If you ever heard Coach Don Meyer speak, he would at some point ask you, “who’s running your locker room?” It is in incredibly important question. While coaches have an opportunity to lead their team during practice sessions, team meetings and games, it is all the time away from the coaches where leadership is most valuable. I learned this at LSU while coaching Temeka Johnson who did an amazing job of leading our team the 21 hours out of the day when we weren’t around them.
The locker room, or anyplace away from the court and the coaches, can be a place to strengthen and secure your culture, or it can be a toxic area that create cancers within your team. They key is being able to find the right team members, educating them on leadership, and then giving them a venue to which they positively effect their teammates.
We are not talking about "captains" necessarily. As Coach Meyer would also point out, "you can pick captains, but you can't pick leaders."
Coach Mike Krzyzewski says, “The single most important ingredient after you get the talent is internal leadership. It’s not the coaches’ as much as one single person or people on the team who set higher standards than that team would normally set itself.”
The key is getting the players to buy in to the culture and philosophy that you as a staff feel is essential for growth and success. To do that, you need to create at atmosphere of ownership for the players. As Tom Izzo says: “A player-coached team is always better than a coach-coached team.”
One of my staff responsibilities at Texas A&M is to head up our “Leadership Council.” It is a group of our student-athletes that meet weekly to discuss the elements of leadership and how we can best apply them to improving our team. Often we spend time working on basketball skills as coaches — shooting, passing, dribbling and rebounding — but not leadership. I often hear coaches talk about how they lack leadership on their team and I always respond, “are you teaching it?”
I got the idea of having a Leadership Council watching and studying how Nick Saban, then the head football coach at LSU, created one and utilized in his program. I'm a big believer that leadership is a best executed with a group of core leaders as opposed to a single person.
This biggest part of our Leadership Council is not me preaching but me listening a lot. We have six members this year on our council and my number one goal is to create ownership of our culture with our team. It’s their vehicle…they have the keys…now where and how are we going to drive it. Their voice, thoughts and ideas are critical to developing successful leaders — not just for our basketball team but for later in life.
Our objectives with the council include:
#1 To develop and improve upon our leadership as individuals.
#2 To create a leadership culture that will positively impact our team.
“Leadership isn’t a difference maker, it’s THE difference maker.” -Urban Meyer
Last year’s council included Taylor Cooper, Alyssa Michalke, Curtyce Knox, Jasmine Lumpkin, Anriel Howard and Danni Williams.
And our council last year was been outstanding. The previous year we had lost three starters — all who spent some time in the WNBA. We lost the SEC 6th Person Player of the Year and our top post player off the bench. Coaches and sportswriters alike pegged us to finish in the lower half of the SEC. Terms like “rebuilding” were used often. Yet there we were finishing in the top half of the SEC, winning two games in the SEC tournament, owner of 21 regular season victories and a dance ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
And a big reason had to be the job our council has done in communicating with our team and providing a great example. The season can be a grind and the response of a team to the difficulty and adversity that is face is essential. We talk about making sure that our leadership council wins the locker room. The leadership is magnified significantly AWAY from practices and games.
We meet weekly in our conference room with the letters “Leadership Council” above us. In the past, we have had individual photos of each member of the council. This year, we exchanged that for a team photo with the quote “Life’s most urgent question is what are you doing for others,” by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Learning to lead is not an easy thing to do. It takes time and understanding of what goes into it. The reason most reject opportunities to lead is because of the great responsibility that comes with it.
We tell them to follow the words of Jim Rohn: “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”
The first thing we do each year is create a Mission Statement. This year our council came up with the following:
By serving selflessly as leaders, setting an example worth following, and establishing a positive culture, we will develop strong, confident leaders capable of overcoming adversity and challenges in pursuit of their goals.
One of the things we do each we is discuss passages from “The Daily Reader” by John Maxwell. I am always blown away with each our student-athletes and what they bring away from the daily reading that they choose to share.
Last year we asked our council to then go into detail about how we can put our mission statement to work and, lead by Alyssa, they came up with the following:
Serving Selflessly as Leaders
◄Listen and understand the needs of our teammates
◄Provide mentorship and guidance to underclassmen and new-comers
◄Praise our teammates in public, while saving criticism for private conversations
◄Always put others first, no matter the situation
◄Setting an Example Worth Following
◄Have a positive attitude at all times
◄Body language, tone, execution during practice, etc.
Take coaching and criticism well
◄Use it as an opportunity to grow and develop into a better person and player, not a chance to talk back to a coach or teammate
◄Exhibit a strong desire to improve with every rep, every drill, every practice
◄Encourage and support our teammates who are facing adversity
◄Behave appropriately, respectfully, and maturely at all times, including road trips, study hall, team dinners, etc.
◄Be respectful and appreciative to those people serving us (managers, practice players, coaches, waiters, staff, etc.)
◄Be a quiet professional, but know when to speak up to make a point
Establishing a Positive Culture
◄Hold each other accountable to high standards, knowing that our example and our choices carry considerable weight
◄Call each other out when we’re not practicing well, when we miss a team function (weights, study hall)
◄Challenge and push each other to become better individuals first, better athletes second
◄Be firm, fair, and consistent, both when praising and holding our teammates accountable
◄Don’t encourage, tolerate, enable, or cause behavior that is detrimental to our team
Developing Strong, Confident Leaders
◄Challenge others to step outside their comfort zone in pursuit of personal development and improvement
◄Set an example of strength, confidence, and maturity when faced with challenges
◄Provide opportunities for others to showcase their strengths and abilities
◄Of course, as in the game of basketball itself, game plans are important but they are insignificant if not followed by execution.
What an amazing document! I’m proud of them for their vision but more importantly for their effort they’ve put forth in executing that vision and then following through with their execution.
Thank you Leadership Council for a job well done — and more importantly, leaving a legacy for this year's group.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”