Developing Team Leaders

By Vinny Conway

How many times have we heard coaches credit or discredit players for their leadership or lack thereof? Developing is not just watch what I do and you do it too. I believe it is one of the toughest things that a coach has to develop to make his/her team successful. So how can we go about doing that?

As the head coach you are the primary leader of your football team, you set the vision and the direction of your team. You will have a number of leaders on your team, captains, senior leaders and even underclassmen who show great leadership traits. When looking for leaders on your team you are looking for players who are selfless, care about their teammates, are responsible, accountable, have a love and passion for the game, and are on the same page as you are in the path the team should be on.

Team leaders are not always the best players on the team, or the most popular players on the team, but more importantly they are the players who put the team first, will hold themselves and the rest of the team accountable and push their teammates to be the best they can possibly be each and every day that they meet as a team. That includes, practices, film sessions, games, but also in the classroom and as members of the community. Being a team leader is a tremendous responsibility, as the head coach you have to be in constant communication with your leaders to guide them through the season. You have to be their strength in order for them to lead, to give them the confidence that they are leading the team in the right direction.

As coaches we are great borrowers, we see something that someone is doing successfully and we copy it, add our spin to it and adopt it as our own. In the area of Leadership, I borrowed from Lou Holtz, using the 3 questions that every player asks of his coach.

Can I trust you? Do you care for me? Are you committed to excellence?

As coaches we have to answer these three questions in order to win our team over. We do this with honesty, passion, loyalty, handling adversity and building pride. These traits instilled in your team leaders are then instilled in your whole team and everyone becomes better. A better person, son, student, player, a better leader. The development of the whole person by answering these three questions.

I had two young assistant coaches, my offensive and defensive coordinators, Andy Hill, now the head coach at Woodbury, and John Cassellius, head coach at Winona. They wanted to implement a program that Gary Halverson had used at Woodbury when Andy was an assistant there. Coaching to save lives, we did implement it, it helped develop the whole person, not just the football player.

The important thing is to get your leaders to buy in to what you are doing and they will help you get buy in from the rest of the team and you are developing your players for life. You will win football games, but more importantly you will have prepared young men for the challenges of life. In the area of football, we lost more than we won, in the area of life, we won more than we lost.

Vinny Conway is a retired school teacher who coached high school football for 36 years, 13 as a head coach.