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Shared Team Leadership

Peer leadership has a great impact on a team's chemistry and competitiveness--and ultimately a coach's job security--yet a coach may place this obligation in the hands of one or two young people who may or may not be ready to fully handle this critical responsibility.

This dichotomy got Philip J. Willenbrock, EdD, thinking when he was a college football coach at the University of Puget Sound. After some research and experiments, Dr. Willenbrock found an exciting new concept: "shared team leadership," it spreads captain responsibilities among a group of athletes and teaches them how to be effective leaders. He Implemented the idea with the football team at the University of Puget Sound and had a great success, for both coaches and student-athletes.

Dr. Willenbrock, now the Athletic Director at the Evergreen Campus, a high school within Highline Public Schools near Seattle, Wash., detailed his concept in an article on

Dr. Willinebrock's research into the topic of team captains found that many coaches are frustrated by the quality of team leadership on their squads. He also learned that team captains often do not understand their role or have not been counseled on leadership principles.

“Part of the problem is the way we chose captains,” Dr. Willinebrock wrote. “In most instances, team captains are assigned by the head coach or elected by team members. My research and experience found that neither system consistently works well. Individual popularity and athletic ability earns certain individuals captaincy, but that doesn't mean they will be effective in their roles.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our current selection systems, I looked at leadership models used in the business world and was intrigued by the idea of shared leadership. What if, instead of the traditional model of one, two, or three captains, a larger group of team members take on the role? This is the basic premise behind shared leadership.”
In the case of Dr. Willinebrock's team at Puget Sound, the responsibility of captaincy was taken on by not just a few of the top athletes, but by a whole segment of the team, such as all the seniors. “This group works together to foster teamwork and camaraderie, with each student-athlete bringing his or her unique qualities to the table to help lead the team,” he wrote.

The experiment proved successful, and the Puget Sound football program committed to using shared leadership from then on. While starting with rudimentary principles, the idea evolved over time into a seamless system beginning anew each year as seniors left and juniors were elevated to the new leadership team.

Click here to learn the specifics of Dr. Willinebrock's Shared Team Leadership Concept.

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