Leadership: “Absolute identity with one’s cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership.” — Woodrow Wilson

What is Leadership?

Jeffrey Barrow defined leadership as “the behavioral process of influencing individuals and groups towards set goals”.  As an athlete, that notion of leadership as “influence” is very important.  It’s not about being team captain.  For coaches reading this article, it’s neither about your title (“coach”) either.  Leadership is the approach that you, as an individual interact with others through your language and through your actions.


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My colleague, Simon Clements (consultant to the US Soccer Women's National Team and over 60 pro teams) recent said, "While a team might only have one captain, it can be filled with leaders."  Leadership is a skill that every individual needs. Now let's dive in.


Leadership in Practice

Four skills EXACT focuses on for helping pro athletes be better leaders (and college athletes and youth athletes!) are:

  • Focused Optimism: A leader's personal attitude is contagious.  People want to follow (and be influenced by) others that spread positivity.  When talking to your team, are you a "silver lining" communicator or are you a "glass half empty" person.  Are you more likely to say after a loss, "there is no way we could ever beat that team" or "I hope we get a chance to challenge that team again!".  To influence others, you need to verbalize optimistic thoughts.  We all want to be happy and feel successful.  If you give out positive vibes, others will be receptive to you as a leader.
  • Consistent Values: Values are the principles or standards that guide our behavior. i.e. they are the things we "value" or believe are important.  What is important to you?  Is it that teammates all feel like they belong? Then show it (consistently)!  Is it giving 110% during practice?  Than always do it!  Is it being open to feedback from others?  Then embrace it!  Think about what you believe is important to you personally, to your team and to your personal interactions with your friends and teammates.  Those are *your* values.  Stay true to them.SIDE NOTE: It is ok to adapt and modify your values over time.  We are all human and learn from our mistakes.  e.g. maybe when you are younger you prefer to share 'kudos' to teammates and when you are older decide as a team to share and discuss when teammates do well.
  • Goal-Minded: Leaders have a reason to interact with others.  It's to achieve a shared goal!  On your team, it's important to understand that there are all different types of goals.  e.g. individual vs group, short-term vs long-term, product (results) vs process (actions), achievable vs over-ambitious.  As a leader it's important to figure out for your team what's the right type of goal that (a) fits your values, (b) remains optimistic, and possibly, most important, (c) will get others to follow!  If you heard a teammate say, "let's win so many games that the US Soccer National Team will play us", you'd probably laugh, and certainly wouldn't follow that [impossible] goal.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to establish attainable goals that keep your team moving onward and upward.  Maybe you're thinking, "Doesn't the coach set our team's goals?".  Certainly the coach can say what s/he believes the goal should be, but that goal will only be followed when leadership skills are shown.  If you believe the coach's goal is right, you can and should lead your team to follow that goal!
  • Share Power: Leaders influence their teammates behaviors.  In doing so, the individuals are giving you, the leader, the power to do that.  They are empowering you to influence them.  Your ability to continue influencing teammates depends on you returning the favor.  Specifically, you need to allow others to be leaders too.  You need to guide others to share their vision and values.  You need to accept their positive optimism as well.  This last aspect is often confusing as many athletes believe you are either a leader or a follower.  Not true!  Leadership is a skill, not an official role.  The most successful leaders learn how to empower and fuel each other's' values, optimism and goals.

Learning to Lead


Read, in detail about leadership:

Watch these videos:

ACTIVITY (20 minutes): Prepare How You'll Lead

  • For each of the four skills shown above, list what you think and how you'd handle that area.

Be a Leader in the Game (*and* Out Too!)

EXACT Sports is known internationally for assisting athletes to "Go Mental"-- i.e. the mindset that allows an individual to trigger (switch on) success, whether it be on the field, at home or in the classroom!  To view information about our limited enrollment events, click the schedule below: