Any seasoned coach will tell you that some of the most enjoyable experiences they ever had in coaching was when he/she coached a team with a number of mature leaders who raised the intensity of the entire team, consistently ‘set the bar’, encouraged teammates while holding others accountable, and led the team in the games that counted the most. Those types of leaders can make coaching even more fun than usual. They can take a huge load off of the coaching staff, effectively dealing with petty issues before they ever reach the coach, help to fire the competitive intensity of the team, and help to establish a tough work ethic and team culture. Leadership can often make or break a season, and yet as coaches and trainers we often do not give this key area of our success sufficient attention. Let me explain…
On so many teams, leadership development often consists of a selection process (either the coach selects the leaders or the team votes to selects leaders, some conversation regarding what the coach expects of the leaders, and then some occasional meetings where the coach and captains/leaders discuss the ‘pulse’ of the team. On the surface, this is not a negative or incorrect process, but it is often a process that is far from complete. Captains and leaders often need training because very few leaders have exemplary skill in every important facet of student athlete leadership. Just as importantly, a feedback loop also needs to be established which allows the coach and captain(s) to discuss leadership training results/progress.
The following discussion provides a few ideas to help you train your leaders and create an easy to implement feedback loop.
After your captains have been selected, the most critical first step is to ensure your leaders have a very clear picture of the value system, culture and team standards you are aiming to implement. I use 4 pillars in the value system and leadership training that I conduct. These 4 pillars combine actual skills, character traits and values….they are Consistency, Work Ethic, Integrity (ability to do what you said you would do) and Communication (particularly the ability to breathe life into teammates and team, yet also know how and when to hold players accountable). Once this overview is complete, the goal is to now give your captains/leaders a fun assignment every couple of weeks that works on one or more of these specific leadership skills/values.
For example: set your leaders the task of watching a movie that demonstrates a really good and really bad example of leadership pertaining to one of your key leadership values/pillars, and there are many great movies and great sports movies to choose from. A solid example is ‘Remember the Titans’. In this movie you will see the young football captain (Gary Bertier) of that legendary team demonstrate tremendous growth and change throughout the movie ie when he initially does not demonstrate great consistency or integrity in how he is playing, his lack of an elite work ethic and how he is talking about his teammates and coaching staff behind their back etc), to eventually growing a level of maturity, growing up as a leader, growing as a communicator and making a very gutsy call regarding holding one of his teammates accountable. In addition to the teaching points provided by Gary Bertier’s character, there are also a number of stellar examples of great leadership demonstrated by the coaches of the football team.
After your captain(s) watch the movie, a follow-up meeting can be scheduled, and during the meeting some questions for your captains might include: What were the biggest changes that led to the transformation of the captain in the movie? Which change was the most significant to you and why? What was the single hardest thing for Gary to do as a leader in the movie? Give me one leadership situation in the movie (it could involve anyone in the movie) that you would have handled differently. What would you have done differently and why?
Many of these questions involve a form of controversy in the movie, which I always encourage leaders to think about. As we all know, a big aspect of leadership concerns their thoughts and actions in the midst of challenge and controversy. I want your leaders to think about these situations and analyze these situations. The more they think about these situations, the more they think like a leader and the more they behave like a leader.
Some additional questions might include: What about your leadership this year?….What do you think might be the hardest part of being a leader of this team based on the leadership skills you do have and the skills you don’t have? How do you plan on meeting this challenge?
When considering additional ways to train your leaders, mix things up to keep them fun and fresh, using movies, Youtube, ESPN sports interviews with players or coaches, articles, and actual situations currently occurring within the team to use as great teaching and talking material.