By Molly Grisham, a leadership expert and consultant to athletic directors and departments nationwide.
A few months ago a well-respected college coach reached out to me about working with her team. She said they were coming off a good season but she was concerned about who her team leaders were going to be next year. The graduating seniors had been the core team leaders for several years and she wasn’t sure who was going to step up because they had relied on that class for so long.
After talking we came up with an action plan for the spring season. The plan would expose her team to a new way of thinking about leadership and it would give them opportunities to put their leadership skills into practice. She recently called me and the excitement was bursting through the phone! She said something like, “you’ve helped us to think differently about leadership. We now see leadership as influence and we understand that everyone on our team has influence. In light of that, I think we are going to shift from traditional Team Captains to a Leadership Council!” I agreed with her decision. This is the right move at the right time for her team. They had all bought into this concept, so why not allow a large number of players to have a voice at the table?
She also shared the plan to have the team select a leader from each of the four classes to serve on the Leadership Council. In the past, I have heard other teams share concerns over young players having a voice on a Leadership Council because the team feels like the young players don’t yet know the culture of the team. Here is why I think it is a great move to allow your new freshman to have a voice in your program:
They know more than you think: Your new players may not have much experience with your team culture but they examined it in great detail when making their college decision. They listened to you as you were selling your team culture in the recruiting process. Odds are, they have researched, (AKA stalked) your current players online and because of that, they know more than you think they know. You recruited these players because you thought they would enhance your team culture, so why do they need to be silent for a year to learn the culture? If you’ve done your job as a recruiter then you are bringing in players who will move your culture forward. Asking them to be silent for a year only delays that process.
They provide fresh eyes: I would venture to guess that within one week of arriving on campus your new players will be able to call your team out on some really important cultural issues. For example, if you claim that family is one of your core values, your new freshmen will know very quickly if that is accurate or not. They will either experience family or they won’t. When we exclude them from the conversation we miss the opportunity to have fresh eyes on our team culture and we create a culture that is void of accountability.
They are recent leaders: While your freshmen might be new to your program they certainly aren’t new to leadership. Most of them spent the last year leading and in some sports they may have spent all summer in a high-level league where they were asked to lead the way. Depending on your team culture your seniors might not have practiced their leadership skills since high school and those skills have now atrophied. Your new recruits are in tune with their own leadership skills because they have put them into practice recently. Asking recent leaders to press pause on using their leadership skills only hurts your team in the long-run because their leadership skills will deteriorate.
Don’t be a hypocrite: If you value leadership then you took into consideration which recruits had the ability to be leaders on your team. While many recruits may not want to be “the” leader their freshman year, it would be hypocritical of you to silence them for a year when you claimed that you valued the leadership ability they would bring to the team. By going back on your word you destroy the trust that is needed between a coach and a student-athlete.
You wouldn’t recruit a five-star player and then ask her to sit the bench for a year just because she is a freshman.
If their skills are the best on the team, then let them play.
If their leadership skills are the best on the team, then let them lead.
You can read more great articles from Molly about leadership for coaches and student athletes at www.APersonofInfluence.com
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