responsibility for a coach should be on developing quality leaders.
I think it fair to say a majority of coaches appoint team captains based on some type of arbitrary criteria grounded in both how much control they wish to relinquish to the players and the role they wish for their leaders to fill. Seniority and popularity are often determining factors when appointing captains. It is as though being a captain is about winning a popularity contest or a senior year entitlement. In truth, being a leader can place the student athlete in unpopular positions and is most definitely not an entitlement.
A similar distinction must be drawn between Leaders and Leadership.
Champions / Leaders are people and Championships / Leadership are processes.
Leaders need Leadership Opportunities from which to learn and develop leadership skills. I would suggest, if you find yourself yearning for better player leadership you should evaluate the process for developing leaders that you have in place.
Player leadership begins with the coach.
There are innumerable opportunities in team sports for developing leadership qualities in student athletes. The most difficult step a for coach in the process of developing leaders might well be consciously deciding to alter their coaching style to allow for student athletes to experience these opportunities. How does one learn about leading if the opportunities to lead are not adequate to provide experience in leading?
I would also suggest the quality of opportunities provided for developing leadership skills is of utmost importance. Leadership opportunities exist in any team environment. If your team is plagued by toxic or negative leadership it might be opportunities for toxic leadership have been present and seized upon. This is where the quality of coach / player relationships comes into play.
A key aspect of leading is the ability to establish, develop and maintain relationships. This has been a primary focus in our Leadership Class sessions to date. I have asked our student athletes to summon up 20 seconds of courage when tasked with completing the interview sections in each chapter. I have asked them to step outside their comfort zones, introduce themselves to new people and conduct short interviews with these people. We have gone from blowing off these assignments entirely to interviewing parents to interviewing people in our extended families and finally tp interviewing people who are relative if not actual strangers before the interviews begin. The confidence being gained through this process, through these opportunities is palpable. So too is the transition from leading by example to being vocal leaders. Classroom participation has steadily improved. We have even had players volunteer to LEAD classroom sessions! Progress in the Process.