Summary: What does it take to be a great team leader? It starts by being a great team member.
A while back, I sat down with the kids on my team. I wanted to have a frank discussion about what it means to be a great team leader but it quickly devolved into what it means to be a great team member. That was completely appropriate because I think, before you can be a great team leader, you first have to be a great team member.
So let’s look at what we though were the eight minimum requirements to be a great team member.
- Good skills and always striving to improve them: Work hard to build an acceptable set of skills and then keep challenging yourself to get better. You can always be better. An acceptable set of skills are those that are on a par with the rest of the team. If the rest of the team is improving their skills then par for the team is always ratcheting upward and you must continue to improve your skills just to stay on a par with the rest of the team.
- Respectful of teammates, coaches and officials: Stay humble – you know less than you think. Treat others as you’d want to be treated yourself. Stay open to input and direction from others. Assume that others are on your side – even when, at first, it doesn’t seem that way.
- Calm under pressure: The team has to be able to count on you when the going gets tough. You can’t freak out and you can’t get angry. You have to stay calm and stay focused. You can’t allow the pressure to turn you inward and keep you there.
- Unselfish: You win as a team. You can’t possibly win as an individual. Even if you could, the team would have suffered as a result and in essence would have lost. Take advantage of the fact that you have teammates on the court. Give them chances to take advantage of the opportunities they’ve created. Give them a chance to show what they can do.
- Positive attitude: You can learn something from everything you do and everything that is done to you. Use that information to make yourself a more skilled player and a more formidable competitor. Put the past behind you – every second. What’s done is done. What matters is what you’re going to do in the next second, minute, hour, day, week…
- Tries hard and doesn’t give up: This is really a special case of positive attitude. If you are always looking forward and focused on learning, every moment is an opportunity to make a difference. Yes, you’re 20 points down with one minute to go, but how many steals can you get in one minute? How many points or assists can you get when you’re dead tired? People who continually try hard and don’t give up earn respect – period.
- Encourages the team: It’s hard to maintain a positive attitude in the face of mistakes, deficits, and exhaustion. It can make a huge difference if someone close to you encourages you to keep going and stay focused. So encourage your teammates when they do something good, no matter how small, and encourage them when they make a mistake, no matter how large. What matters is what they do next and for the rest of the game and season.
- Makes the rest of the team better: This doesn’t mean that you make up for the mistakes by the rest of the team or that you take over the scoring responsibilities. What this means is that when you’re around, the rest of the team simply makes fewer mistakes and everyone scores more. That will happen naturally if you do the rest of the things listed here that would make you a great team member. It will also involve you looking for opportunities to take advantage of something a team member has done – like passing to an open player or coming to the rescue of a teammate who’s been double teamed.
As you’re reading this, you probably picturing the behavior of the 5 players on the floor but the definition of team doesn’t stop at the edges of the court. It doesn’t even stop when the buzzer sounds to end the game. The kids currently on the bench should be respectful, have a positive attitude, encourage the team, not give up, stay focused and be ready to get back on the floor. These characteristics should carry over into practice and into the off-season.
Imagine having a team full of players with these skills! That would be one kick-ass team (regardless of their final record – though I suspect that your win-loss record would be plenty respectful). The one ingredient to push things over the top would be a great team leader.
A great team leader must first of all lead by example. The leader has to exhibit all of the characters above in order to acquire the respect needed to direct others. Finally, to be a great leader you have to be willing to take charge. It can be scary to be in the lead. You have to be willing to take chances and make mistakes. You have to know what should be done. You’re not winging it. There’s a plan and it’s your job to execute it.
By the way, coaches are team members and team leaders too. Ask yourself if you have each of these qualities and if you lead by example. Take charge and execute on the plan… Oh, do you have a plan? The thing that distinguishes a coach from a typical team leader is that they develop a plan and communicate it. The rest is leadership by example.
Finally, these are the most important skills for success in life. So these are the most important skills that you, as a coach, should be teaching your team. The rest is gravy.