Coaching competitive sports brings with it a multitude of lessons learned—and one the greatest is the realization that sports is about so much more than the record book. One thing I now understand is the absolute inherent value of leaders. What really matters in a player, in the experience of a team, in the success of the season…the strength of the leaders.
Leadership training is not confined to those players chosen to be captains or the seniors or the best players. Leadership growth is an opportunity awaiting every athlete in every sport, on every team. A multitude of leadership skills are introduced, honed and cultivated through all aspects of sport–whether it be leading oneself, being the vocal leader on the field, or the quiet workhorse that leads by example. We must not overlook this gift of sport….it is a training ground for life-long skills of leadership.
It is our job, as coaches and parents, to teach these athletes to be leaders of themselves, to take care of themselves, to play for the right reasons, to find the fun in the failure, to play together, for a purpose, no matter the ability, outcome, reward. Take a step back and watch your athlete compete. Notice how they face adversity, how they interact with their teammates, how they respond to their coaches. This is the glimpse into them as leaders. After a game, ask “How did you make someone better today?” rather than “Did you win?” Challenge your athlete to endure the hardships of the game or season and be part of the solution—rather than complain and make excuses. Praise your athlete for courage in leadership rather than the number of points they scored. Help them feel safe to step outside their comfort zone and lead. Grow them into leaders. It’s a remarkable thing, as a coach, to have a leader that gets it. There is nothing like it.
Approach sport as a training ground for leaders…in the successful seasons and, even more, in the not-so-successful ones. We must focus on the process—what happens in the huddle, after a mistake, during the greatest success—and use it to build leadership and refine character. Stop focusing on the outcome. It is the process that builds the person. Players that lead are servants of the team, in love with the game, courageous enough to take a risks and own their role. “A strong leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit.” (John Wooden). Play for the process. Play for the lessons. Play for the growth. The sport ends…for most, sooner rather than later… But the intangibles of it…they last. Start building leaders… not just athletes.