A guide for young leaders
As I look back on my coaching journey I am grateful that I had the opportunity to coach players at a variety of levels. While I finished my coaching career with elite level NCAA athletes some of my most enjoyable years were as a youth and high school coach. I often hear from youth and high school coaches that it is difficult to develop their leaders because unlike the college game they aren’t with their student-athletes every single day. The path to development might be different the reality is we still need young leaders.
While I believe coaches need to lead the way in mentoring young leaders this post was designed to serve as a guide for young leaders who might be interested in what steps they can proactively take to become great team leader at a young age.
Here are some concepts young leaders should embrace as well as some ways to put these concepts into action:
- Be committed to intentional growth and development: Coaches love working with young team leaders who are willing to grow. I strongly believe that your leadership capacity IS your personal growth capacity. In other words, if you want to lead every day then you have to grow every day. Young leaders need to take the initiative to grow every day.
- Become a reader: I highly suggest that you read as much as possible. There are leadership books available for every age. I would suggest The Energy Bus or The Hard Hat by Jon Gordon (for any age), Teammates Matter by William (for high school students) and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek (for Juniors and Seniors). You can find my complete reading list here. Start reading today!
- Grow through social media: There are some wonderful people on social media who can provide you with insights on how to be a better leader. I would suggest you start following Jon Gordon (@JonGordon11) on Twitter. There is no doubt that young people spend a lot of time on social media so why not grow in the process?
- Take an online course: If you are a high school student you may want to take an online leadership development course. I now offer Leadership Discovery as a stand-alone online course. You can learn more here.
- Find a mentor: I would also suggest that you find a leadership mentor. There are many adults who have been in your shoes who can offer you advice and wisdom. Think about who you know and respect, and consider asking that person to serve as your leadership mentor.
- Provide insight on the “locker room”: While I would love to think that I flawlessly had a grasp on every player and every little dynamic on our team that simply isn’t possible. As a coach, I wanted and needed our team leaders to help me understand what was going on with our team when I wasn’t around. For example, maybe a player isn’t performing well at practice or she seems distracted because there is an issue going on at home. As a team leader, you need to help your coach to understand some of the issues the team may be dealing with. In this concept, you can think of yourself like a thermometer because you are helping your coach to understand what the “temperature” of the team is.
- Get to know your coach: If you want to help lead your team by communicating with your coach then you will need to develop a relationship with your coach. This way you will feel more comfortable talking about issues or concerns with your coach. By getting to know your coach it will make having some of those hard conversations a little easier.
- Have scheduled meetings: If you want to be a leader you will need to meet with your coach on a regular basis. Coaches often feel stressed before or after a game so try to find another time to meet. Additionally, conversations about the team need to be done face to face. This is important because we communicate not only with words but also with our body language. When we have important conversations over a text we remove half of the communication process. If scheduled meetings aren’t something your coach normally does please express that this would be helpful for you.
- Put out fires before they spread: The best leaders I worked with dealt with issues before they became a distraction on our team. That could mean pulling a player aside to talk about what is going on at home, listening to a teammate who is frustrated about playing time, or helping a teammate to find a solution to a problem they are dealing with. Great team leaders are willing to address things long before they become “problems”. When you are putting out fires you can think of yourself as a thermostat because your actions are literally changing the “temperature” of the team.
- Get to know your teammates: In order for your teammates to trust you, it will be important that you treat everyone with the same respect. Get to know each of your teammates by spending time with them. Look for opportunities to practice with a different person, sit by someone different, or invite a player you don’t know very well to have lunch with you. By developing a relationship with each teammate you will be able to serve as a thermostat for the entire team.
- Speak up: In order to put out fires, you will need to speak up. There are times when you should let your coach handle things but there are other moments when it will fall on your shoulders. One example might be team gossip. When you hear gossip, you need to address it. If you have developed healthy relationships with your teammates then you should be able to speak up and address that issue before it damages the team.
- Support other leaders: I believe great leaders support other leaders. Look for moments when you can support another leader. For example, maybe members of your team are gossiping about another player and one of your teammates says they need to stop gossiping. As a young leader, I want to encourage you to support your teammate by saying something like, “you’re right, I agree with you. Talking about another teammate makes me uncomfortable and think we are a better team when we don’t talk about each other like that.” There is power in numbers, so when you support another leader you reinforce their message.
- Model a high standard of behavior: There is no question that great team leaders model a high standard of behavior. You don’t need to be perfect, but you need to give your best effort on and off the field.
- Admit mistakes: One of the best ways a leader can be a good example is to admit mistakes. If you lose your cool in a game, say something you shouldn’t have said, or make a bad decision you should apologize for that moment. Leaders need to model a high standard of behavior but when you fall short be honest with your coaches and teammates and they will do the same. By doing this you are helping to create a culture of accountability.
- Be on the job: Make sure you view yourself as always being “on the job”. Think about how your decisions off the field will impact the team. People will not just see you as a leader when you are at practice, or in a game but rather they will see you as a leader in life. People will be watching what you do and they will follow your example.
As a young leader please know the only way to become a great leader is to practice your leadership skills! As you think about your team look for ways to put these concepts into action and please feel free to reach out to share your leadership success stories!
If you are a parent I would encourage you to share this post with your young leaders and look for ways to support and encourage them as they seek to develop their leadership skills. This process will include failure but they will grow through the failure, leaders always grow through failure.