Nature or Nurture?

Nature or Nurture?

You’ve probably heard someone (maybe even yourself) described as a “born leader”. What’s your take on that? It’s an age-old debate…are leadership qualities in our DNA or developed with time, effort and training?

To me, it’s a bit of both. Some of your athletes have leadership abilities that come naturally. They set a good example or aren’t afraid to speak up. Team members seem to readily follow them.


For other athletes, leading others may not come as easily, but those who are willing can learn skills that earn them respect and followers.


As I talk with coaches, one of the complaints I hear most often is that their team lacks leadership. And my response is, “how are you training those you expect to lead?”


Though some athletes may have more natural ability than others, ALL need training. One of the biggest mistakes coaches make is naming athletes leaders or captains and never investing the time to teach them what that means.


Leadership training typically falls to the back burner when schedules get busier. It’s a shame, because practices and games offer fertile training ground for learning new leadership skills. Successful coaches know it’s not “one more thing” to do, but rather a crucial part of creating a winning team culture.


Keep these tips in mind:


Clear expectations: communicate the captain’s job description verbally and in writing. Put it in the player manual so that everyone on the team knows what you’re asking of the captains. In addition, craft a follower’s job description so that the team also understands what it looks like to follow.


Meet regularly: schedule meetings in advance not only to get a pulse on what’s happening on the team, but also to provide training. Encourage them with the ways you’ve noticed them applying what they learn. Challenge them to continue making small, specific adjustments to get better. And keep them accountable along the way.


Create opportunities for practice: what responsibilities can you delegate to captains? Talking about leadership is one thing, but giving them ownership over certain aspects of team management will bring their leadership to life! Let them lead a drill in practice. Have them participate in preparing a scouting report and let them present some of it to the team. Set high standards for them to strive to reach. They may stumble along the way, but they will grow and get better.


Many coaches talk a good game regarding leadership, but the best coaches carve out the time to intentionally train their athletes to lead well. Your team will reap the benefits, as will their future employers, spouses and communities!