Leadership in Sports and Life

Leadership in sports is expressed through a variety of ways, and manifests itself differently based on the setting, the stress, and the personality of you and those around you. However, the focus and the goal is the same. Leadership is to create unity and togetherness and move the group in a common direction.

Athletics provide a very easy structure for both youth and adults to learn what good or bad leadership looks like or sounds like. Also, it serves as a natural platform for leaders to be developed, seen, and heard.

The following bullet points will help you understand the relationship between sports and life, and how leadership is displayed in many situations. Athletics have given so many people the opportunity to grasp the concepts of real life situations and struggles, and how to overcome them together with the support of your teammates and coaches.

These 12 concepts provide knowledge, confidence, and understanding for leadership in sports. We hope you can convert these into life long lessons that you can lean on throughout your athletic and professional career.


Being an effective communicator is extremely important! You may have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can’t communicate it to your team, it will be almost impossible to carry out. Your team needs to be aligned and on-board with your strategy and goals to be successful.


While communicating your expectations and vision is our top leadership characteristic, it’s also important to listen to what your team has to say. “Listening and hearing” are two different things. We must listen to understand, not listen to hear or to respond. Truly understanding your teammates or coaches will help you grasp what they are feeling or thinking. This makes it easier to stay on a common path together.


Enthusiasm for your team goals will get others excited because they can see and feel your dedication. Commitment is the ability to stay focused on what will make you successful.


A positive attitude is contagious. If your team is led and surrounded by happy and positive people, they will work harder and be happier themselves. You can still be serious, and have fun, while being positive. Supporting your teammates and coaches with an upbeat attitude will catch the eyes and ears of your peers, and help the direction of the team move smoothly.


Being forthright about your successes and failures, will earn the respect of your team. The motto of “honesty is the best policy” generates trust within your organization. Being honest isn’t always easy, because it requires communicating both the good and the bad. It’s not about popularity, but rather about integrity.


Diplomacy helps leaders effectively manage conflict using negotiation and sensitivity. Problem solving will always be at the front of your agenda as a leader. It’s important to understand both sides of situations that are presented in the room. This will give you the ability to help everyone involved find a common ground.


Being empathetic means you try to understand your team’s problems by walking in their shoes and seeing things from their perspective. There is a major difference between understanding, sympathizing, and empathizing. Those that can empathize have a special tool as a leader.


Humble leaders admit their mistakes, apologize when necessary, and always share credit. This behavior makes you more relatable, and helps give those who helped you a chance for recognition. It’s always best to reward others instead of acting like the smartest person in the room. Empowering your team will lift everyone up!


Being a strong leader requires awareness and logic. You should be very in tune and aware of the direction and overall mood of your team. What can we do better? What areas can we improve? Innovation is important as it is the initial step for growth or change!


Having a collaborative approach to leadership is important because it creates transparency and togetherness. People want to own what they help create. Collaboration leads to a strong trust bond within the team or organization.


My final tip is to ALWAYS COMPETE! Compete in the classroom, compete in the weight room, compete on the field, compete on being the best person you can be. Making competition a part of your everyday lifestyle, allows for it to become second nature and will help you succeed at the next level. Also, it eases the transition from HS to college. This will allow you to grind through those tough moments.


Finally, treat each coach with respect and make them feel like they are the only coach that matters. You never know where that coach might end up in the future, or other coaches he/she might know that they are willing to pass your name to. Being open to every possibility to further your career and find what fit is best for YOU is paramount!

About the Author

Cole Graves was a 3 sport high school athlete in the state of Washington, receiving All-State football honors. He went on to letter in football at Central Washington University, graduating in the class of 2015. Cole is now studying Physical Therapy at Northwestern and is expected to graduate in 2021.

The Athletic Academy is committed to sharing our stories and tips for tackling your goals. Our main goal is to provide content, so athletes of today can have proper knowledge, guidance, and can avoid making similar mistakes that keep them from reaching their full potential. We are so excited to be a part of this growth and we look forward to being your biggest fans!”

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