Leadership Activities for Sports Teams
As with anything, leadership requires practice. While this is especially true for players who tend to be followers, this is equally true for natural-born leaders who likely have one or two areas that need attention.
Effective leadership requires confidence, responsibility, communication (both in clear speech and active listening), and the ability to organize and motivate others. These activities are designed with these skill sets in mind.
This activity is a great introduction to get the team focused on leadership skills. It’s also an especially good exercise for teenagers.
Have each player write down a person they think is a successful leader. Have them define what it is that makes this person a successful leader, and then have them define the most important trait required for leadership. Then ask for some volunteers to share their answers. Finally, encourage the team to debate what the most important trait of leadership is.
Note if they were effective debaters who allowed everyone a voice and who were able to efficiently arrive at a final decision. If not, help them find better ways to communicate and make large group decisions. If they did well, recognize this with some praise!
This activity was inspired by the Women’s Learning Partnership.
Have players pair up and discuss or write down their answers to the following statements: “A risk I took in sports was…,” “A risk I will take this year is….,” and “A risk I never plan on taking is…”
After discussion of their answers, ask the team to consider the difference between a positive and a negative risk. Ask what they think the relationship is between risk-taking and confidence. Then have the team discuss the relationship between confidence and leadership.
This activity demonstrates a few things about confidence. One, a person can have too much confidence (as demonstrated in negative risk discussion) and a person can have too little confidence, which means they won’t take any positive risks at all. The goal is to strike a balance of a healthy sense of confidence.
Also, this allows the players to think of confidence in a new way. Confidence is not just what a person feels about their looks or natural athletic ability. Confidence is gained when a small, well-calculated risk pushes the player out of his or her comfort zone. Even if the risk does not result in immediate success, those who are more willing to take risks are more likely to find success and thus more likely to have a healthy state of self-confidence.
This activity was inspired by the 4H Club.
Are Your Responsible?
Create a checklist of actions associated with responsibility. This list can include things like showing up on time, putting in 100% effort at all times, encouraging a struggling teammate, maintaining good grades, following directions, paying attention, remembering to follow-through on tasks, etc.
Ask the players to rate themselves honestly for each action on a scale of 1 to 5. Let them know that their answers will be collected by the coach but kept completely confidential. Tell them to write down on a separate piece of paper the areas they discovered they need to work on and how they can improve. They can take these personal statements home to remember their self-created goals and tips.
Have the group then define as a team why responsibility is important for individual and team success and why leaders must be responsible.
By the end of the season, have the players complete the checklist again. Then hand back their original checklist and let them see if they’ve improved. Ask them to explain or write how they’ve improved their responsibility with concrete examples, e.g. “I leave home 10 minutes earlier to make sure I arrive on time for practice,” or “I write down my to-do list everyday so I don’t forget anything.”
This tip inspired by Jack and Jill of America.
Telling vs. Showing
This is a powerful exercise about the effectiveness of telling someone to do something versus showing them how to do something. Learning this is key to becoming an effective communicator and, of course, a good leader.
Stand in front of the players and state “Please follow my words.” Tell them a random string of actions to perform, like patting their head or hopping on one foot. For a while, do the actions you are telling them to do. Repeat and stress the phrase “Follow my words exactly” intermittently. Then suddenly tell them to do one thing, like placing their hand on their forehead while you actually place your own hand on your mouth. Continue with this disconnect of doing one thing and saying another. See how many players find themselves following your actions rather than your words. Then see how quickly they can correct their mistakes.
Good leaders recognize this disconnect and work with it. Showing how to do something is almost always better than telling someone how to do something. This activity also demonstrates the importance (and sometimes difficulty) of listening.
This tip inspired by Trainers Warehouse.
Ability to Organize and Motivate
Rotating Player-Designed Drills and Activities
This activity is an activity within an activity! Consider having a new player each week (or each practice) organize their own activity related to an athletic skill, team building, leadership, motivation, etc. They must select, plan, and lead their chosen activity.
Start out by asking for volunteers. Then each week select a new person. That way, everyone has about the same amount of time to prepare their activity.
The goal is to encourage the players to research or create their own contribution. Ask them to think about what skills or values the activity is designed to enhance. The player will have to explain the rules of the activity and monitor the team’s performance as if they were the coach.
Remind the players that these activities can be a lot of fun. They can even be more like a game, as long as the player has a specific purpose and lesson for the activity he or she selected.
This idea was inspired by eHow.
Some Final Tips for Coaches
Leadership is like a muscle. The more a person is given the opportunity to lead, the better and more confident they will become.
Although most sports teams need an established captain, consider allowing other students to step up in other leadership roles. This can be part of the rotating activity planning, or it can involve organizing and planning a team outing. Players can also gain experience by leading a group in solving a particular team problem. Not only does this give leadership experience to all of the players, but it also gives you a break from dealing with a lot of tasks at once.
Know that some students need an extra push. In some of the activities, you’ll want to ask for volunteers to gauge who has the confidence to step forward and lead. It is equally as important to track the students who prefer to fade into the background. Consider pulling them aside and asking them to gather a group of students and lead them to complete a task, like designing team t-shirts or organizing and planning a day of community service. Once these students successfully complete a task, they’ll be more willing to step up for other opportunities in the future.
Let the team know that being a leader does not meaning going it alone. Remind them that even the best leaders have advisers. Consider how many advisers Presidents and CEOs have. Coaches usually have assistant coaches, and principals usually have assistant principals.
In fact, one of the most detrimental leadership skills is trying to be too independent, resulting in controlling behavior, work overload and micromanagement. Make sure that any time a player takes on a leadership role he or she is still allowed and encouraged to come to you for advice. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll give them all the answers, but it gives them the reassurance that although they’re independent they’re not left completely lost at sea.