October 24th, 2020

Training Matters: Great teams always include great leadership

By None on November 16, 2018.

Team cohesion is the degree to which a team can work together to achieve the common goal they’ve set out to strive towards. One of the major influences on the development of this cohesion — as outlined by researchers Albert Carron and Heather Hausenblas in their 1998 book Group Dynamics in Sport — is leadership.

By definition, leadership is the act of leading a group or organization. In order to lead, you must first know where you’re going. John C. Maxwell is credited for defining a leader as “one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way,” and I feel like a true leader will naturally foster a sense of cohesion and unity within their team.

Leaders can be coaches or players, and may be assigned or unassigned. Just because an athlete does not have a C or an A on their jersey does not mean they will not demonstrate qualities of a leader. In fact, sometimes the most influential leaders are the ones that bear no title at all. They are often the ones who have the characteristics, engage with their teams, and who have earned the mutual respect back from the members of their team.

Think about personal experiences you may have had with leadership throughout your life. Who has stood out to you as someone you’ve looked up to, admired, respected, and enjoyed working alongside? What was it that they did, or said, to encourage you to do your best?

When we think about these people — the leaders who have influenced our peers and ourselves — we see many similarities. Their positivity, motivation, patience, support, knowledge; the list goes on. We see them as individuals who may have faced failure and adversity but who have searched for solutions and have successfully overcome those obstacles they’ve faced.

For that, we look up to them. They’ve studied the sport or the game and know their role, the plays, the rules, and so on. For that, we trust them. They are there for you when you’ve made a mistake, to support and encourage you to get back on your feet. And for that reason, we respect them. When it all comes together, it is no doubt that they’re the true leaders on a team.

Now to take it a step further, think about those teams that you’ve been on when you’ve had that leader. The one who knows, goes, and shows the way: what has the team cohesion, or bond amongst the players, been like? In saying cohesion, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sit around and hold hands outside of practices and everyone has to be best friends. Cohesion means when you step out to compete, you’re all able to work together as a single unit to reach the maximum potential as a team. Often that team with a strong leader is cohesive beyond measure. They’re able to put aside all differences and come together to make it happen. They all strive to be better for each other and for the good of the team, and they’ve got the leader who is a perfect model of that behaviour.

With team cohesion often comes success because of the focused drive, the same way a tightly closed fist packs more of a punch than five individual fingers. The leader is the muscle that can guide those fingers together so that they’re capable of more as a group than as each individual on their own. So if you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, maybe look upon yourself to develop your skills within the game, your attitude, and your mental preparation. With that, your leadership skills will begin to flourish. Be the change that you want to see on your team by acting it, not instructing others to do it. For they will be more inspired to join you when their see your influence more than they’ll want to follow your verbal directions.

Courtney Marchesin, MA, sport psychology consultant, is the mental skills coach for the Alberta Sport Development Centre’s athlete enhancement program. She can be contacted at courtneymarchesin@gmail.com.

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