Are children born with the ability to walk and talk? Are they born understanding socially acceptable behavior? As adults, do we immediately grasp and understand every single job expectation and requirement? Of course not. Then why do coaches and teachers automatically assume teenagers should be able to effectively lead?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear coaches say, “Well, we just don’t have any senior leadership this year. Our seniors don’t know how to lead.” Why is that the case? It’s because they have not been trained or put in a position to lead.

Our job as coaches is prepare players for success in the season and more importantly life. Coaches must teach them how to lead. Athletes need to be taught what to do and how to do it. Don’t leave it to chance and hope they figure it out on their own. If a program is a true “total program” it will have some element of leadership training to it.

We always have time. We always have a platform. There is always someone whose life we can affect.

Chan Gailey, a long-time NFL coach and collegiate head coach at Georgia Tech, developed a wonderful leadership program. While at Georgia Tech, Coach Gailey created a semester class he required his freshmen football players attend. This class met once a week for 30 minutes and he taught his kids how to become effective leaders. When asked why he did this Gailey said, “These players will eventually be leading my team, and after that our country.”

As coaches we have a responsibility to train tomorrow’s leaders. Our players will go onto lead in their family, business, community, and country. Make it a priority to train the next generation of leaders. Coaches have an awesome opportunity to leave a legacy of leadership; to really affect the future generations. Why leave that to chance?

In our basketball program we make it a priority to teach leadership. Our mission is to “build champions on and off the court.” Every Monday we hold a leadership meeting in the morning. It is open to all players in grades 9-12. In these meetings we discuss what leadership looks like, traits to develop, and action players can take to start becoming leaders. We also have a developed character education program in place that focuses on one character and leadership trait per week. During these weeks individual players will be assigned to a topic and they will find material (stories, video clips) which illustrate the weekly trait to their teammates. Today, I will meet with each player to go over her role and expectations for the season. During this time I will assign them a younger player in the program to mentor throughout the season.

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

We will not leave leadership to chance. We won’t sit back and “hope” they figure it out by the time their seniors. It’s necessary and should be a priority for coaches  to create a culture of leadership. The word “culture” itself is almost like a buzz word. It get used by a lot of people but it’s not clearly defined, or intentionally worked for. By taking the intentional measures discussed above, your team can create culture of leadership.

I recommend reading The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy, Coaching Your Kids to be Leaders by Pat Williams, and My Personal Best by John Wooden. I also highly recommend you check out Lead Em Up (@lead_em_up) for your program, and follow Adam Bradley (@ABradley5) for great leadership content.

Don’t leave leadership to chance. Don’t hope 17-18 year-old kids somehow are born leaders or figure it out. Teach them. Add value to the lives of your players and the people they will impact. You won’t regret it, and your players won’t forget it.

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week and be an RGP today!


Coach Elmendorf is available to speak to your team, group, or organization. Message him for details.