10 Things Preteens Can Do to Grow as Leaders

10 Things Preteens can do to Grow as Leaders

A few months ago I had a speaking engagement. I was talking about leadership and after the event, a mom and her son pulled me aside to ask a question. I would guess the young man was in 5th grade. His mom shared that he was a reserved person but that he really wanted to be a leader on his team. He just wasn’t sure where to start. This post is a direct response to that question.

For every young person who wants to become a leader, don’t wait for someone to assign you a title or appoint you as a leader. Leadership is a skill and the only way to get better at leading is to practice your leadership skills. Below you will find some tangible ways that you can begin to grow as a young leader.

Please feel free to share this with young people who would benefit from this list! I will post the list on twitter as well.

10 Things Preteens can do to Grow as Leaders

1) Ask, “How can I help?”: One of the best ways you can develop your leadership skills is to ask, “how can I help?” This shows you are willing to serve others. When you see someone doing physical tasks ask, “how can I help?” Great leaders are always looking for ways to help others. When your coach is setting up the field before practice ask, “how can I help?” When your coach is carrying equipment to the car after practice ask, “how can I help?” If a parent is bringing water to the field ask, “how can I help?”

2) Connect with Your Coach: To be a leader on your team, you may need to serve as a bridge between your coach and your teammates. Be intentional about connecting with your coach. Take a few minutes each week to get to know your coach as a person. Ask them some simple questions. For example; where did you go to college? Did you always want to be a coach? What do you love about coaching?

3) Connect with Your Teammates: In order to lead your teammates, they will need to feel a connection with you. There will always be some teammates you connect with more than others, but each teammate will need to know that they have a connection with you. During the course of a week purposefully divide your time between your teammates. Ask different people to warm up with you or to do drills with you, sit by a different teammate on the bench, and walk off the field with different players so you can connect with them.

4) Express Gratitude: One of the ways leaders can grow is by expressing gratitude. Be intentional about saying thank you to the adults who are a part of your team. This includes your coaches, the referees, and parents. By saying “thank you” are practicing gratitude which is an important leadership skill.

5) Do the Dirty Work: It is important that as a leader you are willing to do the tasks that others do not want to do. Look for moments when you can do “the dirty work” like picking up the trash around your field, carrying equipment, or collecting balls that might have gone out of bounds.

6) Take Care of Your People: Leaders are always thinking about others. When you know a teammate is struggling with something reach out to let them know you care. A simple text, a card signed by the team, or inviting them out for lunch when you know they are having a hard time will let them know that you care for them.

7) Find a mentor: All leaders need a support system. As a young leader think about an adult or an older teenager that you respect. It doesn’t have to be a coach. It can be someone who leads people in other ways. Ask this person if they will serve as your mentor. Request to meet with them face to face so you can ask them questions about any challenges you are dealing with. Use this time to learn from someone else who has been in your shoes.

8) Ask, “What do you need from me as a leader?”: Be willing to ask your coach, “what do you need from me as a leader?” This will demonstrate to your coach that you are willing to grow and do whatever the team needs. By asking this question you will better understand how you can best be a leader on your team.

9) Support Another Leader: Great leaders understand the value in supporting other leaders. When you see a teammate stepping up as a leader be sure to support that person. If a teammate speaks up, look them in the eye and give them verbal feedback. Say things like, “you are right” or, “that’s a good idea” or, “thanks for speaking up.” This lets them know that you support them in their desire to develop as a leader.

10) Be the First: As a leader, there will be times that you will need to “be the first.” When your teammates are complaining about the officials you may need to be the first to say something positive. When the team isn’t giving their best in practice you may need to be the first to give your 100% best effort. When the game takes a physical turn and players are getting out of control you may need to be the first to tell your teammates that this isn’t how we should act. Great leaders are willing to be the first in difficult situations.

BootCamp1 (2)

Teambuilding BootCamp 2017

Do you need new ice breakers?
Do you want fresh team building ideas?
Do you want to learn more about the value of debriefing team building activities?
Do you coach an athletic team, teach in the classroom, or lead a workgroup?

If so, Team Building BootCamp is for you! This is a FREE 5-day email based program. Team Building BootCamp will run from Sept. 18th – Sept. 22nd, 2017. Each day you will receive an email which will focus on the topic of the day. Some of the topics include how/why to use ice breakers, details on the Experiential Learning Cycle, as well as sample ice breakers and team building activities that you can put to use right away.

I hope you will take the time to help your team to be stronger by participating in Team Building BootCamp!

Registration will be open until Sept 17th.
Team Building BootCamp will not be offered again until the spring of 2018.

Sign up here! 

Release the Brake

Release the Brake

I have a friend who wants to make a difference the world. He is smart, talented, thoughtful, and empathic. Each time we talk I am energized by his depth and his desire to use his influence in the world. His skill set, coupled with his love for humanity, provide him the avenue to be a true world changer.

But every time we talk we find ourselves going down a familiar path, one where he shares that he feels stuck, that he is tired, and he isn’t sure what to do next to put his ideas into action. This is a conversation we’ve been having for several years. The reality is, he doesn’t need to accomplish all of his dreams. The fruition of just one of his visions would make the world a much better place. However, I must say, if there is anyone who could accomplish many world changing plans it is him. I believe in him.

Sadly, I doubt he will make many of his dreams happen for one simple reason … he is living his life with the emergency brake on. We can’t drive very fast or very far with the emergency brake engaged. We also do a lot of damage to our vehicles when we try and drive a car in this state. Our bodies are no different than a car. We can’t move forward quickly, and the wear and tear on our soul is exhausting when we try to dream big with the emergency brake on.

So do yourself a favor today and just release the emergency brake. You don’t have to press the gas the pedal, you don’t even have to start your engine. Just release the brake, put your life in neutral, and coast for a while. You’ll be moving forward, your body will be free to recalculate, and your soul will thank you.

Release the brake, trust me, we all need you to be free to move forward and dream big.

Life is best lived in motion.

playing your role

When your role on the team isn’t what you hoped it would be

I recently had a conversation with a talented spring sport college athlete. Her team has been in season for more than a month and the roles on her team are starting to become clear. This player is very talented and she gets a lot of playing time, but she is struggling with the voice in her head during the rare moments when she is on the bench. She is disappointed that she is starting to think things like, “If my teammate makes a mistake then I will get to play” or, “if my teammate gets hurt, I’ll get to play.” She shared that she genuinely wants her teammates to be successful and she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt or make a mistake, but that voice is stuck in her head and she doesn’t know what to do about it.

I understand where that voice is coming from. If she is on the bench with a player’s mindset then she feels robbed because she can’t do her job from the bench. But I asked this student-athlete to spend some time writing her own job description as a teammate rather than a player.

As a shortstop, she knows what her job description is, but as a teammate on the bench, she needed a new job description to focus on. This shifted her mindset from, “I’m a player and because I am on the bench I am not allowed to do my job” to, “I’m a teammate and I’m fully committed to my job description today.”

Players aren’t the only ones who have shared this struggle with me. Several coaches in the last week have reached out to talk about their frustration over players who aren’t embracing the role they are being asked to play. At this point in the season, players are seeing a pattern. Some players who hoped to be starters are coming off the bench. Others, who hoped to come off the bench aren’t making the travel roster. It is always difficult when what you hoped for isn’t coming to fruition.

As coaches, we need to be intentional about helping our players to shift from a player’s mindset to a teammate’s mindset when they are on the bench.

We can help our players with this transition by doing the following:

  1. Clearly define their role: As coaches, it might be very clear to us what role someone needs to play, but we can’t assume that our student-athletes know what we need from them. Remember, they aren’t able to just “figure it out” on the field, so we need to help them off the field as well. We need to have hard conversations to define roles and we need to be specific about those roles. When we teach our student-athletes a technical skill we get right to the point and we need to approach defining roles with the same intentional clarity. Additionally, you should give your student-athletes some time to process their roles but at some point, you need to ask if they are willing to play the role you are asking them to play. If the answer is no, then you need to be prepared to part ways with that person for the good of the team.
  2. Articulate their value: If we are going to ask our student-athletes to shift from a player’s mindset to teammate’s mindset then we need to articulate the value they bring to the team in their defined teammate roles. Be intentional about articulating their value both publicly and privately.
  3. Continue to develop them as players: The best student-athletes I ever coached were willing to play their role as a teammate but they didn’t want to stay there forever. While someone’s role may be defined for the rest of the season make sure you continue to develop all your student-athlete in practice, during film, or in one on one sessions. Most people are willing to make a sacrifice for the good of the team when they feel like their coaches haven’t given up on them.
  4. Provide opportunities: It’s expected that you’ll need to play your starters or key reserves, but when the opportunity arises to give playing time to players who are further down the depth chart you should take advantage of those moments. This lets your players know that while you value what they bring to the team as a teammate on the bench you also understand that being a player matters to them.

As you talk with your student-athlete about their role please be sensitive to presenting false hope. The reality is false hope isn’t helpful or hopeful because it’s a lie. We can be compassionate without lying to our student-athletes.

If you find yourself at “that point in the season” when roles are shaking out and players are disappointed I highly suggest that you help your players to write their own job descriptions as teammates so they can spend every minute “on the job.” When game days rolls around your student-athletes can either be players on the field, a player who isn’t allowed to play because she is stuck on the bench, or a teammate who is ready to clock in and do work. If you can remove the mindset of being a player who isn’t allowed to play you will see a big shift in your team culture.

Sidenote, the player I mentioned earlier is now proud to serve as the President of the Positivity Club when she is on the bench. Her job description is awesome and she is fully committed to filling that role when she is asked to.

*If you need assistance in helping your team to value their roles please reach out. I have some great activities that will help your team to embrace their roles.



True or False: Seniors make the best leaders.

When I ask coaches who their team leaders are I frequently hear the following, “well, our Seniors, I guess.” And when I ask why their Seniors are their best leaders more often than not the reply is, “because, they’re Seniors.” Please excuse my sarcasm, but in what world does surviving your first three years of high school or college qualify you as a leader?

Let’s use basketball as an example. If I asked who your starting point guard was would you automatically say it was a Senior? No, you would say it was the player who had developed the strongest skill set as a point guard. Ideally, it would be a Senior, because she has been a part of your program for three years and she should be the most qualified for the job, but that isn’t always the case and it certainly isn’t something we can assume.

In order for a player to be the most qualified to start at the point guard position a few things probably happened in her development; she had a coach who taught her how to be a great point guard, she had older players who mentored her as a point guard, she put in the time and effort to develop the skills to be a great point guard, and she was willing to be the backup point guard while she was developing her skills. When those things happen your Senior point guard will likely be the most qualified player for the job.

I strongly believe that leadership is a skill. If that is the case then we should be able to use the same criteria in assessing your team leaders. Here is a checklist for determining if your Senior class will be able to lead effectively:

  1. They had a coach who taught them how to lead: Our student-athletes need us to teach them how to attack a full-court press, how to manage a close game with 30 seconds left on the clock, and they need us to teach them how to lead. They aren’t being taught how to lead in school, they aren’t just going to figure it out on their own, and it isn’t something that will magically click for them the day they become Seniors. When a coach teaches her student-athletes how to lead they will naturally be better equipped to lead as Seniors.
  2. They had older players who mentored them as leaders: This might be one of the most overlooked issues in developing team culture. When you have a great Senior class who mentors the class below them you significantly increase the odds that your next Senior class can serve as leaders too. Your Senior class has been influencing the class below them for three years so one great Senior class often leads to another great Senior class.
  3. They put in the time and effort to develop skills as leaders: In order for a player to earn the role of the starting point guard, she will have to put in hundreds and hundreds of hours to develop the skills necessary to be a great point guard. The same truth applies in leadership. Ultimately leadership is a skill and we need leaders to put in the hours to develop their skills. When a class puts in the time and effort to develop their leadership skills for three years then they may be equipped to lead effectively as Seniors.
  4. They were willing to lead from the bench: To become the starting point guard, a player will likely have to spend some time as a backup point guard. The student-athletes with potential see this as a great opportunity to develop. Every day they take the court with the desire to be the best backup point guard they can be because they are preparing for the day when they will be the starting point guard. Great leaders do the same thing. They lead on the bench, they lead through injuries, and they lead where they are. They don’t just show up their Senior year feeling entitled to the position. Instead, they were leading for the last three years. If a Senior class has led in every role they have been asked to play then they will likely be able to lead as Seniors.

If you can check off all of the categories that are listed above then you may have a Senior class that can lead effectively! But let’s also talk in more detail about the factors that could prevent your Seniors from being your best leaders:

  1. The senior class did not have had a coach who taught them how to lead:
    1. Unfortunately, they may have experienced a coaching change during their career. Some student-athletes have played for several coaches during their career and as a result, they were taught inconsistent messages about leadership. This concept could also apply when a new coach replaces a long-standing coach and there are conflicting views on leadership. In either of these examples, it will be important to quickly discern if the Senior class will be able to learn, embrace and implement a new model of leadership.
    2. Sometimes a senior class hasn’t been taught to lead simply because it is outside the comfort zone of their coaching staff. In this scenario, it is critical that a coaching staff is able to recognize the need to provide outside resources in the areas of leadership development. However, let me be clear in saying this process needs to begin when they are freshmen, not when they become seniors.
  2. The class above them served as poor examples of team leaders: While it might sound cruel to withhold designated team leadership roles from a class of Seniors simply because the class before them showed poor leadership skills I strongly believe this needs to be taken into consideration. Every class is significantly influenced by the class that is a year older than them. Far too often a Senior class that lacks leadership skills are given permission to lead by the coaches. They not only lead the team in the wrong direction while destroying team culture, but they also lead the Junior class to believe this is how leaders act. You might think there is no real harm in letting a poorly skilled Senior class take the reigns. I’ve heard coaches say, “how much damage can they do in one season?” I would venture to guess that they have been leading the class below them poorly for three years. After three years of influence, your Junior class (soon to be Seniors) will fully believe this is the leadership model they too should portray. If your Senior class isn’t comprised of your best leaders who have been mentored by past team leaders then you need to consider younger players who can lead without having to unlearn ineffective leadership skills.
  3. They did not put in the time and effort to develop their leadership skills. Not only is a leadership a skill but it is also a choice. When you have a Senior class that made the decision for three years to not invest in their leadership skills then they are ill-equipped to serve as team leaders. Your team culture needs to embrace leadership as a skill and when you essentially hire unqualified people for the job you are making a mockery of your own team culture. If your Seniors haven’t developed skills as leaders then please understand that was a choice they made. You need to respond to that choice by selected your most skilled leaders as your team leaders.
  4. They were not willing to lead from other roles. Leadership skills are not dependent on a starting position or significant playing time. If your Seniors were not leading as Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors then why should you have the confidence that they can lead as Seniors? Surviving three years on a team does not mean you have developed leadership skills. Your best leaders will lead from where they are and if you have not seen evidence of that over three years then please do not make the mistake of assuming it will organically happen the day they become Seniors.

We need coaches who will display the courage necessary to empower team leaders when they possess a clear leadership skill set rather than simply elevating those with seniority. 

Leadership is a skill and we need more skilled leaders.

Please let us know how we can help to develop your team leaders. 

Oh Captain2

O Captain! My Captain!

The Walt Whitman poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” is classified as a mourning poem. I believe there are coaches who reflect on their former team Captains with the same sentiment – the mourning of poor leadership and a failed season. I also know, that when we intentionally develop team leaders, those words can become a declaration of pure pride.

In the last few weeks, I have had a significant number of coaches reach out to talk about team leadership. Specifically, what leadership model should they use, how they should select their team leaders, when they should select their team leaders, and what skills should they look for in their team leaders. I am grateful that coaches are asking these questions. Team leadership will make or break a season. As coaches, we have a moral responsibility to develop future leaders.

Here are my thoughts on those questions:

Different Leadership Models: Most teams I work with use one of the following models:

  1. Designated Team Captains: For most of my career this was my preferred model, but your own leadership style as a coach and your current team culture will dictate the best option for your team. With this model, I suggest selecting 2-3 student-athletes and intentionally developing them as leaders. I would suggest meeting weekly in the off-season to do leadership development and to develop a deeper level of trust. In-season you can meet as needed but I wouldn’t go more than 7-10 days without meeting.
  2. A Team Leadership Council: With this model, you can select a larger number of players to develop. This model may also allow you to designate specific areas of leadership for each student-athlete to focus on and it allows you to be more intentional about developing your younger or future leaders. With a Team Leadership Council, I have found you need clear expectations for the members. Without clear expectations, you may find that no one is taking action because they expected someone else in the group to do it.
  3. No Designated Team Leaders: I know of teams who have used this model successfully but there are some clear guidelines in order for this to work. First, your culture needs to be well established. If your team culture is strong then this can work, but a team in transition will fail with this approach. Secondly, the expectation needs to be that everyone will lead and everyone will be held accountable. This works well in a program where the coaching staff has been intact for many years with a large number of returning players who have bought into the team culture. I would not advise this model for a team in transition.

Ways to Select Team Leaders: Not only do we need to think about an appropriate leadership model, we also need to think about how we are going to select our team leaders.

  1. Student-athletes select the team leaders: This works if your team culture is very strong but it will not work if your team is in transition. In one of my first college jobs, I asked the team to mark on a roster who they thought our best team leaders were. They unanimously selected a student-athlete who I knew would quit the team at some point. She just wasn’t a college level player and it showed in her work ethic and attitude. I asked our student-athletes to stop by the office and explain why they selected her. They all offered a variation of, “she is the best at decorating our lockers on our birthdays. She always brings cupcakes too.” When your players don’t know how you define leadership it is difficult for them to help identify the team leaders. If your culture is stable their input will be valuable, but if the culture is in transition this method will be a recipe for failure.
  2. Coaches select the team leaders: There are times when a coach simply needs to make this decision, particularly for a team in transition. However, as your team culture becomes stronger I do believe student-athletes should have a voice in this process.
  3. A hybrid process where coaches make the final decision after considering student-athlete input: This is the method that I think leads to success. The reality is sometimes coaches get it wrong when selecting team leaders. As coaches, we don’t always know what is going on with our team when we are not around. By asking for input from our student-athletes we allow them to be a part of the process but we can also gain valuable insights about our team. And just like coaches, players don’t always get it right either. I strongly believe that coaches should have the final say in selecting team leaders. In many cases, our jobs depend on this decision. We should listen to our players but also listen to our own life experience as coaches and select the best leaders to serve in this capacity. We have no right as adults to blame our student-athletes for selecting poor team leaders, the final decision rests on our shoulders.

When to Select Team Leaders: The timing of selecting your team leaders may be just as important as who you select.

  1. The process of discerning your next group of team leaders should begin long before your season ends. I would strongly encourage you to select and announce your team leaders as soon as you know who they are, ideally soon after the end of your season. This gives them time to adjust to their new role, practice leading in a lower stress environment and develop a closer relationship with the coaches. It is much safer to practice being a leader in the off-season than it is in-season. By developing your team leaders in the off-season you increase the odds that they can lead successfully.
  2. If you aren’t sure who your leaders will be then I would strongly encourage you to provide your entire team with plenty of leadership opportunities to see who will surface as your leaders. Put them in a variety of environments where people need to lead.

What Skills to look for in Team Leaders: I may need to write multiple posts on this topic. The reality is I could give you a list of 20+ skills to look for and develop in your team leaders. If you could find leaders with several of those 20+ skills then you would be in great hands! For the sake of time I will offer five skills to consider:

  1. Say “Come with Me.”: I believe great leaders are willing to walk with their people. They don’t lead from a distance pointing out what others need to do, they actually walk with their people. A specific example I can give you happened with one of my teams in preseason. One morning before training my Senior Captain who was our starting Keeper walked into the office with a freshman attacker. Our Keeper said, “We need to talk to you.” I found this moment to be odd since these two didn’t play the same position, they weren’t in the same class and they had just met a week ago. Our Captain went on to explain that the practice gear for the young freshman was missing. It wasn’t in the laundry and they had looked everywhere. I soon figured out what was going on … the freshman was afraid to come tell me, but our Senior Captain literally said to her, “come with me.” Our Captain could have said, “this happens from time to time, it may have ended up with the volleyball team, it will show up, or just go to tell coach” but she didn’t. Instead, she walked with her to have that conversation with me. Great leaders say “come with me.”
  2. Do The Dirty Work: Team leaders need to be people who do the dirty work. They need to do the thankless jobs, the kind of stuff other people run from. They should be the ones picking up the trash on your sidelines, showing extra care for the locker room, and offering to carry team gear. This matters because if they are willing to do it off the field then you can count on them to do the dirty work on the field. If you are willing to empty the trash when no one is looking then you will be willing to make a 40-yard sprint screaming for a ball you know you won’t get just to create space for your teammate with the ball. Great leaders do the dirty work.
  3. Pay it Forward: I am amazed at how many coaches ignore this skill. When selecting team leaders you need to pay attention to who has paid it forward. By that I mean, the day you become a starter or the day you become a senior should not be the day you “turn on” your leadership skills. Great team leaders have been paying it forward from the moment they joined the team. People who pay it forward don’t wait until they can be recognized, they lead from where they are. You don’t become a great leader when you become a starting point guard, you become a great point guard because you led from the bench as a 3rd string player for two years. Pay close attention to who has been paying it forward for years. When you find those leaders you can trust that they will continue to lead because leading has become a habit for them. Great leaders pay it forward.
  4. Burn the Ships: This phrase comes from the story of Hernan Cortez who left Spain in 1519 with 600 men, 16 horses, and 11 ships. They were headed to Mexico in search of Aztec jewels. While the men were nervous, they knew if they got into trouble they could alway go back to Spain. But Cortez took a dramatic approach as a leader. When they landed on the shore he told them to “burn the ships.”  They were in this battle to win it and they weren’t turning back so they burned the ships to remove the option of retreating. Great leaders know that preparation and personal growth are critical to success but they also know there are times when they have to step up and go for it. Sometimes leaders have to let go of an escape plan and step into a leadership role that feels outside of their comfort zone. Finding team leaders who will let go of perfection and lead in the difficult moments can be a turning point for a team. Great leaders burn the ships.
  5. Take Care of their People: As you think about your team who are the student-athletes who take care of their people? You can define this in many ways, but think about who genuinely cares for their teammates? When a team knows their leaders care for them they will suddenly do anything their team leaders request. You can’t go wrong with leaders who care for their people. Great leaders take care of their people.

I highly suggest developing your entire team as leaders and providing additional development opportunities for your team leaders. As coaches we are leaders and the reality is great leaders develop more leaders.

When we speak of our team leaders it shouldn’t feel like a mourning poem. Instead, we should tell the narrative of young leaders who successfully helped to move a group of individuals from here to there.

If you are interested in using Leadership Discovery to develop your team as leaders or our new Skype-based Leaders in Action program for team leaders then please reach out. We’d love to help you develop the next generation of leaders.

Myth 8

Myth #8: “It will take me months to raise the money to do this.”

After talking with coaches about what services I provide, the first question I am asked is always, “how much do you charge.” Without fail, that is always the first question. Truthfully, I can’t blame a coach for addressing that concern early in the conversation. For most coaches, they are already fundraising to compensate for what their General Operating Budget doesn’t cover. If they want to take a team trip, get new uniforms or increase their roster size they will often be solely responsible for raising the funds to make that happen.

So when I propose that they integrate curriculum, use our Team LABS or invest in other leadership or culture resources their first thought may be that they will need to plan yet another fundraiser. Planning a pancake breakfast, a team trivia night or a letter writing campaign is time-consuming and it might be months before the event can be scheduled. But this is a challenge for coaches because most of them reach out when they actually need resources, not months in advance.

I am excited to announce that I have now finalized a partnership with a fundraising organization – think of it as, “Go Fund Me” for teams. Through our partnership, I can have you set up with an online fundraising platform within 24 hours. The process is as simple as it can be and there are no upfront or out of pocket expenses for your program. Your players will supply email addresses and then customized emails which include a photo of the student-athlete will be sent to potential donors. And just like that, you are on your way to raising the funds needed to develop your student-athletes as leaders.

So the next time you think that the fundraising process will hold you back from integrating leadership development into your program, think again. This was a problem for so many coaches, but we’ve created a solution. 

If you’d like to pursue this option for your team please let me know and I can get you more details.


Reading list for coaches

I believe that our personal growth capacity IS our leadership capacity. If we want to lead our teams and develop more leaders then we need to be investing in our own personal growth. Here are five books you won’t find in the “sport” section that I think every coach needs to read:

Necessary Endings by Cloud

Give & Take by Grant

On the Edge by Levine

Help the Helper by Pritchard and Eliot

Not Everyone gets Trophy by Tulgan

Click on the links to go straight to Amazon. If you need more suggestions please reach out. Enjoy!


Myth #5: “I don’t need someone to come in and tell me how to coach.”

When you invite someone to help with leadership and culture the last thing you need is someone who will undermine you as a coach. Odds are, you already have examples of people who help your players in the areas that aren’t within your specialty. For example, you may utilize a strength and conditioning coach, a nutritionist or a good sports medicine team. The best of the best have something in common; they stay in their lane. The same should be true of anyone that you select to work with your team.

A few years ago my college team was a hard working group and they were making great strides on the field. Physically we were doing very well but I had some concerns about our mental skills and how we responded in close games. I made the decision to bring in Tami Matheny, a mental skills coach, to work with our team for a few days.

Tami spent time at our practices, did a workshop on mental skills and was with us for a critical conference game. I also requested something that felt very risky to me; I asked her to meet with our sophomore class for 90 minutes … without me … yeah, that felt risky.

I wanted to her meet with them because I felt like they were the future of our program. I believed the strength of that class would ultimately be the strength of our team. I also knew that in order for our team to grow they would need to speak freely with her. I knew that Tami had our best interest at heart, and while it was hard to leave the room I knew we were all in good hands.

Later that night Tami and I went to dinner and for the FIRST time in my career, I was sitting across the table from an adult who genuinely had my back. As we talked she didn’t tell me how to coach, we didn’t talk about our system or our sub rotation. Instead, she gave me her honest perspective on the mental state of our team and she encouraged me to take specific action. She shared her observations about particular players and she reinforced a lot of what I was already thinking. She built me up without sugarcoating things. She was direct and compassionate.

She didn’t come in and tell me how to coach, she came in and helped me to become a better coach. 

Great players need great coaches and great coaches need a support system. If you want to talk about what your team needs in terms of leadership development, culture, or team building then please reach out. Phone calls are always free.

I’d welcome the opportunity to have your back and I can promise I’ll stay in my lane …


Myth #3: “Our school has a contract with a guy who speaks to all the student-athletes once a year.”

In regards to leadership development plenty of coaches have told me, “Our school has a contract with a guy who speaks to all the student-athletes once a year.” And that’s it. End of conversation. They can check it off their list. Leadership development, done. One less thing to worry about.

Let me ask you some questions:

Do you practice once a year?
Lift once a year?
Do you measure your fitness goals once a year?
Work on set-pieces once a year?
Do you warm-up and cool-down once a year?
Look at grade checks once a year?
Do you call recruits once a year?
Practice penalty kicks once a year?
Do you work on the fundamentals once a year?
Go over scouting reports once a year?
Do you give a pregame talk once a year?

Those questions are absurd to even ask. You do those things on a regular basis because they matter to your program. Those things directly impact your ability to be successful and your players know it. Leadership development needs to be added to that list.

The message we send to our players when we talk about leadership once a year is that it is something we are supposed to do rather than something we value. If you want buy-in from your players then leadership development has to be integrated into your program.

There are many ways to integrate leadership development within your program. You can implement leadership development curriculum with your entire team, do weekly leadership assessments, complete team service projects, set up leadership mentors for your players, as a team read a book on leadership, have your players write a team definition of leadership, study other teams that value leadership, watch a TED Talk each week on various leadership topics, listen to leadership podcasts, show highlight clips of leadership moments on the field, or provide tangible opportunities where your players are empowered to lead.

But a critical first step is to start talking about the value of leadership. A simple way to do this is to identify and praise the moments when our players do lead. One of the things I believe about leadership is the idea that great leaders do the dirty work. Great leaders are willing to do what no one else wants to do. They will do the thankless jobs that others walk away from. In the sport of soccer, one of the ways to do the dirty work is to sacrifice your body to prevent giving up a corner kick. When I see a player sprint to a ball that everyone else assumes is going out, then slide across turf to kick the ball out for a throw-in and stand up with three layers of skin now missing from the back of her legs you better believe I am going to mark that as a clear leadership moment. It doesn’t take more than 30 seconds out of training for me to stop and praise that player for leading by doing the dirty. What we talk about and praise will be repeated.

When coaches regularly talk about leadership we send the message that we value leadership. If we talk about leadership once a year, then we should expect to see leadership from our players about once a year and we all know that isn’t going to get us where we want to be.

Do you need more ideas on integrating leadership development within your program? Stay tuned, more is on the way! But if you need ideas now please reach out, phone calls are always free. We’d be glad to talk with you about our curriculum and other resources to help you integrate leadership within your program.