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.