Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Team Leadership

Posted by admin April - 20 - 2018 - Friday

We got some extraordinary news yesterday. One of my former players was named a Captain of the West Point football team for next season!!! The “extraordinary” thing is that Cole will only be a Junior! He is only the 5th underclassman in the history of West Point football to be named a captain at the U.S. Military Academy. Verrrrrrrrrrrry impressive!!! But, for me, not surprising. This guy had “leader” written all over him when I started coaching him as a freshman in high school and we named him a team captain THAT season! Yes, Cole was a Captain for all 4 years of his high school varsity career!!!

What I want to comment about, though, is how few “leaders” we actually had during my 30 years as a head coach! I look back and can only think of 4 or 5 players who I tapped as a “captain” who possessed the emotional maturity to truly lead the team! Teenage boys of 16, 17 or 18 years of age are not normally equipped emotionally to handle the responsibilities that a “true” team captain/leader must assume. Why? Because most of them are too concerned about “approval.” Leading your peers is a difficult proposition. Some don’t want to be led by a friend so they “buck the system.” The voting for team captains is usually based on popularity… so the guys who are selected want to stay “popular” so they don’t step up and truly lead… for fear of losing their popularity status. Other players are selected as captains because they are the best athletes. Most of these guys are more focused on continuing their successful career than they are truly interested in helping others.

That’s the first point I emphasize when I talk to potential team leaders… that you have to be more concerned about others — about the team — than yourself! That is very hard for young men to accept.

We did a lot of leadership skills training with our leaders. I actually had 5-7 team leaders instead of the standard 2 or 3. I called them “Lieutenants” instead of “Captains”… for just like in the Army, there are more lieutenants than there are captains in the chain of command. I had an initial training session in pre-season that included lunch to start teaching leadership skills. Then, we met every Monday after practice to discuss what was going on with the team that I needed to be aware of and then had a “1 minute leadership training session.” As the season went along, it became easy to see if we had any true leaders. By that I mean: those kids, who as I stated earlier, weren’t concerned about their status and would speak their mind to their teammates; lead by example and show the level of hustle and enthusiasm that made them strong role models for the behaviors we wanted all of the players to exhibit.

So… what do you do as a coach if you can’t find or “grow!” good team leaders? You continue to work with the players. Part of your job is to teach leadership skills. What I found worked best was to simply impress upon your coaching staff that they are the real leaders of your team! They have to set the example. They have to speak up when things aren’t going right. They have to be the ones that the players look to for inspiration and motivation. They have to be the “hustlers.” They have to be the “cheerleaders.” It’s up to your staff to lead your team. If one can’t, then maybe you need to replace that assistant with a coach who will be an effective leader for you!

Leadership is an integral component of any successful organization! It’s one of those Little Things that can make a BIG difference in your team’s success. Since it’s hard to find strong leaders within your roster, then, while you’re preparing those players whom you’ve deemed as your team leaders… your assistant coaches (and you!) are the real leaders of your team!!!

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