Why is Coaching Leadership Important in Sports?

Sports are everywhere.  Gyms are packed. Fields are over-flowing. Pools are full of swimmers and divers; not to mention the crowded hockey rinks on a Saturday morning. Yes, sports are a wonderful past-time and also a HUGE business.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) independently employs 3,165 employees. In 2022, the NCAA generated more than $1.1 billion in revenue and that doesn’t include the revenue that colleges are generating from their sports. It’s a lot of moolah and most of the athletes don’t have NIL deals and only get paid in either tuition or the lifelong experiences they acquire.

As Americans, we love it.  We can’t seem to get enough.  March Madness is truly madness with millions of people filling out brackets and cheering on their favorite college team.  Even more exciting is watching for the “Cinderella team” that comes out of nowhere and right into our hearts.

At the center of these programs are the coaches; but there are also the leaders and the captains of the teams playing a big role. Ever wondered what happens to these student-athletes after these big games and after their illustrious athletic careers? What skills do these young men and women bring into the world after college?  Are these heroes adaptable, employable, and effective leaders off the court? Should we care?

The answer is undoubtedly yes, yes, yes and yes.

As coaches, we have a unique and influential role in shaping the next generation of leaders. I’m not trying to be dramatic here – it’s the truth. We can’t underestimate that influence. As a high school coach, I know that my team is really listening to what I have to say after a heart-breaking loss. But what are the leaders saying after I leave the locker room? Isn’t it just as important and powerful to have the team leaders pass along their own wisdom to their teammates?

I think we can agree that coaches play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of student-athletes. But what about peer influence and peer leadership. Beyond just wins and losses, coaching leadership in college sports extends to personal development, character-building, and preparing young adults for the challenges of life beyond the court or field – especially when the significant majority do not continue into professional sports careers. But what if coaches actually focused on teaching powerful leadership skills to their players?

Pat Summit (former Tennessee Women’s Basketball Coach and 8-time National Champion) once said that the key to her long-term consistency was a result of the effective leaders on her teams. Okay, Pat. I mean, Coach Summit. Is that the answer? When the GOAT speaks, we listen.  She also said that more important than winning, her job as a coach was to develop her players “into responsible leaders.”

You see, we know that leadership skills are transferrable to other things. Good leadership promotes adaptability, time management, resilience and teamwork which are all critical in sports and in LIFE.  Great peer leadership can also foster good communication and enhanced self awareness too.

The dynamics on a sports team can mirror the dynamics in a workplace; both are equally difficult to navigate without guidance and… you guessed it, Good Leadership. So why not? I think it’s clear. Coaches need to make this important life skill mandatory in their programs – just like good cardio and strength training.  Gotta keep those leadership muscles in good shape.

After all, in the wild world of sports, coaching leadership truly makes champions both on and off the court.  And then… everybody wins.

linda smiling<br />

Written by Linda Martindale

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