As a sport psychologist, I am asked a wide variety of questions. Many athletes, parents and coaches want to know about what is the best way to get motivated, how can you improve your concentration and what are some of the important characteristics of a successful team. Usually, one component of all of these questions relates to the issue of leadership. As we watch the college football season wind down and the basketball season begin, we will constantly hear references to a certain athlete’s leadership abilities and how he may lead his team to success.
One of the most frequent questions asked about leadership is, are people born with leadership skills, or is it something that they can learn to acquire. Basically, are leaders born or made? After 27 years working in this profession, I think it is fair to say that some people do have some of the natural abilities to lead. However, I feel those qualities are usually demonstrated by their parents and people they are surrounded by as they grow up. Consequently, it comes naturally to them, because these are the characteristics that their role models have displayed to them and as a result, they will express as well. They will not be afraid to either speak their mind, or lead with their actions when necessary.
Others can learn to become leaders. I believe that many of us can learn to take charge and set an example, often as a result of frustration. Many of the athletes I have worked with over the years have told me that they have gotten tired of being on teams that either lost too often, or just did not perform to their potential. When this frustration gets to a certain level, they will either lose control and often perform impulsively, which typically ends up in a penalty or a suspension. Or, they will realize their team is missing the key ingredients that only a leader can display, and they will be willing to step out and take a chance to lead, rather than watch the team fail again.
Perhaps the most important ingredient of leadership is communication. Obviously, there are two ways to communicate, verbally and nonverbally. Many athletes I have spent time with have told me they let their actions speak for themselves. They feel that the mannerisms they display and the actions they express on the athletic field, speaks volumes for them. Others have told me that they feel it is important to verbally express themselves to their teammates. These individuals are often not afraid to confront a teammate who is not performing well, and maybe most importantly are not afraid to admit it when they have failed. These athletes and coaches have realized that if they have the confidence to admit their mistakes, they believe it may give others the direction to improve as well. And, as the individuals improve, the team will collectively improve as well.