1. Ongoing leadership training
Develop a system to train your kids to be leaders. Meet on a regular basis to teach them how to be leaders. If you do not do this, how will they become the leaders you want them to be? Leadership does not just happen because they are seniors. It does not just happen because they are an All-League football player two years running. You have to teach leadership, you have to mold leadership. Read about my Player Committee program that I use to do this.
2. Bring in leaders from your community to talk to your team
I love to bring in other leaders from my community to come in to address our kids during Training Camp. I will usually bring in two to four different people to talk to my kids. One of my best years was when I brought in the following leaders: Saddleback College Head Football Coach Mark McElroy, San Clemente High School Offensive Coordinator and former USC All American Dave Brown, and one of my best friends, a Marines Corps officer, Captain Kenny Jones. Each man spoke about a different aspect of leadership to my guys. I have seen this be an effective tool for a few reasons: one, a different perspective from what I’m always talking about; and two, the people I bring are experts in their field, thus giving them authority on leadership that the kids will listen to and respect.
3. Put your leaders in charge and hold them more accountable than the rest of the team
I have always held my captains more responsible than the rest of the team. This is another way to develop leadership. For instance, I put them in charge of setting up the field before practice. They are responsible for getting out our bags, putting the sled bags on, getting the footballs to their right spots, setting up the water, getting cones out of the shed, etc. etc. If the field is not set up by the time we start practice, I hold the leaders accountable. If you talk with my former players, they will tell you that there has been many times where my captains started off practice by doing up downs because the field was not ready to go. Understand that the three or four captains are not the ones setting everything up, they are the ones responsible! This puts them in a position to make things happen, to lead the other players in an everyday task.
4. Age doesn’t equal leadership ability
One of the greatest student athlete leaders I’ve ever had on one of my teams was Phil Wilhelm. He was only a sophomore when he started becoming a fantastic leader. His work ethic in the weight room with our Strength Coach CJ Del Balso is what led him to being a great leader. Coach Del Balso came to me during the offseason and said “You need to think about making Phil a captain.” My first thought, because we have been so conditioned as coaches was “He is only a sophomore.” But Coach Del Balso really challenged this line of thinking. Without a doubt, Phil had all of the qualities we wanted in a captain and leader. His work ethic was second to none, he was “the first to show up and last to leave” type of kid who overachieved in everything he attempted because of the size of his heart. Do not get caught up in only having seniors as leaders and captains “because that is the way it has always been.” Put kids up as captains who are doing the work, and being great leaders, regardless of their age.
5. You Must Set the Tone
The greatest example of leadership I have EVER seen happened in back-to-back years at a church camp up at Bass Lake, California. Two different churches, the same exact campground. The first year, the leader of the trip jumped up on a picnic table with a bullhorn on the last morning, as we were packing up and cleaning up. That person started ordering people around from that bullhorn. “That group there – go pick up the trash on the beach. The group of girls right there, you need to go clean the girl’s restroom. Your group there, you guys go clean up the kitchen area.” Nobody did a thing!
The very next year, with a totally different organization, I am at the same site and the same last morning of camp comes. This time, a kindergarten teacher named Cheryl Demus went to the kitchen, grabbed a trash bag and started cleaning up, picking up trash. Next thing you know, teenagers are asking her if she needs help! Next thing you know, seriously, half of the kids are picking up trash, asking for trash bags. The place was spotless in 20 minutes! Somebody starting DOING!
You have got to lead by example. If you are like the first leader mentioned above, do you think that kids will follow you? Or do you think you will get more followers if you are like Cheryl? When you and I played, our coach told us to run through a wall, and we did it. Kids just are not like that anymore. They do not blindly follow you as the Head Coach. They have to have a reason to do it. Give them a reason! Be the doer, be the leader.