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April's Post of the Month - Teach your players to be leaders
A prominent topic among coaches today is the lack of leadership we see in today’s athletes. Why aren’t more players stepping up and taking charge? One theory is that the explosion of adult-run youth sports programs has drastically reduced the number of players who take leadership roles.
In the good old days, kids naturally developed leadership skills because they picked their own teams, decided the rules, determined the lineups, officiated their games and learned about problem solving from handling conflicts themselves.
Research tells us that young people today are often more concerned with fitting in than standing out. These relatively new circumstances create challenges for coaches, who often implore athletes to demonstrate leadership, then get frustrated when they don’t.
Finally, while all athletes have been coached to perform skills, it’s likely that many of today’s athletes have received little or no training related to leadership.
I believe that awareness is a key concept to be tackled before a coach can make any significant progress toward changing or enhancing both the mental and physical skills of athletes. Therefore, it’s important for coaches to explore their athletes’ knowledge and conceptual understanding of leadership.
One way this can be accomplished is by having players complete a short questionnaire and then participating in a coach-led discussion. I find it’s best to give them the questionnaire as an assignment so they can be more thoughtful in considering their answers. Tell them they will be sharing their answers with the rest of the team. On the day of the discussion, have one of the athletes write all of their responses on a chalkboard. Next, have the team develop one or more statements that represent a team consensus for each item.
- Define leadership
- List 3 people you respect for their leadership ability (from any phase of your life).
- List characteristics of these effective leaders.
- How do effective leaders influence your performance?
- Do effective leaders influence your self-esteem? If so, how?
- Name some rewards of being a team leader?
- What are risks associated with being a team leader?
- Name some characteristics of great groups/teams?
- What do you think is the best way to select team leaders/captains?
Athletes will likely need assistance/coaching to clearly define the type of leadership they want to provide to the team. It’s important for players to understand that their leadership style will likely be significantly influenced by their personality. The Myers Briggs Personality Assessment is an excellent tool to help players better understand themselves. A great deal of information is available on this website. (http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/take-the-mbti-instrument/). The Myers Briggs Assessment is often available through school counselors or campus resource centers. After everyone receives their results, schedule a meeting to discuss them. This is a perfect offseason or preseason activity. My experience is that players love it.
Assign like personality styles to a group – discuss how their style influences their interpersonal and group interactions (behaviors).
Have each group list pitfalls and positive aspects of their leadership style.
Talk about how the behaviors connected to their personality style can be an asset to the team.
It’s essential for non-captains to understand the intricacies of effective leadership. Even though they’re not the designated captain(s), they can contribute valuable leadership
both on and off the court. This is a critical aspect of getting non-captains to take part in team leadership. For example, the coach can assign an appropriate leadership role to some or all non-captains. Captains will likely have more extensive roles, but the rest of the leadership roles may incorporate elements of the list below. I used this for a number of years and found it effective in keeping players engaged and vocal. In addition to giving players clear-cut assignments, it increases court awareness and connects them to their teammates. Here are some examples with possible responsibilities:
- Front-row captain – call front row players, key attackers and their tendencies, blocking assignments, weak blockers.
- Back-row captain – call key attackers in each rotation, tendencies, defensive coverage.
- Serve-receive captain – reminds players about server’s tendencies, changes the formation when necessary.
- Communication captain – ensure that court players are making eye contact with each other, keeping positive body posture and having productive talk on the court.
- Organizational captain (non-starter) – organizes team functions and community service.
- Opposing hitter shot charts (possible front-row sub) – records hitting attempts, kills, tips and errors.
- Awareness captain (non-starter) – watch the court players for signs some individuals may be distracted, under-aroused, over-aroused, sulking, not talking, not making eye contact.
Armed with valuable information about their personality style, players can now write a “job description” for their assigned leadership role. After meeting with the coach to review their written job description, they can share the job description with the team. The job description should include:
- Job title
- How your personality style shapes the leadership style and behaviors you will use fulfilling the responsibilities of this job.
Suggest to your players that they use a journal to reflect on and evaluate their progress in accomplishing leadership goals.
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