Ask The Experts
The lowdown on leadership
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
In youth sports, leaders can emerge when you least expect it, motivating and encouraging their team through both the good times and rough patches.
Leaders help keep their teammates grounded, focused and inspired – in any sport and on any surface.
“Leadership can be defined as an athlete willing to go above a positional role and expectations to inspire their teammates, whether it’s through their actions when things are going really well, or through adversity,” says Lauren Hess, a Certified Mental Performance Consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “Sometimes as a leader you may be off during a game and you have to find a way, even when your performance is not going well, to keep everyone else on track.”
Leaders rise when there are ups and downs and continue to motivate their team through the good and the bad, no matter who their competition is. In sports, leaders can emerge when you least expect it. There are also silent leaders who do not necessarily say a lot, but lead with their actions.
We spoke with Hess to get her take on leadership in youth sports:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: At what age should young athletes want to take on a leadership role in youth sports?
HESS: There isn’t really a certain age where I’ve seen this is a common theme. I do believe that sometimes at young ages there are athletes who will show different signs of leadership. Young athletes should understand what that role is for them. It’s safe to say in elementary school athletes are still figuring out who they are and how competitive they want to be, which allows others to step up and take on that responsibility. The athletes that are more committed to their sport can be seen in the middle school and/or high school age kids. They tend to be more active and competitive, and the will to win is a little stronger, as well as their desire to want to improve.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can parents and coaches encourage young athletes who want to be leaders on their team?
HESS: Coaches can be influential by making sure they assign clear roles and expectations. Checking in with their leaders to see what is going on with the team is very important because they might not hear the little issues going on that are happening on the field because they are on the sideline. Coaches should try to understand what is going on in different situations and should not put any undue pressure on the leaders. Be clear, consistent and authentic. Coaches should also demonstrate good leadership styles themselves and try not to put their young athletes on the spot by calling them out in front of the team. Parents can encourage their young athletes by allowing them to grow, but also being aware that if you speak poorly about the team and coach that could influence their kid and how they feel about them and how they respond. Parents should always be conscious about how they speak about the team.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are the do's and don’ts of becoming a young leader?
HESS: Young athletes who are transitioning to a leadership role should not be afraid to ask questions. They should never speak negatively about the coach, be disrespectful, or challenge their coaches in any way. If they want to grow, young athletes should challenge his or her self to do something new each week in training or competition. Young leaders can point out positive things teammates did and should help their team refocus when things aren’t going how they would like. Kids should remember that they are not perfect and the whole teams’ success does not fall on their shoulders. Young athletes should not try to be the coach on the field. They can be direct and supportive, but they should not put their teammates down. It is important for them to remember to always focus on the positive.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: When choosing team leaders or captains how should coaches approach that so other players aren’t offended that they weren’t selected for this prestigious position?
HESS: There really is no way for a coach to avoid this. There will always be someone whose feelings are hurt because they were not chosen to be a team captain. Coaches can give their athletes a chance to step up, but in no way should this process be a popularity contest.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Are there common mistakes coaches make when it comes to selecting team leaders that they should be aware of?
HESS: Sometimes coaches may overlook the more introverted athletes. Young leaders do not have to be extroverted to be a leader on their team. No two personalities are the same, so having balance is good. Having more than one captain is also good for younger athletes. This can help to make sure that all of the responsibility is not falling on one person, and there will be a shared responsibility by supporting each other.
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