This article’s charge is to highlight the many elements to being a leader in sport today and what coaches and captains can begin to do to be the leaders your team needs you to be. A void exists in good and influential leaders in sport (just read the sports headlines), and due to this, there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on enhancing excellent and effective leadership across all of sport. To begin, true leadership entails maximizing one’s ability to influence, motivate, educate, engage, and empower team members to improve their collective effectiveness en route to accomplishing their common mission.
Let’s begin by responding to the below questions to peak awareness of fundamental leadership concepts, like leading by example, being a good listener, having genuine relationships, and approachability.
- What example do you set at practice? In games? In the locker room? In the office?
- What is the locker room climate like? Pre-practice focus and energy? How cohesive is the team?
- Do you support your staff, co-captains, and players frequently?
- Are you a good listener? Do you usually follow-through on commitments made?
- Most preferred and productive leadership styles?
- How do you best motivate/challenge your staff, captains, and players? Does it always work?
- Do you have a genuine relationship with all of your players, coaches, teammates?
- How approachable are you? Open to learning and listening to feedback from others?
- Are you the problem solver on your staff? How effective-productive are your team meetings?
- Good & Effective Leadership is Essential
My two leadership books, The Sports Leadership Playbook, a book that applies business leadership principles to sport, and The Leadership Fix for coaches, detail the many talents, techniques, and tactics necessary to be a good and effective sports leader. As we see more and more these days, coaches and captains who are not good, influential leaders but rather inadequate and ineffective/abusive leaders get what they deserve. There is an alarmingly high increase in coaches at all levels of sport being fired due to players and teams not taking “it” anymore. By “it,” I mean inadequate and ineffective leadership practices of coaches. They are standing up against the abuse of power and position through passive-aggressive acts such as insubordination and deliberate sabotage of play. To formalized revolts (e.g., Indiana, Texas, UNC, Arizona, Michigan State, Texas Tech), lawsuits against coaches, and high transfer rates (which hurt university programs’ APR stats). There is no more critical time for good (high moral example) and practical (helps teams accomplish objectives via a sound process that matches people/players to their strengths and creates a collaborative culture) leaders for today’s sports participants.
Are You a Good & Effective Leader, Manager, and Coach?
Leadership is often confused with management, and now that a billion-dollar industry exists for leadership coaching in the corporate world, leadership can be confused with coaching. Many sources have revealed the differences between the first two: managers budget and plan, whereby leaders set a vision and direction; managers organize staff to work the plan, whereby leaders align people to their strengths to accomplish the vision; managers get people to do what needs to get done yet leaders get people to want to do what needs to get done; managers push and direct, but leaders pull and expect, and managers get power from their positions of authority, yet leaders get empowered from partnerships and collaborative efforts from many. Based on these simple comparisons, which do you most align with? Although sports coaches must dedicate some of their time to managerial tasks since there are so many internal and external operations as part of the job, not all coaches are necessarily leaders. A business leadership thought leader, Warren Bennis, believed that most companies are over-managed and under-led. I believe the same can be said about sport—more on that in a future issue of this leadership series. To address the third leading role, according to leadership expert Daniel Goleman, coaching is developing people’s skill-sets, which help improve performance and in doing so, will also develop long-term strategies for the individual and the collective group.
Where is Your Time Spent?
In some past advising sessions I had with coaches and staff from the Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, I broke down the many responsibilities coaches have into three main categories: managerial, coaching, and leadership.
10 Specific Responsibilities
- Managing – people, programs, & priorities
- Internal operations*
- External operations*
- Coaching/Educator (film, training, match)
- Coaching Motivator
- Coach Gamer/Trainer
- Coach Supporter/Connector/Communicator
- Leading – visionary/innovation
- Leading – inspiring & influencing
- Leading – balancing/prioritizing it all
- Leading – change agent
- Learning/Teaching Leader
* Internal Operations = budgeting, equipment, oversee athletes’ academics, game & trip, department meetings, email/phone calls
* External Operations = recruiting, scouting, fundraising, networking, marketing
To gain insight into where your time is being spent across the three areas; coaching, management, and leadership feel free to put a percentage number on the blank spaces that denote the percentage of the time spent (generally) in each of these responsibilities. The first column is to be completed by you, the second for a staff member to complete based on what they see where you spend your time (for a “second opinion”), and the third is your most preferred breakdown. Since different times of year will change where time is allotted, feel free to complete it to reflect these other seasons. For example, complete it about time spent during the competitive season (fall), off-season (winter), the spring season (spring), and summertime. Upon completion of this exercise, what did you learn? Where is most of your time spent along with these ten roles? Are you spending your time where it needs to be? Are you working to your strengths the majority of the time? On that, which areas are your strengths? Lastly, how close or how far off are you in devoting time where you want it to be spent?
This issue just got the ball rolling about coaching coaches to be fair and effective leaders. Future editions of this leadership coaching series will highlight leadership assessments designed to educate and improve awareness of your leadership styles, behavioral pitfalls, and skill-sets, along with the most recommended leadership tactics and techniques, as well as ways to develop better peer leaders on your teams.
Portions of this article are adapted from Dr. V’s books, The Sports Leadership Playbook (McFarland)a book that applies business leadership principles to sport, and (2020, Coaches Choice), written for coaches and sport organizations, The Leadership Fix and his articles in the Soccer Journal from the United Soccer Coaches Association.