The strongest influence your players will feel will come from inside the locker room. They’ll certainly listen to you and your staff and respond to what you want. But ultimately the highest performing teams in any field are fully committed to their teammates. They don’t want to let each other down.
We all want great leaders on our team. But think about what you are doing to create leadership on your team. Think about the definition, the approach you take and what you are willing to tolerate in the form of confrontation to create the right leadership environment. If you want your team to be really tough defensively you are going to spend a lot of time on team defense, and hold them accountable to your defensive standards. Well if you want a team with great leadership you’d better do the same.
You set the standards, you correct the mistakes, and you are the one who has to hold everyone accountable. But you want your team to check each other themselves, especially when no one else is around. They are spending more time in the “locker room” – away from the coaches, with their teammates – than they are on the floor. So the influence in the locker room is powerful. You want to establish a level of peer pressure that creates leadership within your team.
The best way to do so is emphasize the impact everything has on the team, and never waver. Everything you do affects the team and your teammates, whether it’s positive or negative. Sprinting back on defense, going to class, getting extra shots up, communicating on the floor – everything you do in a team setting creates a reaction for your teammates to deal with. You cannot over-communicate this point to your team.
Getting your players to understand that mentality is the first step. Following through to create internal pressure against anything that gets in the way o winning is the second step. This is where accountability as a team is key.
Most players don’t understand (initially) why they should be held accountable when one of their teammates screws up. They think “it’s not my fault he missed class.” That may be true. But if he screws up a defensive assignment late in a tie game, guess who takes the L? Everybody. You are counting on everyone to help you win a championship, and when one guy doesn’t do his job everyone suffers. It may be painful and not a lot of fun, but if winning were easy everybody would be doing it. There’s a reason only one team wins the league every year. Winning is hard.
I find a lot of coaches aren’t comfortable with team accountability either, and I think this is a big mistake. You don’t want your team to be pissed off at you because one guy screwed up, and you aren’t mad at your team – you are just mad at that one guy. So the comfortable thing is to penalize the one guy who screwed up and make an example of him for the team. That’s not nearly as powerful as holding the team accountable for one players’ transgression. If a violation rises to the level of disciplinary action, take care of it as a team.
When somebody missed class at RIC or at Maine, we were on the line together. Did the guys get pissed off? Did they think it was unfair? Sure they did. But eventually they realized it was about the team, not the individual, and that they needed everyone to win a championship.
What that will do is create that internal pressure within the locker room that turns into positive leadership. If you make everyone run at 6 AM because one guy missed class, that one guy is going to have a lot of unhappy teammates. And they won’t want to do it again. That’s where you get the conversations in the locker room that make you better, that the players are really listening to. “Look man, I ain’t getting up to run for you again. Get to class.”
That type of pressure is different than hearing it from a coach. And it’s that type of influence that creates leadership within your team and gets your team playing for one another, not just for themselves.