Monday, December 28, 2009

Leadership- Principals that apply to Football and other endeavors

I read coach Mac's leadership quotes and it got me thinking about leadership views. The view that has become a staple for my personal philosophy and the approach I take for leading others is "leadership is a choice" . For 11 years starting when I was 17, I began coaching debate. Debate is much like football when you break the strategies down and the formulas for success. The major difference is the emphasis football puts on the physical body. Talent, attitude, strategy, and coaching have similar impacts. Like a good football coach would, I trained debaters to exemplify an attitude and communicate it to the people judging them.

This is just like football. When your players play with an attitude, it radiates to every other person on the field. The attitude we look for in people can be summed up as leadership. There are diverse views about the definition of leadership, but, in my view, you can have a defense or offense on the field with 11 leaders. Leadership is not a position, but rather a choice. "No matter when, no matter where, no matter what, any one can lead. Leadership is a choice not a position." This is a phrase I personally communicate to others and live by. I impressed this upon my debaters and now the athletes that I coach. I have had debaters use this exact quote in debate rounds, to the extent that they become leaders to the people judging them and in the audience. Stephen Covey in his book the "8th Habit" provides a great definition for leadership that has inspired the way that I view leadership.

"Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves (p.98)"

Isn't that what we are in the business of doing? Also, isn't this what we would like our players to inspire within one another. Leadership is not about a position that a team captain, coach, or boss holds as a means to have power and control. Conversely, leadership is a choice to influence others and ultimately inspire them to be the best they can be. Every action in every moment that we coach our players, is an opportunity to communicate something to them. The important consideration is: what are we communicating to them? Do we communicate to them their short comings and liabilities? OR Do we communicate their potential and abilities?

People are motivated much more by things to move towards as opposed to things to avoid. This is the basis of positive coaching. The positive coach constantly communicates what he/she envisions an athlete can be. He/She constantly communicates this vision to them, and speaks as if he/she is evaluating an athletes current progress on a daily basis (in respect to their potential). Negative coaching does the opposite. Instead of being a guiding light for an athlete, negative coaches act as judges, destroying a players motivation and self esteem.

This paradigm involves some discipline, but can prove invaluable. The next time you communicate with an athlete consider what you are communicating to them. I have heard coaches tell players (with good intentions in mind) that they are selfish, not committed to winning, gutless, and not good enough. These messages are not empowering and do little to improve an athlete's performance. What good do these messages do?

Some believe that these comments will motivate a player to do more and work harder. I am not an extremist and believe some (albeit rare) players respond to this type of coaching. However, for the majority, this is just something that will regress a players performance.

Main point: Treat players as human beings. All players no matter what we might believe, want to be great. The task for us coaches is to assist players in tapping into the resources that enable them to be as great as they can be. This task can be accomplished easier if we not only provide leadership for our players, but also coach and inspire our players to be leaders for themselves. Players need to understand that team leadership is not limited to the head coach, coordinators, assistant coaches, team captains, and/or seniors. On the other hand, leadership is the right and responsibility of each and every one of them. Rookies, freshman, and even water-boys have the potential to lead a football team. Any time a person makes an effort to guide another closer to reaching their potential, they have acted as a leader. Imagine a team with every member dedicated towards moving each other closer to being the best they can be. I would be afraid of that team.

I once witnessed a debate team of high school students behave this way towards one another. It was truly a thing of beauty. They completely demolished the competition and eventually lost to one another in single elimination. At the end of the day, one of them stood as champion. However, all of them knew that their accomplishment happened because they were a team of leaders. No matter what sport or competitive endeavor you coach, getting your athletes (debaters, players, ect.) to buy into the "Leadership is a choice" philosophy will do nothing but make your team much more successful.

Anyone involved in the coaching profession would be wise to read Stephen Covey's insights on leadership in The 8th Habit and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. These are great resources not only on the technique of leadership, but also the mindset of great leadership. Remember Leadership is a choice not a position.


  1. Our old Principal used to use that Covey quote all the time

  2. I've heard arguments that if everyone is trying to be leaders, it won't work. I tend to disagree but have had some discussions with other teachers/coaches about how we can all be leaders in some way since leadership is so complex.
    Any other suggestions?

  3. Leadership in respect to management, you are correct. To many chiefs is always a problem. The leadership I am talking about is a view of empowerment that is a function of choice. In short, it is distinct from management.

  4. I always felt that part of being a good leader is being a good follower...evrybody has a boss