Leadership in sport is a little bit like the weather. Everyone talks about it, everybody’s got a view about it, but very few people really understand it. We’ve made a big transition in sport over the last 20 years. A long time ago, sport and leadership is very much about captaincy.
At the beginning of the season, a football team, a swimming team, a basketball team, a sporting team will either vote for a captain or the coach would nominate a captain or a captain would be identified as being the person with the leadership characteristics, maybe the best orator or the most experienced player or the most skillful player. But we pick a leader and say “Alright, you take control of this team. You’re the leader.”
In over a period of time I realize that leadership had evolved and is continuing to evolve so we had the captain and vice captains who would have various support roles to ensure the leader and the 2 vice captains are going to create what we would call the fundamentals of the leadership team.
Now the last 10 or 15 years that whole concept of leadership team has expanded. In some football teams there maybe 3, 4, or 5, up to 10 leaders of the playing group. But there’s an important shift happening again here. An important trend. What we’re saying is a shift from me leading you or a captain leading a team or 1 person leading another, we’re seeing a fundamental shift to self leadership.
In other words, what we’re saying to a team now is that we expected you as an individual, lead yourself. What does leadership look like right now? Leadership looks like great self management skills. I’m leading myself off the field, through better nutrition, qualities like recovery, taking care of my injuries, making sure that in public I’m respectable, respectful, addressed well and present a great image for the club.
About being professional, leadership is now about the individual. The other thing that we’re seeing in leadership is that we’ve gone from imposing a single, one size fits all leadership model for everyone.
We used to think that leaders were very much along the lines of Kennedy or more recently, Obama, with our great orators, with our people who assume to be able to inspire through words. But you can be a very quiet person, a very quiet player and be a great leader providing you’re leading your way, you’re leading with passion, you’re leading with integrity, you’re leading with dignity and you’re being the best you that you can be because that will inspire other people within your team.
So where is leadership now and how do we create captains? We really don’t. The focus is on creating better human beings. By helping each individual player to be the best that they can be as a human being and as a player, as an athlete because the combined effect of a group of people striving to be the bestest individuals, then coming together to achieve a common goal is unstoppable, it’s incredibly powerful.
In terms whether that one great leader but nobody else buying in, nobody else engaged with the one leader’s message, success was never likely. But where a coach can inspire everyone in the team to be the best that they can be, on the field, off the field, in every aspect of their preparation and performance where everyone is leading and being the captain of themselves to the best of their ability then remarkable things are possible.