What does it take to lead a team? A sports team is always made up of people from different backgrounds because even if you remove race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status from the equation, everyone is parented differently. Teammates also always have different ambitions for the future, and they have different means/motivation to do the work necessary to get from point A to point B. To lead a group like this, you must first lead yourself.
This message is one we return to time and again during the Tenacity year, through a program called Practice Leaders. Each week of practice, a different team leader- or captain- has engaged with the other practice leaders from around the country on a video call.
Their charge: keep your teammates connected between practice sessions; initiate pre and post practice routines; and keep the energy up throughout the practice. On the calls the girls talk about the challenges of keeping teammates connected remotely as they go about their busy lives and after school activities. They brainstorm ways to overcome communication obstacles related to girls not having cell phones or access to team snap emails. And we talk about the importance of finding their voice during practice.
This past spring, I had a conversation with a mentor of mine who decided to break her team into distinct roles at practice in order to develop a specific leadership muscle in the girls that day. The team was broken into Vocal Leaders, Emotional Leaders, and those who Lead by Example.
With the Tenacity girls, we start with players identifying their own strengths, their own behavior, ie. which category do they fit into? Whether or not she’s designated, voted, or nominated to something formal in name, the idea behind the Practice Leader program is that each player is doing the kind of leading she is capable of, all the time. We challenge them to dig into their role in every drill, in every practice, and in every game.
If we want each player on the team contributing to the group, this self-reflection is necessary because leading begins with taking care of your own moment first. If we want others to train outside of practice, we must do it ourselves. If we want others to be executing the plays on offense, we must know them ourselves.
A lot of the players expressed apprehension about serving as the Practice Leader because it meant getting out of their comfort zone. In pushing through, they learned tools to handle responsibility and pressure them in the future- both on and off the field. Readiness and encouragement started with self-talk, with many girls choosing “Be” words such as Be Confident, Be Courageous, Be Loud and Be Strong.
Through the Tenacity Project, we can take care of our corner of the world by working with teams of players who have the compassion they need for others, but first have it for themselves. Girls who are willing to keep others accountable and who also practice self-discipline. And we can work with student-athletes are who are willing to focus on two priorities they’ve set for this time in their life: being the best student and the best athlete, they can be.
This work we do to mold leaders in youth sports can help to develop the skills in the people we need to lead our world in the future. Please be a leader in our efforts to empower girls through sports by contributing to The Tenacity Project on Giving Tuesday!
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