**This column appeared in the Argus Leader on September 20, 2016.
As an athlete, what can you do to be a leader on and off the field? Start with your attitude. Think about the attitude you bring to practice and games. The way you interact with your teammates and coach lets them know you are willing to do whatever is needed to help the team. When there are struggles and you are still working hard and trying to keep your team focused, you will be leading your teammates by example. Every athlete has the potential to be a leader if he/she believes in the team and works to show it.
Athletes also show leadership through their commitment to team goals. Everyone wants to improve and win games, but not everyone commits to working hard outside of practice and setting aside individual goals to make the team better. Your commitment shows through the effort you bring during practice, games, and the off season. Remember that effort can be shown through training and playing hard, but it also shows through when you are supporting your teammates on and off the field. Sometimes that effort is extremely difficult, especially when you need to support a competitor. You will be demonstrating great leadership if you can put in the effort, especially when it’s difficult, and stay strong in your commitment to making your team better.
Coaches have a tremendous opportunity to show leadership, not just in the win/loss record for their team, but with the relationships they build with their team and players. Kids look to their coaches for their guidance in words and actions, so it is important to keep in mind the effect of both those things on young athletes who have tremendous reliance on their coach. Your words and attitude as a coach will shape your players’ love of the game, love of practice, and desire to continue in the sport. Remember that if you model those values for your team, you create instant respect and players will listen and buy into your team’s philosophy. Coaches should always bear in mind the power they have over young athletes.
In addition to learning the game, young athletes need someone that will give constant support. Parents are the leaders that athletes look to for that positive support. I cannot stress enough that parents need to know their role with their young athletes and be a child’s biggest fan. Parents must be careful to set a positive example with other parents and especially in supporting their child’s coach. Don’t fall into the negativity trap of criticism about playing time, coaching mistakes, or issues with the organization. Your kids look to you to know that you love and support them regardless of the bigger issues, so don’t attempt to coach them during games and practices, and especially not right after a game. Let your coach do the coaching and be sure that your child knows you support him/her no matter what happens. Your leadership in helping them understand sportsmanship is vital to their love of the game.
Youth sports organizations also have the opportunity to set the leadership tone for everyone involved. An organization can make it clear that emphasis is not upon winning or losing, and it can be a leader for positive change. Sports organizations need to stay ahead of safety trends and ensure that they are promoting best practices for sport, safety, and organizational management. An organization that is demonstrating good leadership will show a willingness to listen to its members, open-mindedness to issues that arise, and a desire to operate and make necessary changes for the betterment of the group. Communication is key to success with an organization, so be sure that solid leadership is in place with your group/league and that communication is operating efficiently at all levels. The examples that are set by the youth sports organization will carry through the dynamics of coaches and parents, so it’s important to remember the emphasis on leadership at the organizational level as well.
While the ups and downs of the season can take a toll on everyone, strong leadership at all levels can help keep attitudes in check and the season on track. Don’t look to others to step up and provide leadership, find the ways that you can be a solid, dependable leader within your organization. Remember that everyone has a part to play in building success.