Selfishness is out of season: 4 ways leadership in athletics isn’t about YOU (part 1)

blog Dec 10, 2014

Previously, we published an article about leadership in athletics. More precisely, the article discussed how igniting a strong leadership mentality within each athlete infuses mental strength throughout the team.

That article only touched briefly on the subject of leadership, so we decided to delve further into what it means to be a great leader with this two-part leadership article, “Selfishness is Out of Season”.

1.    Leadership means giving, not taking

Sometimes individuals who are new to a leadership role confuse the purpose of their position. Leadership is not about taking charge; it’s about giving guidance.

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant." - Max De Pree

Managing an athletic team, whether you’re a coach or captain, is a lot like running a business: you need to weigh decisions, manage personnel, create strategic action plans, assess outputs, etc. Similarly, many of the methods needed to lead that “business” parallel with those needed to run an actual business. Strategic Solutions, a professional business coaching firm, has their own take on good leadership practice. And, being one of the Top 20 Management Consulting and Training Firms throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, we can trust that they know what they’re talking about when they say,

"Humility is a growth mindset and one that is transformative. While some may fear that demonstrating humility would make them appear weak or vulnerable, the reverse is actually true. Leaders who face outward, beyond their own needs and to the needs of others, achieve the greatest impact." - Strategic Solutions, a Business Coaching firm

2.    Leadership means you want to serve, not be served

There’s a saying that goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

Have you ever suffered through a conversation with someone who tried to convince you of something when they didn’t care jack squat about you as a person? Do you remember how that felt, how you reacted? Likely, it was with lukewarm interest, skepticism, or outright annoyance.

Take the classic salesman’s pitch. Most people ignore what the salesman has to say and walk on by. They know he doesn’t care about them. He cares about him and his sales goal. And, when he tries even harder to sell, it drives his customer away even faster.

Don’t be a salesman! Good leaders enjoy close relationships with their teammates, understanding them, their concerns, and addressing issues that stand in the way of their teammates’ best performance, with little self-concern about being on a pedestal.

In an interview with CBS Sports, Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton spoke bluntly about the leadership role of a quarterback:

"You know a quarterback's job? Make his teammates better. It's not about you; it's about your teammates. You've got to make them better, and if you don't make them better, you have no chance.” - Fran Tarkenton

That’s right: being a leader means making your team better, not only yourself. Emphasis on “only”. Don’t get us wrong here. We’re definitely into leaders “walking the walk” not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, too.

This concept is especially true in athletics where you can’t get very far without a lot of (literal) sweat and (sometimes literal) blood. There’s a reason why we often compare athletics to military training. Both require significant mental and physical strength and leadership in the military is very similar to leadership in athletics.

Stay tuned

What does leadership in athletics mean to you? Start a conversation by sharing your thoughts with us below!


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