Make no mistake, leadership skills are vital for your athlete to cultivate and possess if they have a goal of playing at the next level. Travel, high school and college coaches alike always put athletes with strong leadership skills at the top of their list. Like everything else...leadership is a choice your athlete can and should make at whatever level he or she is capable of.
Here are 8 leadership tips to move your athlete to the top:
1. Leaders expect more from themselves and others. They never limit themselves or allow others to limit their success, their enthusiasm, their effort or attitude. They are always inspired to grow as people and athletes and expect the same from teammates. Leaders see more for their team and teammates and are relentless in their pursuit of success. As a personal friend told me about his former teammate Michael Jordan, Jordan was always working amazingly hard to improve his teammates in every area of their game, during practice and games.
2. Leaders take the time to build relationships. They converse with teammates and coaches alike to build report and respect. Leaders are interested in their teammates thoughts, feelings and motivations. They understand the value of team chemistry and are the driving force to that end on their team. Leaders are charismatic individuals others take notice of.
3. Leaders are big picture thinkers. They recognize the game is a process that takes time to master. Leaders help their teammates to understand this truth and thus teammates look to the leader for support and direction in the most difficult game situations. Leaders play the game one play at a time, yet know exactly when to lead.
4. Leaders are always observing. They are, not only, watching the game for ways to personally get better...but they are constantly aware of their teammates moods and performances, looking for opportunities to help their teammates and ultimately their team to succeed. Leaders listen and learn...always!
5. Leaders lead by example. They recognize that their teammates and coaches (and scouts) are watching their every move and, as such, they walk the talk. They have a stellar work ethic, they honor the game, they are aware of their body language and verbal language to keep their teammates on purpose. They are a solid and dependable role model for their team.
6. Leaders are highly respected. They earn this respect because they put into practice all the tips listed here. Respect allows leaders to influence their teammates. Their personal attitude and expectations for the team's attitude are embraced by teammates. In this way leaders can motivate their teammates to be better.
7. Leaders create buy in from teammates and coaches. They can effectuate both subtle and dramatic changes on their team because those around them buy in to them as a leader first. Once their teammates and coaches buy into their leadership stature their vision (or recommendations) for the team are easily followed. For example if a leader sees certain players or the team's effort or energy is down he or she can set the tone for improvement in these areas easily because their teammates respect them and what they say.
8. Leaders find a way to win. They have the power to lead their team to victory regardless of the circumstances or hurdles encountered along the way. Think Michael Jordan; think Joe Montana; think Drew Brees. Their teammates are inspired and motivated by their leadership skills and give more and do more than they thought they could do. Leaders raise the collective level of performance by their team by design.
If you or your athlete have not discussed their leadership role on his or her team you should. Leaders are highly coveted by top coaches at every level.
Remember, being a leader does not mean an athlete must be the best player or have the best statistics. Sports are filled with some very unlikely leaders, but leaders who can get the most from their teammates while playing a vital role in their team's success. Leaders also do not need to be loud. Some of the world's greatest leaders over time have been extremely quiet (think The Dali Lama, Phil Jackson, Tony LaRussa, Derek Jeter).
Leaders are not born, they are made through a combination of hard work (mastering both physical and mental skills) and a recognition of the opportunity leadership may provide for them and their team.
For more on leadership do read the many excellent books written by John Maxwell.