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By Dawn Redd-Kelly.
“The most effective form of leadership is supportive. It is collaborative. It is never assigning a task, role or function to another that we ourselves would not be willing to perform. For all practical purposes, leading well is as simple as remembering to remain others-centered instead of self-centered.”—Great Leadership Isn’t About You
Teaching our athletes to lead is a big job. Failing to set the ground rules for what you want leadership to look like can lead to hazing, “mean girl” tactics, cliques, and ultimately ineffective performances. We can’t expect our athletes to know what we want if we haven’t explicitly laid it out for them. In the absence of a coach’s direction, the athletes are going to fill in the gap and I’m sure we can all agree that that probably won’t go well!
I believe our team leaders want to be taught and I know our teams want to be led by captains who make it easy to follow them. What leaders are easy to follow? The author listed some characteristics in the quotation at the beginning…those are a good start:
- I rely on my captains to be a go-between. They work closely with the team as well as the coaching staff. Ideally, they understand that they perform an important role in the team’s success. They should be close enough to their teammates that they know when things are going a bit sideways and they need to tell the coaches. But they should also know when not to tell the coaching staff. My most effective team captains squashed issues before I even knew what was going on!
- Our teams are faced with the conundrum of needing to be both collaborative and competitive. If you’ve got two players who play the same position, they will both benefit from in-practice competition, but surely they know that once the whistle blows at game time, they’re expected to support the team…whether or not they’re on the court. Collaboration should be built into our team cultures, our captains should always be looking to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate. Asking the younger players questions and not creating a “captain clique” will help create those collaborative feelings on the team.
- In the trenches. I don’t want captains who say, “Freshmen always do ________ (insert task here).” Freshmen (or newbies) shouldn’t always carry stuff, be expected to defer to upperclassmen, or be treated in a second-rate manner. That kind of behavior signals insecurity in the leader. It’s hard for players to follow a captain that lacks confidence and tries to raise themselves up by pushing their teammates down. Everyone pitching in helps to create good feelings among the players, regardless of how long they’ve been with the team.
- Other-centered. I’ve had captains who would stay after practice with a lesser skilled teammate and help them with skill work…that’s great. I’ve had captains who’ve told me about a teammate who beyond-the-norm homesick…that type of concern is necessary. And we’ve had captains who, after I’ve announced that perhaps an extended conditioning session would be more productive than working on skills, gather the team together to figuratively whip them into shape.
Of course I’ve had ineffective captains as well, but that’s not what this post is about! It’s about giving our team leaders the necessary skills that make them easy for their teammates to follow. If we set the standards high for our captains, they will rise to the challenge.
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