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Leading By Goal-Setting

One of the most valuable lessons young athletes can learn from participating in sports is how to be a leader. Sports offer countless opportunities for young people to learn leadership skills and develop attributes that will help them be successful throughout their lives. Therefore, it’s important that coaches know how to foster this type of learning.

According to Tom Bowen of, the first step in helping athletes be effective leaders is to develop a goal-setting mentality. Work with your athletes to set clear and specific goals for each season. Whether these goals have to do with what an athlete hopes to achieve in training or in competition, they provide a form of motivation that can keep an athlete focused and working hard.

By fostering this type of mentality, coaches can set up their athletes for future success. It also gives athletes benchmarks that they can use to track their own progress and the progress of the team. This provides an effective way for people to hold themselves and others accountable, which is a key aspect of leadership. When athletes can see the bigger picture and know what they’re working towards, they are more likely to push themselves and each other to get there.

Bowen also writes that leaders know when to raise others up. This is a role that’s often reserved for the team captains or those who have already been designated as leaders, but it doesn’t have to be limited to just a few select individuals. By encouraging athletes to support each other, coaches can develop a team of leaders where everyone is ready to step up and help each other out when needed.

The key to making this happen is positivity. Yes, there will be times when you may have to be harsh or critical in order to get the most out of your athletes and let them know what they need to be doing differently, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to provide positive reinforcement and praise them for working hard and giving it their all. When you provide this example, it will spread to the rest of the team and help create a tight-knit group. When teammates support each other, they are more likely to grow, succeed, and overcome adversity.

One of the biggest tests of leadership is after a loss or when the season isn’t going well. Bowen writes that these tough moments require a different type of leadership, one that requires the strength to recognize defeat and push through it. That’s why coaches should make sure their athletes understand that competition is about more than just the outcome.

The process of preparing and working hard to get better every day is more important than winning or losing, and when coaches communicate this to their athletes they will be more likely to stay focused and energized when adversity comes their way. Try to create challenging situations during training where your athletes will have to encourage each other to push through it. This will help create the mental strength and poise to make it through all types of struggles, whether in sports or in life.

Lastly, Bowen adds that coaches should never forget to reward achievement correctly. That means finding a balance between celebrating success and encouraging athletes to keep striving to get better. After a big win, it’s easy for athletes to be satisfied and forget about their motivation to improve and push towards a higher goal, so while it’s important enjoy success, it’s equally important that coaches keep inspiring their team to work hard. This will help teach athletes that, win or lose, a true leader is always striving to be better. 

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