Monday, September 30, 2013

Leadership a Key Ingredient of Success

I've thought from time to time over the years about what made up the most successful teams I've coached. The great teams have of course had talent - especially on the mound and at the plate. Youth baseball is primarily about pitching and hitting. Those teams have also had good, athletic catchers, a solid shortstop and second baseman, and an aggressive center fielder who could fly. These physical talents can be impressive to see.

But there are some "intangibles" that you can't always see that are just as important to a team that wants to go far. One of these is leadership. Without leadership within the team itself, the desire to win is often not fulfilled. Every team wants success. A team with player leadership can make it happen.

As a coach I want to drive my teams to victory. I want to be the captain of the ship and steer the team in the right direction. But I've learned over the years that with a team, leadership must also come from the players themselves. There comes a point in each season when you need to let the players take the wheel and steer the ship. As I look back, the teams I've had without veteran leadership did not achieve their goals. The teams with players that held themselves and their teammates accountable for practicing hard, improving and giving their best effort at all times have been the ones that could accomplish almost anything. The ones that would take the wheel and not veer off course were the ones that stood above the rest. 

Many kids don't truly know how to be a leader. Leadership is not just telling your teammates what to do. Yes, it certainly helps to have a vocal leader that is willing to speak up when necessary. But leading by example is perhaps more valuable. 

In baseball and other sports, a veteran leader can help his team by showing younger players how to carry themselves on the field. He can show them his effort and his work ethic. He can show them his attitude and sportsmanship. He can show them when to have fun and when to be serious. And he doesn't just lead when things are going well for him personally. He leads his teammates whether or not he is having personal success at the moment.

This type of leadership means more to young players than any coach telling the team how to act or what to do. Young players will often model the behavior of older players on the team, for better or worse. They can be a positive influence and guide a team to greatness. Or they can be a negative influence and allow a team to fall apart.

So I like to look for veteran players each season that have the personality and self-confidence required to be a good leader. I encourage them to speak up to their teammates. But I mainly want them to lead by example.

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