Leadership: It’s not a one-wo/man kind of job
I was coaching a group of youngins the other day and started practice by asking a simple question…who in this room is a leader? Before I could even blink my eyes, almost every single kid pointed straight at the most obnoxiously loud and outgoing player in the gym. I was actually quite surprised. 8 out of the 10 kids had the same immediate reaction, a reaction that I completely disagreed with. That kid was actually quite selfish… loud, bold, stubborn and definitely not afraid to speak up when he/she disagreed or wanted something.
Although I was pretty thrown off by the groups initial reaction, it became pretty clear that the kids associated leadership with characteristics like being extroverted, opinionated and loud. I sort of giggled at their responses and continued to explain that “yes, ‘Sally’ is a great leader”, but not all great leaders are loud and opinionated. I then went on the typical ‘coaches’ rant about how we can all be leaders and realized that maybe 1 out of the 10 kids was actually listening. What the heck?! Why doesn’t anybody care and why do we all hold on to this belief that a leader HAS to exhibit the natural urge to be assertive and loud?
I thought about leadership for a few days and it sort of dawned on me that our American pop culture was driving these presumptions. If you think about the media and our culture, it becomes pretty clear that our foundation is traditionally operated by two types of people, the leaders and the followers. Watch a movie or tv-show for example and you will find that almost every narrative is built around the assertive, confident protagonist and the quiet, timid counterpart.
Now, don’t get me wrong…it is great that we strive to glorify leadership. But, do we really want our youth believing that they can’t lead, just because they don’t naturally possess characteristics of the stereotypical leader? HECK NO. Not in school, not in sports, not in the workforce and not in everyday life.
Leadership In Volleyball
Why do we shy away from stepping up? Why do we immediately appoint leadership to teammates or athletes who are naturally loud, aggressive, energetic and skillful? Because in reality, isn’t a great leader someone who is versatile? Isn’t a great leader someone who embraces their strengths by using them to not only better themselves, but to better those around them?
Loud Doesn’t Mean Leader
From an outsiders’ perspective, the athlete with the most energy or the loudest voice tends to stand out as a leader on the court. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of vocal athletes who are great leaders, but just because an athlete is loud, doesn’t mean they are using their words to be helpful.
Within a match, a great vocal leader focuses their attention on being productive with their chatter…speaking with purpose and eliminating empty words. A great vocal leader uses clear and concise calls and verbal cues to keep their system flowing properly. They focus their attention on calling out weaknesses, planning for the next play, making necessary changes and helping teammates thrive.
A great vocal leader off the court uses their communication skills to share information and resources that help pave the way for others to succeed. They are also great at communicating with coaches and teammates about strengths, weaknesses and ways in which the team can improve.
Energetic Doesn’t Mean Leader
Similar to being vocal, an energetic player shouldn’t immediately be categorized as a leader. We all love watching energetic athletes play, but from a spectators’ standpoint, it’s difficult to see how that athletes’ energy is effecting the teams’ overall aura.
Every player responds to energy differently (some thrive, some get anxiety, some just get annoyed!). Great energetic leaders know how much energy each teammate needs in order to bring the best version of themselves. Similarly, they understand the importance of learning how to read their teams’ emotional state. They know when their energy is too much for the situation, when to back off, how much to back off and who to turn to in order to bring a sense of calmness.
Aggressive Doesn’t Mean Leader
Aggressive personalities aren’t always fit to be the greatest leaders. Although we can all agree that assertiveness often does lead to quick result, an assertive athlete becomes dangerous to a team environment when they use their confidence and aggression to influence teammates to a decision that goes against the betterment of the team as a whole.
Great aggressive leaders always consult their teammates before speaking up and use their naturally insistent personality to make positive changes, to get tasks done and to hold teammates/coaches accountable.
“The Best” Doesn’t Mean Leader
We see this in club and college volleyball A LOT! The best tactical or most athletic player on the team is always expected to the be captain. The strongest, most skillful players on the team have the ability to lead in their own ways and don’t always have to be the vocal, energetic, decision makers of the squad. The most “skilled” players on the team play their leadership role when they step on the court and start producing or setting up points.
Great Leaders Can Be Calm and Quiet
The players who are loud, balance out the players who are quiet and in vice versa. Although you may not hear them, a great quiet leader is able to lead through composure, humility and calmness. These silent killers lead by example and demonstrate hard work, without complaint or criticism. Therefore, when they DO need the opportunity to voice a concern, their words are powerful and their message is effective. A great, quiet leader knows when to step in and uses their influence to make necessary changes or to solve problems.
Similarly, great quiet leaders lead through tranquility and have the ability to keep their team confident and composed, even in the midst of chaos. They can read emotions and feelings of distress and know when to use their composure to soothe a hyperactive situation or teammate.
Great Leaders Can Sit On The Bench
There has always been this misconception that those who aren’t on the court, don’t give much to the overall outcome of the match. FALSE!
Being a substitution player is not only one of the hardest roles on the team, but is one of the most important. Although this role is often discouraging, de-motivating and a confidence-killer, it is also an opportunity to learn and to lead.
A team can only run like a “well-oiled machine” when all of its parts are intact. The mood and the attitude of the players on the bench have an astronomical impact on the morale of the whole team. True leaders, regardless of how much they play, put their egos and their competitive nature aside to make those around them better. True leaders on the bench, use their knowledge to dissect what is happening on both sides of the court and relay that information to their teammates. True leaders on the bench encourage, spark, calm, teach and do what they can to help, in any way.
Who is a leader?
We are all leaders. Quiet, loud, energetic, skillful, not-so skillful, walk-ons, freshman, sophomores…WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO LEAD IN OUR OWN WAYS. The best volleyball teams in the world have multiple leaders, all of whom possess unique characteristics that add to the teams’ overall depth. Depth is strength…and a team becomes its strongest when every single member embraces their strengths and passes them on to another.