How do we identify the leader? What makes a truly great coach? It’s not what we have in our heads as kids and young adults where we pictured a leader as the person standing out in front, gearing up the crowd and dispensing nuggets of wisdom. The coach is easy to find, isn’t it the person with the best swag carrying the clipboard and looking important and of course, very knowledgeable talking about their resume?
There’s this strange association we have built around what a leader is supposed to LOOK like, so when we enter that position ourselves, we immediately start focusing on looking and sounding the part so that we can make sure we are taken seriously. The first thing new coaches do is what? Collect the coach gear to wear around everywhere they go, right?
But no one wants to be led by a ring leader. No one wants to be a part of that circus. A leader is built in the dark. A leader steps forward behind the scenes when the players are struggling and need support, extra help, direction. A leader hangs around afterwards when people aren’t paying attention, to do the things that drive their team forward but that may not get noticed. A leader can be quiet, or loud, but they seldom are found out front proclaiming their leadership status or wearing it like a badge on their polo shirt for the world to see.
The work of a coach who is building relationships and a program foundation that will grow and thrive is mostly done behind the scenes. It has nothing to do with plays, great gear, the best social media appearance, titles, or anything that puts on a show. It’s in the relationships that are formed and the players who are put first. If a picture of each award and interaction must be taken and shared, the players quickly see that the relationship is all a part of the coaches “show.”
The old ideology of the leader out in front is in reality, just a motivational speaker. A rah-rah person that gets the team fired up and then turns to thank the crowd for the applause. What do you do after watching a great speaker? You go home! No bond was formed in that interaction.
True leadership is in the trenches, encouraging, redirecting, guiding, loving, serving, building, empathizing, struggling, questioning, growing, and stretching. There is no crowd. No platform. No ego to feed. No screen printed proclamation of leadership rights on a T-shirt, no instagram likes needed for validation.
The recognition that comes with true leadership is not public. It’s the recognition that happens between an athlete and their coach when a connection is made that builds trust and a platform to push an athlete through paper ceilings. The recognition comes from a relationship between a coach and a team that drives through obstacles and builds bridges to march over trenches to reach a shared vision.
So how do you find the leader? How do you identify the coach? Watch the players during a game or after a game. Don’t look for the clipboard or the fancy jacket. When the players succeed, when they fail, when they get lost- where do their eyes go, where do they find guidance and support. That’s the person that’s built a relationship with them. That’s the person who’s battled alongside them and who they know believes in them.
Coaching a team is one of the greatest, yet heart-stretching jobs you could ever know. Don’t find yourself dressed the part while playing the part of the showman, the motivational speaker, the person in the fancy jacket. Be the coach in the trenches, behind the scenes, in the dark beyond the eyes of recognition; building lasting relationships and creating something so much bigger. Recognition happens, sharing success happens; it’s not what makes a leader become great, but rather what happens after a great leader does the work in the dark.