All athletes can learn how to be a great team leader. Some athletes are chosen to be team captains because they have exceptional leadership skills. Being a team captain adds a layer of complication into athletes’ lives because they expected to play a consistently great game and are also expected to be the model athlete for others on the team. Team captains are expected to remain calm and cool during pressure situations in addition to working though team dynamics. Here are five tips for team captains and aspiring team leaders that will help strengthen leadership skills:
Maintain a positive attitude. Staying positive is an important aspect of being a team leader. It is very easy to pout when things are not going your way and it takes mental toughness to persevere through rough times. Having an “I can” attitude will help your teammates see that it is possible to move past difficult game situations. Staying in the now and being mindful of the play at hand (letting go of previous plays) allows you to focus on what you need to do during the game to have a successful outcome. Having positive thoughts, especially when things are out of your control, will help boost team morale. One example is playing in poor conditions (rain, wind, snow). There is nothing we can do to change the weather, so why waste energy focusing on how bad it is? Instead, focus on strategies and skills that will help you function as a solid team. Staying positive on a regular basis will help you stand out as a team leader.
Be respectful. Demonstrating respect for your teammates, coach, for the game, and for yourself is one way to show that you are a team leader. Being respectful includes common courtesy and appreciating the effort of each person on the team. There will be times when some athletes show less effort – instead of scolding them ask how they are doing and if they need support to increase effort. There will also be times when coaches make decisions that you do not agree with. Remember that coaches are there to help the team excel and have reasons for their actions and decisions. If you have a legitimate concern have a respectful conversation with your coach to discuss the concerns. Having respect for the game means following all rules, obeying the officials, and being courteous to the opposing team. Finally, respecting yourself means giving your best effort during practices and games and maintaining integrity throughout your training periods and off-season.
There’s no “I” in TEAM. We’ve all heard this saying before. Showing off or focusing on your own statistics are not likely to lead to achieving team goals. While this might increase your own ego (sometimes it won’t!) it is likely to lead to lower team cohesion and can result in resentment from your teammates. Successful teams work as a unit and support each other by putting effort towards teamwork and cooperation. Good team leaders inspire teammates and encourage them to be successful. Work on recognizing the positive aspects of your teammates and communicate your observations with them. For example, if you notice that a teammate has been working particularly hard to gain a new skill and then aces it, congratulate your teammate and encourage him/her to utilize the new skill. Athletes recognize when others are selfish or supportive. Work to be the supportive teammate who is looked upon to help develop the team cohesion.
Limit the gossip. It is common for cliques to form within teams which can lead to gossip and poor teamwork. Athletes can be drawn into the drama associated with gossip and become tempted to add to the gossip or to want to know what is going on with certain teammates. Gossip results in a toxic environment so just don’t do it. A good rule of listening or speaking about others is this: Do not say anything about a person that you are not willing to say to his/her face in a mature way through calm conversation. A good team leader will not engage in gossip and will stop it if it is heard. If you encounter teammates gossiping encourage them to talk with the person directly or to have a mediation facilitated by the coach or another trusted team official. Explain to your teammates that gossiping will not help strengthen teamwork and can actually contribute to failures on the field. A good team leader will work with teammates to foster healthy, positive, and clear communication in an attempt to resolve issues before they become major problems. Asking a trusted official (coaches) to assist with this can be helpful.
Be a role model. A lot of people look to team leaders to learn how to behave in a variety of situations. It is easy to know how to respond when your team is winning. It is fun to celebrate and cheer as your team scores or wins games. It is not as easy to think through responses when things are tough, like poor official calls or unfavorable numbers on the score board. Athletes’ character tend to come out during stressful times and it is during these times that outrageous behaviors are seen. Athletes have been known to throw equipment, yell at officials, and fight with the opposing team when they are feeling stressed. Team leaders do not behave this way and conduct themselves according to the policies set by the team and the league (often described in a code of conduct document). Poor sportsmanship has no place on the field. Being a team leader means taking the high road, putting in extra effort, and genuinely caring about your teammates. Examples include helping pick up the equipment at the end of practice, arriving to practice on time (or early), and giving each practice and game your best effort. This kind of behavior will help motivate others and will highlight you as a positive team leader.
These five tips can be practiced immediately and are the beginning to becoming a great team leader. Having a positive attitude, being respectful, remembering there is no “I” in TEAM, limiting gossip, and being a good role model are all characteristics of a great team leader. Practicing these behaviors will help you stand out as an athlete who cares about the game and the team. A leader showcases good character and puts forth genuine effort. For more information on becoming a great team leader and on building sport psychology skills contact IAE Sport Psych.
Dr. Michele Kerulis, LCPC, CC-AASP - Director of Sport Psychology & Athletic Enhancement