“Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
-Harold R. McAlindon
Whether you’ve been nominated for leadership roles as long as you can remember or you’re just starting to decode what it means to assume more responsibility on your team, everyone can benefit from brushing up on good leadership skills. Contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to be the team captain to start acting like a leader. Regardless of your role, playing team sports offers countless opportunities to take more ownership, and every athlete should be thinking about how they can step up and contribute. Here are some helpful guidelines to help student-athletes become stronger leaders.
Choose to be positive. No matter what’s happening around you, you always have a choice in how you respond. A positive attitude is infectious and can elevate the mood of your entire team, so be intentional about how you show up for training and games. If you don’t make the starting lineup, be happy for your teammates who got an opportunity and graciously support them from the sidelines – just as you’d want them to do for you. When conflicts or disagreements arise between your teammates, be the one who steps up to defuse them. And while you’re at it, do your best to support teammates who may be struggling. A helpful suggestion or positive word of reassurance can let your teammate know they’re not alone.
Build on strengths. One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate leadership is by helping others reach their potential. Remember, a team is only as strong as its weakest player. Start paying close attention to your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and make an effort to help them improve their game. If someone makes a mistake, curb the urge to get angry or vent your frustration. Chances are they’re already beating themselves up and don’t need any more negativity piled on. When the heat of the moment has passed and emotions are calm, instead try offering words of encouragement and a few specific suggestions for what they might do differently next time.
Lead by example. Actions speak louder than words, and good leaders consistently act according to their core values. Show your teammates that you respect them by showing up on time for practice and always giving your best effort. Set personal daily, weekly and monthly goals that align with your coach’s team goals – and then show that you’re committed to doing your best to achieve them. Go beyond what’s expected and take the time to understand the roles and responsibilities of each position on the team. Putting in this effort ahead of time will help you adapt quickly when the coach moves you to another position, and you’ll also be able mentor teammates who find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
Be consistent. When it comes to core values, good leaders honor their beliefs off the field, too. Find the courage to stand up for what you believe in and set boundaries for what you will – and won’t – tolerate. That might mean staying in to study on a Saturday night when your friends are all out partying, or sticking to your off-season training and eating regimen when your family is happily eating pizza on the couch. Find ways to do the right thing to help others as well. At school when someone is being bullied or harassed, step in to help instead of looking the other way. Every time you act on your core values, you’re demonstrating that you’re someone with integrity who is reliable and consistent.
Middle school and high school sports are a fantastic testing ground to learn how to be a great leader. There are many ways you can demonstrate leadership on and off the field, and now is the perfect time to have fun with these ideas and test them out to see what works for you. With practice you’ll discover what feels authentic – and in time you’ll develop a leadership style that’s all your own.
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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.