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Leadership Learning: Models of Team Leadership (Part II)

Throughout my years of working alongside collegiate teams and their coaches, I have
had the privilege of seeing a) leadership models which work, and b) models that aren’t as
effective (in my opinion). I have been asked a lot this year about which models of team
leadership I have seen be most successful and which I recommend, so I decided to lay out some
aspects of effective team leadership I have learned over the years.

Disclaimer: There are many ways in which team leadership can be great, functional, and effective, so my way is not the only way. I am simply offering a provenly-effective model for which I have used in hopes that it will either help you and your team or allow you to mold your leadership model to best serve your team. This is part two of a three-part series that will cover Identifying Leaders and Team Captains (Part I), Non-Captain Leaders & Cultivating Future Leaders (Part II), and my preferred Model of Team Leadership (Part III) to wrap it up.

Non-Captain Leaders

As I mentioned in Part I of this series, the most effective leaders on a team are not always the ones with the title of “Captain” and they most certainly do not have to be the most senior players. Non-captain leaders are some of the most essential parts of having a healthy team culture and ensuring your team is fully bought in. Almost every coach I have met has told me about the leaders on the team and first points out who the “official” leaders are and then tells me about who the “unofficial” leaders are. These “unofficial leaders” are usually the players who have some/all of the following characteristics:

Non-Captain leaders can be new freshmen that join the team and have natural leadership acumen or players that find their voice throughout their years playing. Either way, ensuring that you are engaging and cultivating non-Captain leaders is essential to a team’s success. If you need to do work getting your team on the same page, make sure that you are involving all of your team leaders, official and unofficial, in the process.

Cultivating Future Leaders

The best teams in the country, across all sports, focus on cultivating future leadership throughout the entire year. This happens with coaches more often than players, but team leaders should always be looking to new players on the team to see who might lead the team once they’re gone. I have met with way too many teams that tell me about “high leadership turnover” from graduating all of their leaders and how they have to “start all over again with a new group of leaders”. This is usually a mistake a head coach makes only once until they realize they need to focus more on cultivating leadership throughout classes to ensure continuity.

In the first part of the series, I mentioned that some coaches have told me that they begin identifying future leaders as early as the recruitment cycle. While this can be effective, there is not usually a plan for those budding leaders once they join the team. Whether it be during recruitment, in a player’s first semester, or once a player comes out of their shell, coaches and team leaders should have a program set up so that future leaders can learn before they are put in charge. I have seen this happen in a few ways, and since I have been given feedback that people like lists, we will keep this trend going:

I cannot stress enough that cultivating future leaders, whether they become Captains in the future or not, is one of the most important things a program can do. If you are looking for consistency in your team and an unwavering commitment to culture from players, leadership cultivation is the key to success. Even if a program is only able to do one of the listed items above, it is better than starting from scratch each year and identifying and re-training leaders.

The next part in this series will introduce a model of team leadership that has proven
successful within multiple programs. There are a number of ways to implement it, but I want to share it with you all to help get the ball rolling within your programs.

As always, if this resonates with you or you have questions/comments about this topic, feel free to email me at I love connecting with players and coaches throughout the landscape to talk about all things leadership, mental game, and more! Hope to connect soon and be on the lookout for Part III of this series!

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