Category Archives: Leadership

8 Qualities Of Great Team Leaders

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Captains are important and serve a unique function on our teams, so I enjoyed this article from Leadership Freak, The Three Power-People You Need On Your Team.  I don’t want to get into whether you choose captains or you let the team, or whether or not your captains are always seniors, or whether you don’t have captains at all.  I want to focus on what qualities we should look for, and what we should coach the team to look for, in our team leaders.

What we should look for in team leaders:

  • Hard working. I don’t know about you, but my best captains have been the hardest workers.  When they asked the team to run through a wall, their teammates knew the captain would be right there with them…leading the way.
  • Strong opinions and emotions. They should be passionate about the sport, about the team, and about their teammates.  Ideally they’re able to harness that emotion into motivating their teammates.
  • Unflinching alignment with organizational values.  What is it you value as a coach?  Does your team know?  Do your team leaders/captains?  Is it being on time?  Is it extra film study?  Is it supporting teammates who play a second sport?  Whatever it is, make sure you make it known.
  • Comfort saying no. Good manners are nice but not essential.  I had a young lady who was a natural born leader.  She was strong and she spoke her mind.  One preseason, she came in and it was like a quiet, mousy alien had abducted her.  She was worried that she was too strong and was scaring the team.  I did my best to tell her the qualities she was trying to hide were her best qualities.  And not only that, they were assets our team was in dire need of.
  • Dedication to serve the organization before serving themselves.  There’s that servant leader concept.  Team before self.  The teams I’ve had who have suffered through lack of success were always lacking that team-first leader.
  • Strength to confront brutal facts.  What if your star player is out all night long making a fool of herself (however you deem it) before a big game?  Will your team leaders address it?  My best leaders squash problems before I even realize it’s going on.
  • Openness to change.  Let’s say you’ve got a team captain.  She’s pretty good, but you see with a couple of tweaks in her personality or how she communicates with the team, she could be amazing.  Hopefully, she’s open to getting better…not just on the court, but off of it as well.
  • Loyalty.  To the program, of course, but more importantly, to their best selves.  That may come across as kind of cheesy, but sometimes our team leaders are put in tough positions where they’ve got to make a decision that may be unpopular.  I’d hope they believe in the type of leader they are and can stand by it.

Once we’ve found these folks and they’ve been identified as team leaders, it’s our job to train them to lead.  So often we assume our players know how to lead, but they only know what they’ve been exposed to.  What if you showed them leadership videos on Ted or youtube?  What if you read them great leadership quotes and asked them what they meant to each one of them?  What if you picked a leadership book and read it with them?

Training our leaders may be just as important as training our sport skills.

Are You Committed To Your Team?


I found a nice article over at Basketball Insights that talked about NBA coach Gregg Popovich’s leadership skills.  Since he’s been so successful, I thought I’d share it with you and put my spin on things.

6 ways to show your commitment to your team

1.      Understand what motivates your players. In practices and in games, we’ve got to know how to get our teams going.  I often tell my teams that games aren’t the time for teaching…go play and we’ll fix it later.  The same goes for us as coaches.  We’ve got to remember to use practice time to figure out how each player is motivated to learn, how they’re motivated to push themselves, and how they’re motivated to excel.  In the same manner, we can use scrimmages to see how they’re motivated in stressful competitive situations.

2.      Do what it takes to be a champion. Winning cultures win. I’m sure you’ve played teams that your team was better than…but that other team had crazy swagger.  They expected to win more than your team hoped to win.  Before we can create a culture of winning, I believe we’ve got to create a culture of success.  You all know by now how deep my love of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success goes, he was awesome.  He was also a champion.

3.      Be a learning leader. Isn’t the coaching cliché that the best coaches steal from the best coaches?  With so many coaches out there, I can’t think of a reason that we can’t all find someone to learn from!  I believe in being a coaching nerd and learning from as many folks as I can, whether it’s another coach or a business leader.

4.      Provide vision for your program. What is important to you?  What is your coaching philosophy? How do you want your team to be perceived?  All of those things go into creating a vision for your program.  Then you go out and get it.  Without knowing what you want, how will you know what players to recruit?  Beyond that, how will your players know when they’re successful?

5.      Put the team first. Everything we do has to be about the team.  Whether it’s being incredibly prepared for every drill, practice, and game…or making sure you’re on the same page with your assistants.  All of that puts the team first.  Add to that all of the intangibles that we teach our athletes, they’ll appreciate that it’s “we before me” and model that behavior.

6.      Have fun. Hopefully you love your sport.  Hopefully you love going to practice.  Hopefully you love coaching.  Hopefully you love your athletes (even when they’re driving you crazy).  Hopefully you get along with your coworkers.  Hopefully you’ve got rockstar assistants.  If you’ve got all of that, then you’re having fun.

Leading, coaching…it’s not easy, but it’s the best job ever!  We can learn from those folks who’ve not only been successful, but who’ve been continuously successful over a long period of time.

5 Qualities To Be Thankful For In Your Team Leaders


Great leaders .  Everyone’s looking for them.  Check out this list for a good start at creating the type of leaders that will put your team on the road to success.

5 things that coaches look for in captains and team leaders

1.       Integrity: Who are they when no one is looking?
A great team leader will be committed to working out in the off-season, hosting recruits, and being a good example for the rest of the team.  They have a sense of humility about them, never wanting to abuse their perceived power position.  They hold themselves and their teammates accountable to a very high standard of excellence in the classroom as well as on the field.  They are motivated to portray a positive image of the student athlete: hard working, active on campus, and involved in the classroom.  Finally, they are prepared.  They know the scouting report, they come in early to help with whatever the coach or team needs, and they let the coach know of any problems that may be brewing in the background.

2.       Awareness: Are they willing to be who their teammates need them to be?
There’s been a shift in the business world from following The Golden Rule (Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you) to The Platinum Rule, which says that we should do unto others as they would like to be done unto.  That goes back to the different personality types that you’re sure to have on your team.  The thought is that doing what I want could very possibly be exactly opposite of what you want and therefore the bridge isn’t passed.  The good leader knows their teammates well and how they communicate.

3.       Inspiring: Can they help focus the team on the common goal?
When they sit down with the team at the beginning of the season, they are the folks who are actively submitting ideas for those goals.  They’ve been thinking about this for a while and have a vision that is as big as the coach’s and encompasses the whole team.

4.       Straight-forward: Will they squash small issues before they become major drama?
I’m sure all of us coaches meet with our captains pretty regularly.   And I’m sure that most of us ask them about things that are going on behind the scenes that we should know about.  The straight-forward leader will have noticed any issues that are rearing their heads, respectfully gone to that teammate, and will have gotten it taken care of before we even know to ask.

5.       Confident: Can they rally the troops in good times and bad?
Being a team leader is a tough job!  We require them to be the vocal leader as well as to lead by example.  We ask them to commit to working hard toward an unseen goal.  And we ask them to keep their teammates motivated even when their classes are killing them, the team has just lost a big game, or the pressure’s on because you’ve won a lot games in a row.

Coaches, we can’t do it alone!  We need great team leaders and captains for our teams to function at a high level.  So let’s all agree to nurture these qualities on our teams.

Coaching Is Leadership


I believe it’s important for us to model quality leadership for our student-athletes.  We have an amazing opportunity to show our young people what it takes to lead with integrity, focus, and success.  Check out the things that will make us great leaders…and prepare our players to do the same!

L…learn.  I’m a big fan of reading business magazines, blogs, and books.  What I read time and again is that business leaders are voracious readers.  And if they love to read, maybe we should be too since we’re the CEO’s of our programs.  Reading forces us to think critically, follow our mentors, and find different perspectives on how to solve problems.

E…enthusiasm.  As I’ve said before, we’ve got to love what we do…and that passion should be contagious to our teams.  I’ve caught the volleyball bug and my goal is to infect my team with it.  I want the passion I have for my sport to go through my team like a cold in a kindergarten classroom.

A…advocate.  For the noun version of this word, we should be advocates for our student-athletes on our campuses.  Whether it’s with professors who may not understand or value the time commitment required to excel at our sport or an apathetic student body that may not appreciate with athletics brings to the campus community.  For the verb version, I believe that it’s the coach’s job to always advocate for awards for our players…both athletic and academic.  It’s always sad to hear that an athlete would have won an award if only their coach had taken the time to nominate them.

D…delegate.  I know we head coaches are crazy control freaks, but we’ve got to let some things go…for the benefit of the team and our sanity.  We hired our assistants because we believe they are capable and knowledgeable…let them be those things!

E…effective.  Ineffective leaders are unreliable, take no ownership, are resistant to change, and have a negative attitude…read more here.

R…relevant.  A great leader will stay up to date on all of the newest innovations with their profession.  Whether it’s reading books, attending conventions and seminars, or even just watching a webinar…effective leaders keep up with all things relevant to excelling at their job.

S…servant.  10 characteristics of a servant leader:  listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the personal growth of people, and building community…read more here.

H…humility.  We’ve all been around that coach who blames her team when things are going poorly and takes all of the credit when her team is rolling…don’t be that coach.

I…integrity.  It basically comes down to your moral code, whatever that is, and how well you stick to it.  Will you treat your star players the same as those who will never get off of the bench?  Will you bad mouth another coach in order to get a prized recruit?  Will you fudge the numbers to make sure that your budget is balanced?

P…purpose.  I believe that God created me to coach.  Not because I think I’m some sort of baller coach, but because I believe in what sport teaches young people.  I feel privileged to be able to teach life lessons (disguised as athletics) that these young ladies will be able to use out in the real world.

If we believe that coaching is more than the X’s and O’s, the wins and losses…then we’ve got to be intentional about creating a respectful environment that is conducive to leadership.

Leadership Made Simple


I showed this video to my team at the beginning of the season.  My goal was to demystify what leadership meant and to redefine it for my players.  Many times, I believe they think a leader is a senior or the best player.  In other words, someone else.

In his TEDtalk, Everyday Leadership, Drew Dudley makes an argument that we have leadership opportunities all the time and that maybe we’ve made it into something bigger than it really is.  He argues that leadership is an opportunity to change someone else’s life by just being ourselves.  Check out the video, he’s got quite a funny story about an impact he made…that he doesn’t even remember.

What is everyday leadership?

  1. Impactful.  Everyday leadership is just being yourself while making a point to notice and care for others.  It could be one of your players noticing that a newbie is homesick and hanging out with her.  Or it could be an upperclassman pulling the team together during a game when things start falling apart.  Everyday leadership doesn’t have to be dramatic speeches and it doesn’t require a big personality, just the heart to impact their teammates.
  2. Powerful.  Because we don’t put labels on this type of leadership, its power increases because anyone on the team can do it.  A freshman can impact a senior, a player can impact a coach’s life, and a coach can dramatically change a player’s outlook on their sport, their team, and their place on it.
  3. Acknowledge.  One of the great points of the video is when Dudley asked the audience if there was someone in their past who made a dramatic impact on their life and two-thirds of audience raised their hand.  Then he asked them how many had told those people about their impact and most of them put their hands back down.  That goes to show two points: We can impact folks without knowing it and we should take the time to tell people who’ve changed us for the better.

I like the idea of everyday leadership. I think it empowers all of our players to step up…caring about their teammates doesn’t require many years on the team or an elite skill level.  A team full of people like this have the opportunity to experience success at a pretty high level.  Try it out!

Who Will Step Up?


I’m sure this is just a problem that I have with my teams, but we sometimes lack the initiative necessary to solve a particular issue.  It’s not that they aren’t aware of the issue…everyone is chatting about it in the background.  It’s not that they don’t see it as problematic…if asked, they’ll describe the problem in detail.  And it’s not that they don’t care…our athletes are passionate in their commitment to their teammates.

It’s just that someone else will solve the problem…right?

If everyone thinks someone else will handle the issue, then that means no one is working on the problem.  So how do we get our athletes to ask themselves: Why not me?

I got the idea for this post from the TEDtalk, How To Step Up in the Face of Disaster.  The talk is about a community’s reaction to a tornado.  Of course, I’m not comparing the problems our teams will face to a natural disaster which displaced people from their homes.  But I do think that we have an opportunity to follow their lead.  If you watch the video (it’s only about nine minutes long), you’ll see the bulk of the talk is about problem solving.

3-step problem-solving plan

  1. Someone has to step up.  After their disaster, everyone was looking for someone to step up and organize the masses.  It didn’t matter who, just someone to take the lead.  Isn’t it the same way with our teams?  Whenever we’re suffering a leadership crisis or the team is slumping, I don’t think it matters who takes the team by the reins…it just matters that someone does.  Are we empowering our players to take this step?
  2. Create systems for problems.  One of the things that the speakers found was problematic was that everyone wants to help, but the help is not organized.  I think it’s the same on our teams.  Everyone is concerned when the team encounters a problem, but there isn’t always a role for everyone.  How can we make sure that each team member, from the newbie non-starter to the veteran starter, has a role?  We have to prepare for it.
  3. Prepare for disaster.  I certainly don’t think we can prepare for every disaster, but just like folks here in Wisconsin are prepared for a blizzard in January, we can be prepared for typical team issues.  What will your team do when players aren’t getting along?  How will you address playing time complaints?  How will the team pick each other up when they’re not playing well?

While our team problems don’t qualify as true disasters, we (and our teams) certainly invest enough time and energy into finding success that we should try to be as prepared as possible.

How Great Coaches Communicate


I’ve talked before about the connection I see between the business world and athletics.  I think we’d all do well to study up on great business leaders to see how we can adapt their success to our world.  Saying that, here’s a podcast from Harvard Business Review’s blog, called How Effective Leaders Talk.

After studying and interviewing tons of hot shot leaders, they came up with four ways that effective leaders engage their employees…which I thought would be great for us.  Whether we’re just working with our athletes or are in charge of an entire staff of folks…engagement is always the goal!  Why is engagement so important?  As they said in the podcast, “And the more engaged they are, the more productive they’re going to be.”

4 ways to engage our athletes

  1. Intimate.  You guys know how much I love John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, right?  Well, the foundation of his Pyramid has loyalty, cooperation, and friendship as its components…doing those things should make a team pretty intimate.  Effective and engaged teams are close with one another…and their coaches.
  2. Interactive.  Of course, we’re the coaches and we’re not running a democracy and ultimately what we say goes.  But, our teams should know and truly believe they can talk to us and actually have us listen to what they say.  That doesn’t mean we’ll do what they want us to, but being heard goes a long way with creating engagement.
  3. Inclusive.  Does everyone on your team enjoy their experience?  Even your newbies?  Or is your culture so bogged down in making the new folk’s lives miserable that they can’t settle down and enjoy the sport?  Inclusion is a top-down endeavor.  If we, as coaches, make it clear that we don’t tier our athletes, then they won’t do it either.
  4. Intentional.  It’s hard for coaches to have intimate conversations with everyone on the team all of the time.  But there are some ways we can be more intentional about it.  Individual meetings are good.  Setting up a system where you check in with a few people to check on the health of the whole team.  Engaging those quiet folks on our teams will always be a challenge.  They usually have good stuff to say, but we’ve got to draw it out of them.

A lot of the “old school” ways of coaching destroy rather than build engagement.  Today’s coaches have to coach this new breed of athletes a little bit differently.  These four steps should get us closer to our ideal.

How To Equip Our Female Athletes To Be Leaders


The blog vacation continues! We’ve been covering my favorite topic…coaching female athletes.  Is coaching females tremendously different than coaching males?  Nope.  But there are differences and understanding them could ensure a successful season for you.

Do you believe that your job is to equip your players with life skills as well as sport skills?  Well, this post will be right up your alley!  In a TEDtalk called, New Data On The Rise Of Women, Hanna Rosin give tons of facts about how women are getting more advanced degrees, making more money, and taking on more leadership roles than ever before.

While those facts and figures were impressive, they weren’t what stood out to me.  What her talk said to me is that those of us in position to train tomorrow’s leaders had better get on the ball!  This is powerful information that should guide us in how we teach the leaders on our teams.

Rosin talks about how the “old” leadership model favored men with its hierarchical pattern, but how the “new” leadership model generally fits women better.  What does this new model look like?  Let’s check it out!

3 ways coaches can prepare their female athletes for leadership roles

  1. Build teams.  With all of these ideas, the idea that women inherently carry these qualities is a generalization.  So don’t get all huffy that the assumption is that women excel at the less rigid leadership models…the numbers don’t lie.  Okay, now that I’ve gotten the disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk.    The days of the leader/manager/boss sitting up on high and being rarely seen are over.  These days leaders roll up their sleeves and create groups of people who want to work together toward a common purpose.
    On our teams:  To help our captains with their future endeavors, we should encourage them to put aside their desire to be dictatorial and entitled. Many times, upperclassmen feel that they deserve to hold the position rather than being grateful to serve both their coaches and teammates.  As they work through the natural ups and downs of a season, they will learn how to manage different personality types and the power of compromise.
  2. Help encourage communication.  This is a natural outcome of building a team.  Today’s leaders have a vision that they are able to clearly convey to their work crew.  They will properly delegate responsibilities while giving their people the necessary tools to succeed.  Today’s leader will clearly detail a path to success.
    On our teams:  Whether it’s in the locker room before practice or at the water cooler during a practice break, our captains should be able to clearly tell their teammates what effort level is required of everyone during every moment of practice.  Beyond that, they should be outwardly supportive of their teammates.
  3. Foster creativity.  Today’s leaders give their team room to reach the goal in their own manner.  They don’t want cookie cutter “yes men”, but innovative thinkers.  By doing this, the leader also equips their people with the tools they’ll need to become leaders in their own right.
    On our teams:  As coaches, we should free up our captains to be their own people…not to just emulate the captains before them.  In the same vein, our captains have to let their teammates have a voice.

Let’s go out and make sure we prepare our female athletes to take their place as future leaders.

Want to read more about female athletes and leadership?  Check these out!

Teaching Our Athletes To Embrace Power, Part 1
Teaching Our Athletes To Embrace Power, Part 2
Female Leaders: How To Get Ahead And Not Alienate People
What Are You Worth? How To Negotiate Salary


5 Ways We Can Show Our Teams How To Disagree With Us


I think I’m very reasonable and easy to approach.  I pride myself on having an open-door policy where my athletes can come in and chat with me…whenever.  I don’t think I’m intimidating or scary, so why do they go to my assistant coach when they have an outside of the box suggestion?

Because I’m the boss and they’re worried I’m going to bring the smackdown on them if they upset me.  Now, is there any reason for them to think this?  Nope, but they do anyway.  In his post, 20 Ways To Disagree With Your Boss over at Leadership Freak, he talks about some rules of the road that could be helpful with our teams.  Not only for disagreements, but for maintaining good harmony on the team.

5 ways our players can disagree with us without fearing for their lives

  1. Ask what to do if you disagree before disagreements emerge.  When I first started working here, the team I inherited had a player restricted from playing in the post season due to a substance abuse issue.  In my first captains meeting, they asked me how we were going to handle those types of issues during the season.  Being able to address it before it actually was a problem was a great way to set a baseline expectation.
  2. Come with the facts.  So say we’ve got an actual disagreement on our hands.  Maybe we’ve got a playing time conundrum or even a team discipline disconnect, our players have to come to us with more than just “I feel”.  You know how it goes: “I feel like Susie is a better player than Erica so she should play more” or “I feel like suspending Katie for a game isn’t fair”.  Coming with facts will earn the coach’s respect so much more than basing everything on feelings.
  3. Private is better than public.  I’m sure we’ve all coached that player who thinks they know more than we do.  Rather than reduce them to a puddle of tears by verbally assaulting them, remind the players that practice time is for the team and private issues should be handled privately.  Though if they’ve got a skill question, others on the team might have it too and answering could prove to be helpful for everyone.
  4. Ask if you can test your option to see how it works.  I don’t know about you guys out there, but most times I do what I do because it’s what’s familiar to me.  It’s not that I don’t understand there are different ways to do the very same thing.  I’m sure if we let our teams know that we’re open to different ideas, they’d be more at ease with approaching us.
  5. Drop it.  This one is important for the team to grasp…after it’s over, it’s over.  Speaking directly to the players out there:  You approached your coach like an adult, with facts.  You wisely scheduled a meeting with her so that you could speak with her in private.  Great job!  Whether she bought it and is willing to try your suggestion or she shot you down, you can’t be in the lockerroom bragging about how awesome you are or how awful the coach is (depending on their reaction)…you gotta let it go.

Hopefully these tips will help our players feel more comfortable talking to us about difficult topics.

Nurturing Young Leaders


I’ve been chatting with folks on my campus about creating a leadership class that doesn’t just involve athletes, but all students who hold leadership positions.  While I think the non-sporty people in the room appreciate (sort of) that we can force strongly suggest to our players that they attend such a class, we also need to address the fact that most folks on campus don’t wield that kind of power with their students.

As we were having this discussion, I began thinking of how little attention I give to teaching my athletes how to be a person of influence…even if they’re a freshman or not one of the captains.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is value in giving more influence to those who’ve been committed to the team for a longer period of time.  But by focusing on training my upperclassmen leaders, am I short-changing the younger leaders who I’ll need to rely on for the future?

So how can we nurture our upcoming leaders?  Beyond that, how can we make sure that our young players can respectfully offer leadership?  And how can we make sure that our team leaders aren’t threatened by suggestions coming from someone who’s not a captain or recognized team leader?

Creating an open leadership culture

  • Don’t saddle young players with grunt work, it separates them from the rest of the team.
  • When we ask the team their opinions, don’t just ask the upperclassmen.
  • Do we really need team captains?  Just wondering out loud…

In a great article called, How to Influence Without Authority, we learn eight ways we can teach our players to influence without that captain “C” on their jersey…I chose my top four to talk about here.

How players can lead without being a leader

  • Character.  If younger players are seen as having the team’s (and not their own) best interest at heart, they’re more likely to be heard by the team leaders.  They can show this by supporting, rather than undermining, the current leadership structure.
  • Connectedness.  This one is a doozie.  Sometimes our players separate themselves out by class and damage their chances of having power.  Not only is being connected good for team chemistry, it’s also good for understanding where everyone is coming from.  If an underclassmen does this well, they won’t be seen as trying to usurp power from the team’s leadership.
  • Social intelligence.  The best way I can describe this is to not be awkward.  I’m sure we’ve all had the young player who is trying so hard (too hard!) to fit in and it’s not being received well.  It’d be pretty hard to have influence if their teammates feel uncomfortable around them.
  • Collaboration.  Not only are these players connected off the court, but collaborate well on the court.  These players aren’t worried about their own playing time, but how they can contribute to the greater goals of the team.

I’m sure all of us have been in the situation where we’ve got great leaders…it’s just that they’re not leaders yet.  Perhaps creating this kind of environment can help them to spread their wings a little more comfortably.