There are lots of reasons why teams have bad seasons. Lack of talent, mistakes in recruiting, injuries, youth… we’ve all dealt with any number of reasons. It’s interesting when I talk to coaches in the off-season, especially coaches who’s teams I didn’t really see during the year, to hear about how their year went. One of the number one reasons why coaches tell me their team struggled is bad leadership.
I’ve never felt comfortable with that reasoning. If my team lacks leadership, I simply haven’t done my job as a coach. You may have a team with great leaders, and you may have a team with no leaders. If you don’t have the right leadership, it’s your job to provide it. You can’t help your team rebound or make your team taller, but you can provide the leadership. I’m not saying a lack of leadership doesn’t exist. But I’m saying as a coach, you can fill that void.
So what do you do in the off-season to correct your teams weaknesses? If you struggle defensively, you probably take a close look at your defensive system and see what adjustments you can make. If you just don’t have the talent, you go out and recruit better players (assuming you can do such). You put in new drills to work on your rebounding, fix your execution, or find better stuff to run to create better looks. The point is, we all spend our off-season trying to correct the things that went wrong causing us to have a bad year. But what do we when our problem is leadership?
One of the ways I think we approach leadership the wrong way is we think of it as something that just happens or doesn’t. It’s something players and teams just have or they don’t. We don’t treat it like a skill that needs to be taught, trained and developed, just like ball-handling or shooting. If we have a terrible year shooting the basketball, we spend a lot more time working on shooting with our guys – shot clubs, Gun workouts, etc. So if we have a bad year with our leadership, why don’t we spend time teaching it?
Urban Meyer has an excellent book about his culture and program at Ohio State called Above The Line in which he goes into detail on his approach to leadership. He splits his program into 9 units, based on position groups, and each coach is responsible for teaching leadership to their group. He has a leadership expert on his full-time staff (yes, we should all have such riches). But the takeaway for me is that he dedicates time in his program to teaching leadership to all of his players. It’s a clear point of emphasis for Ohio State football.
I’ve never met a coach who didn’t think leadership, in some form, was important. It’s a buzzword we use all the time. But it occurred to me that if it’s something we believe in and we think it’s important to our players success, than we need to be teaching it. I can’t think of any other important aspect of our programs that affects our success that we just leave up to circumstance. But to me, it has to be more than just having a quote of the day or giving your players a 2 minute talk at the end of practice. Again, that would be like doing a two minute shooting drill because your team hasn’t shot the ball well. Of course you are going to dedicate more time to it than that.
We started a leadership development program at the University of Maine that I really believe in. It was about 45 minutes to 1 hour usually once every 3-4 weeks. Sometimes we did it at home, sometimes we did it on the road – the road was a great time to get it done. Usually I would pick a certain topic for us to discuss, and maybe give the guys a handout to read that pertained to something that was going on with our team – an article I liked, a chapter in a book, or a short video. Sometimes I’d invite in a guest speaker – maybe another coach or someone I knew that was a leader in a different field.
The important thing was that the topics we discussed fit specifically with what was going on with our team, and we would spend time engaged in a discussion about it. Once you can relate a lesson or topic to something that just happened with your team – say, pick-up games get really heated and guys start bitching with one another. When you relate it directly to something that has taken place with your team, significant discussion takes place. You’ll see some great interactions with your players, with some guys taking a leadership role just to simply speak up in front of the team that they wouldn’t normally take.
Leadership is probably the one thing that affects our team the most, that we teach the least. It has an impact on winning and losing every year. If leadership is important to you, it’s something that needs to be taught, and it takes more than just what you say to your players at the end of practice or before a film session.