Leadership is a fundamental part of the sports world, especially in a team environment. Over the past 25 years, important research has explored the role of the coach in this context. And yet, the team represents just one area in the field of sports in which leaders are found. The role of the sports leader in individual sports is also very important.
Regardless of his or her specific role, sports leaders are sure to have a positive impact. That’s why we at Thinking Heads work hard to find the most successful sports leaders.
Sports leaders aren’t coaches
Elite sports leaders are the people responsible for getting the best out of athletes. They go one step beyond the typical coach.
Although the development of leadership abilities is an important part of training programs for coaches, there has been very little consensus with regard to which approach to adopt when developing elite sports leaders.
To give you an idea, Thinking Heads relies on a wide range of sports leaders that can apply their professional accomplishments in other fields, and none of them is a coach. To highlight just a few examples: Pau Gasol of the NBA; Carl Lewis, track and field legend; and Andrea Cardona, the first woman to summit Mount Everest, etc.
Identifying sports leaders
Sports leaders have particular traits in common, including:
Leading by example
Sports leaders are considered integral members of their sports community, and not just on their own team but in their discipline as a whole, as well as to other players and the people that consider them role models.
As spectators, we only see the positive outcome when an elite athete achieves success and—due to his or charisma—becomes an elite sports leader. But behind that success, hard work on the field and respect in how the game is played are key elements in his or her leadership.
This behavior is not only reflected in training and competition, but also in their commitments outside the sports environment.
Sports leaders can therefore be excellent role models. Other people feed off of their positivity and enthusiasm, and use them when reaching their own goals by focusing on the achievements of those benchmark athletes.
Awareness is critical for sports leaders. No leadership method follows a strict pattern; one’s style is influenced by external factors, depending on the position one adopts.
Awareness is reached through building relationships and learning how others react based on how they are treated.
For every athlete, losing is a very unpleasant situation. While sports leaders experience the same let down as anyone else, they get back up and focus on the next competition.
Not everyone will react the same way in the same circumstances, and therefore sports leaders need know what to say to best support the person they are working with, and this helps them develop insight and knowledge about people.
They demonstrate passion and enthusiasm
Elite athletes—whether in training or competition, whether they win or lose—constantly experience a wide range of emotions, driven above all by passion.
Sports leaders try to find an emotional middleground, and mold their emotions in order to achieve their goals, whether they play on a team or compete in individual sports.
Like passion, enthusiasm is an essential part of all athletic activity, especially in the context of professional sports.
Humility and vision
Elite sports leaders tend to stay in the background. It can be challenging to identify them for this very reason. But behind every standout athlete, there is likely a sports leader contributing to their success.
Something else to bear in mind is that true sports leaders are visionaries. In other words, they are able to plan where they want to finish and have that vision in mind before putting it into practice.
Being a leader in sports requires a number of interrelated characteristics, but leadership isn’t achieved immediately. Its development requires a consistent effort, which is also used as a source of motivation.
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