By: Chelsea Ellwood, BS Applied Exercise Science
Let me start by saying how fortunate I am that the youth female athletes I train, typically make up the most responsible and high-achieving percentage of their population. The attitudes of these young women not only make coaching relatively easy, but also allow me to learn more than I teach. In understanding how attitude reflects leadership, my coaching mentality centers around bringing out leadership qualities in every individual. Once I perceive each athlete as her own person, it is possible to focus on both reinforcing her leadership characteristics, as well as identifying her physical needs to assist in performance gains. In other words, the most crucial aspect of working with female youth, is not turning out phenomenal athletes, but rather building up each lady as a whole person.
The most affective type of leader demonstrates “servant leadership characteristics” (Best Practices in Servant Leadership, Wong & Davey, 2007). The qualities associated with servant leadership involve humility towards self, empathy in relationships, organizational goal setting, and team-building values. Developing and reinforcing these qualities in young women is crucial, due to an exaggerated pack mentality, regardless of their level of personal independence. With the amount of time spent in group situations, youth girls learn to define themselves through the confidence, or lack thereof, in their personal role in the group. As athletes figure out how best to work together as a unit, each girl must find confidence in her own leadership abilities if she is to be of use come game time. By understanding her role on the team, each lady may enter into competition with confidence; the pack mentality allows female athletes to hold themselves accountable for playing a part in the team’s success. How each individual expresses her confidence demonstrates her personal expression of leadership qualities.
Identifying how each young lady expresses leadership allows the coach to reinforce these characteristics, in order to assist in building the athlete’s confidence. While the vocal leaders are the easiest to identify, their volume and word choice are as much to power themselves as to uplift the team. As such, it is necessary to empower positive “self talk” in these individuals, because how they speak to themselves in their own heads will turn into their word choice around others. The ladies who lead by example typically demonstrate the most dedicated work ethic, noticeable by their ability to tune out the room in order to complete the task at hand. These ladies maintain the momentum of each workout via their constant energy output, reminding the others to accomplish the assigned exercises. In developing a confidence in her independence and separation from the actions of the pack, this type of girl will strengthen herself as a leader. The young ladies making up the heart of the pack, typically posses a blend of both “vocal” and “lead-by-example” qualities. The greater the confidence of each girl, the greater influence she will have on the decisions of the pack. Such athletes are essential to the success of the team, because they learn to challenge their own comfort levels and practice a good work ethic for the betterment of the entire pack. By seeing each girl in her own right, turning the group into a successful and cohesive unit is as simple as appealing to the positive servant-leadership qualities within person.
Regardless of the categorical type, allowing negativity to sneak into the mind of a single athlete can erode the initial cohesiveness of a team. Leaders must learn to use perspective in order to change negative self-beliefs into either an opportunity for growth or humbling, not crippling, acceptance of their human imperfections. When left to its own devices, a negative self-belief can grow into a divisive team issue, or the unnoticed mental/emotional/physical breakdown of an individual. Just as physical therapy exercises may be used as “pre-hab” (preventative rehabilitiation) for athletes, positive, psychological pre-hab is necessary to keep each girl on track. Healthy perspective can be learned a number of ways, but the most effective strategies for youth females are adult example and verbal communication. When adult role models provide and demonstrate their own ability to maintain servant-leadership qualities, young girls can better grasp the idea of self-confidence in personal activities, relationships, and even failures. In addition, discussing her strengths and struggles allows a young lady to draw together the connections bringing her strengths into her areas of struggle. These connections lead to the self-awareness and confidence that enable her to better serve herself and those who she is in relationship with.
In the words of world-renowned UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” The beauty and strength of every woman is inside her throughout her entire life. As a responsible adult figure, my main role in the lives of my female youth athletes is simply to bring out the best in them. By understanding how to lead each girl towards acknowledging her positive self-beliefs, I can demonstrate to her what it means to give others your best. I trust that her inner strength will do the rest as she develops into a unique servant-leader.