You likely already know that beyond the physical benefits of playing an organized sport, young athletes are also in a great position to learn valuable leadership skills through sport. While some kids may not consider themselves natural leaders, it's important for athletes to understand that they can learn these skills. But how do you, as a parent or a coach, hone those leadership skills and help athletes see the benefits of enhancing those skills in and out of sport?
Teach athletes that leadership is a learnable skill
Many athletes, especially those who may be shy or introverted by nature, may not believe that they're leadership material. But like dribbling a soccer ball or perfecting a swim stroke, leadership skills can be mastered with practice.
Have athletes create a list of leadership qualities at the beginning of the season (depending on the age, you may need to help them). Try to broaden their definition of being a leader from the basic 'taking charge' or 'being outgoing' to softer skills like empathy and listening. With this expanded definition of leadership, athletes can practice a style of leadership that feels most natural to them and is sustainable through sport and life.
Use athletics as a starting place to discuss leadership
"As parents, it's rare that we get to sit and watch our child for an hour, but when they're playing a sport, we get to do just that: We get to observe our children from the sidelines," Gilboa says. "The next time you do this, pay attention and catch them doing three things that you admire. It could be how they treated someone else, or how they handled themselves during adversity, or that they passed to a kid who'd been left out for most of the game. Then, on the ride home or during dinner, tell them about those things you noticed."
The more positive aspects you can call attention to, the more you'll see that behavior playing out. On the flip side, if you constantly point out negatives about your young athlete, it's likely that you'll see more negative behavior as a result.