I became a coach 4 years ago. When I was hired by the Quincy School District I had zero coaching experience. That’s right zero. I was hired as the head coach without the usual experience as an assistant. Now I believed in myself and thought I was qualified to lead this group of young men, however, there were going to be some inevitable challenges and mistakes made being a first year head coach, without experience.
Our team was loaded with talent. We had every starter back, except for 2 and all of the pitching was back from the year before. I was walking in to a great situation. When we started out the year we played well against the lower competition, but we really struggled with the upper level competition. We had the talent to compete with them, but each time adversity hit we didn’t know how to bounce back and nobody would take charge. I started to preach to them about leadership and how somebody needed to take charge and become a leader or we weren’t going to get very far. However, I never taught them anything about what leadership looks like. I never taught them how to lead. That year we ended up losing 4–2 to our rivals in a game where we made 3 errors that cost us all four runs. We underachieved, and when I look back at that year I look at the fact that I didn’t teach them about leadership as one of the biggest factors in our failure. During the season, I got incredibly frustrated with our athletes, instead of looking at myself and realizing that I didn’t teach them how to lead. I didn’t give them the tools to respond to failure and grow. Therefore, the next year I designed a leadership council for our team to help grow our leaders. Here are 3 ways that we grow and challenge our leaders during our season.
- ) Create and foster a leadership council
Each year we create a leadership council that consists of as many athletes that want to be a part of it. It is a challenging selection process as each athlete has to write a resume and give a speech to the team explaining why they should be a part of the council. There are standards that they must uphold, but it is also a growth process and we give them room to fail. If selected by the team (the coaches have some weight in the voting process as well), they then meet as a group once a week. During that meeting we listen to a 20 minute leadership podcast, discuss the podcast, then focus on the team asking what is going well, what can go better, and how are we going to do it. The leadership council has the ear of the coaches and can share anything and everything without repercussion.
2.) Create leadership opportunities for your athletes
One thing we realized during our first year is we never allowed the athletes the opportunity to lead. Therefore, some of the responsibilities of the leadership council are to lead our Jaeger band routine, our plyocare routine, our stretching routine, and our catch play routine. Each one is run, preferably, by a different member of the leadership council. This can get messy at first, but if you want to train leaders you have to give them the opportunity to fail and figure it out. Leaders fail all the time, but it’s the ones that can keep going and growing that will take your team to the next level. This year we will also be giving our leaders a new opportunity. After games we will no longer be talking with our team about the different things that happened during the game. Taking a lesson from ‘The Culture Code’, we will be holding an After Action Review, where the coaches will ask questions and the athletes will then have a discussion about what went well and what didn’t. This will help to create leadership within the group, as well as, foster communication throughout the group and ownership of the outcome.
3.) Let go of the top down approach
The best teams that I’ve seen are led by the players. Yes there is a strong voice at the top that guides them, but the players are responsible for everything. My first year, I had a difficult time giving things up because I believed I had to be in control. It doesn’t always look pretty when you give high schoolers the opportunity to lead. They will fail and struggle, but they will also grow into leaders that can help your team become something you may not have expected. My second year, we struggled out of the gates, going 1–8, losing 4 games we should have won. However, we stuck to our guns and continued to teach leadership and give our athletes the opportunity to lead, what ended up happening was our athletes took ownership of where they were and where they wanted to go. One of our athletes even brought in a video about growth mindset and asked if we could show the team. They knew we weren’t a 1–8 team and they believed they could lead the team going forward. We ended up going 9–2 to finish the season and won our first playoff game in over 10 years.
I know that not everything had to do with leadership, but I believe that giving our athletes ownership over their team allowed them to continue to grow and change. It wasn’t us barking orders or telling them what they had to do. It was them taking charge of their team. They took charge because we gave them the opportunity to, as well as, allowed them to make mistakes within the process. We taught them what it looks like to lead and helped them to become better leaders. We didn’t just ask them to lead without giving them the tools to get better. We need to give them the ability to own their teams and lead them, while teaching them how to do it. We’ve already had our chance to play, now it’s their turn and it’s our job to let them figure it out and lead each other.