Leadership (NHSSCA Presentation)


JUNE, 2021

I recently presented at the NHSSCA (video below) – well, technically, it was recorded because of compliance reasons, so I wasn’t able to be there in person. But I gave this talk to high school coaches on leadership and wanted to share it with anyone who wants to watch, so I’m putting it in this blog post to live on in the hopes it continues helping coaches across the country.

Let me begin by saying that without a team, there’s no real need for leadership, which is why I started the presentation with the stages of team development. As coaches we forget that each new training season or each new class starts the stages of team development all over again. It’s our job as coaches to help facilitate these stages so we can get to the performing stage by the time the competitive season rolls around.

In the process of forming a team, we’re also trying to develop mental toughness and leadership in each of our players. I mention it at the end of the presentation, but all those quotes about there being no ‘i’ in team don’t give us the whole picture. It absolutely IS about the individual athlete. We need each individual to be as best as they can be in order for the team to be the best it can be. The team isn’t above the individual nor is the individual above the team.

On the topic of developing individuals, most coaches know what they want in athletes, but few know how to train those drills and skills. We don’t realize how much the mental controls the physical – we’re focused on getting them bigger, faster, stronger. But their mental skills will touch every part of their training so the onus is on us as coaches to help develop those mental skills.

What is mental toughness though? We can all identify mental toughness in our athletes, and even more so when an athlete isn’t mentally tough, but how do you define mental toughness? It’s a trick question because mental toughness is a construct that can’t actually be measured. T

There are countless cliches in coaching that we say just because we’ve heard them so many times. And in doing this, we’re doing ourselves and our athletes a disservice. I’ll admit I’ve talked about being a self-starter more times than I can count but what does that actually mean? How do you coach a kid to be more of a self-starter? What are the skills the athlete doesn’t have that you as their coach need to help develop and become a self-starter?

Instead what if you taught them what autonomy is, what it means and the freedom of choice that comes with being autonomous? What if you pointed out the satisfaction that’s possible when you take ownership over your training like a self-starter would?

It changes the game for that athlete – coaching them up on the skills that will help them develop the attributes we see in successful athletes rather than pointing out that they don’t have those attributes. We’re coaches, we help coach athletes to improve performance, and we’re good at doing that in the physical realm. But since the mental controls the physical, let’s see if we can’t do the same thing in the mental realm.

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