Certain teams strike fear in their opponents. Growing up, I watched Tennessee win games before the tipoff as opponents fumbled over themselves, in awe of the orange and white. In recent years, UConn has earned that same respect, oftentimes intimidating the other team into mistakes just by the sheer aura that surrounds the Huskies program.
As the Notre Dame/UConn rivalry has developed over the years, I’ve noticed a shift. Notre Dame used to be just like nearly every other team in America who faced UConn. Though they had talent, you could sense that they didn’t quite yet believe they could slay the giant. Just look at their scores from the past four years:
- Skylar Diggins’ freshman year, Notre Dame’s average margin of defeat against the Huskies was 20 points.
- Her sophomore year, that margin dropped to 11 points.
- Last year, the FIghting Irish beat UConn two out of three, still unable to dethrone the Huskies from the Big East Tournament title
- This season, Notre Dame swept UConn winning all three games
Both teams boast talented players and skilled coaches. So what else contributed to Notre Dame’s rise in this rivalry? Confidence.
Just as spectators could easily detect Notre Dame’s lack of confidence a few years ago, one could quickly see this year’s team’s strong, unshakable confidence. They were no longer intimidated by the Huskies. They believed they could not only compete, but win. You could see it on their faces, in their posture and through their determination.
How do you develop this kind of confidence on your team? There are so many factors. Certainly you must have talented players who fit your team culture as well as excellent coaching strategy. Yet, for Notre Dame one big difference is Skylar Diggins’ on-court leadership.
Every coach talks about wanting excellent leaders, but not every coach takes an intentional approach to helping their players develop leadership skills. It requires time, effort and taking advantage of teachable moments.
Skylar has exuded a calm confidence this season and has learned how to keep her emotions in check. She’s shown the ability to inspire her teammates toward a higher level of play rather than display frustration when they fall short of their potential. Confidence is contagious and hers has infected the team. Coach McGraw and her staff have intentionally helped Skylar grow in her leadership skills and it shows.
Leader development can take many shapes and forms. Books and workshops are part of most coaches strategies. But the key is consistency. It’s not something you address a few times in the pre-season and then forget about. Ongoing consistency, attention and time will help your players grow into stronger leaders that can take your team to new heights.
What are your favorite tools to develop leaders on your team? Please leave your comment below.