The most important mission any coach has is to help their athletes become better leaders and teammates, and to fortify and edify their characters so that they are better prepared to tackle the many challenges that life will certainly present them. Coaches are uniquely situated to make a major impact because of their position and the circumstances that sport presents. As coaches, we have the benefit of having significant time with our athletes through sport and at the same time are often presented with situations that lend themselves to teaching leadership and character. How can you teach leadership and character to your athletes?
- Empower your athletes to make decisions. Give your athletes opportunities to take on leadership roles within the team, such as leading a drill or warm-up, being responsible for equipment or the cleanliness of the locker room, etc. This helps athletes take ownership of the team and assimilates them to taking responsibility for things other than just their own actions. If the locker room is dirty after a game, it may not be their fault but that doesn’t matter. They need to take ownership, resolve the situation, and move on.
- Encourage your athletes to resolve conflicts amongst themselves and help guide them when issues arise with the aim of them learning to do so solve conflicts independently. Too often, we intervene and arbitrate all disputes immediately. When we do this, we take away the opportunity for athletes to learn. Learning requires failure and set back. If a teammate is getting too aggressive in practice, ask your top leaders to say something before you do. If a player on the team is talking negatively about others, equip your players with ways to engage first, then step in as coach second. Again, these interactions may not solve the issue but providing the opportunity to try, fail, and learn is essential to the long-term leadership and character development of our athletes.
- Provide individual feedback and mentorship. It’s so easy to get sucked into X’s and O’s, tactical considerations, skill development review, and the like. These things can become all-encompassing and we often do them while neglecting to speak more substantially with our athletes. Individual meetings with athletes and their coaching staff are crucial to understanding players thoughts and getting a read on where the team is at. These meetings, which don’t need to be long, also help build trust. At Fortis, we review a list of questions that cover topics like a player’s enjoyment of the sport, parental involvement, sense of ownership and autonomy, etc. We also have a list of catch all questions that are open-ended and designed to learn from our athletes.
It takes time and consistent effort to raise up athletes with upstanding leadership and character. Coaches, along with parents and the players themselves, are responsible for making this the main emphasis of sport. If we do it right, we’ll have a generation of athletes that graduate through the youth and high school system with the ability to lead under crisis, to stand firm in the face of adversity, and to be empathetic and compassionate to others in society.