What does it take to win a national championship in college football? One key differentiator might be leadership training. Look at the success of any college football team and there are three key players: the coach, the quarterback and the mentor. If any one of the three lacks the fundamental traits of a leader, you are looking at more losses than wins.
If football is your career, your leadership skills are your business card. If you don’t have the confidence of your players and lack the ability to inspire, the feedback will be quick and you will be unemployed.
The head coach, like the leader of any organization, sets the vision. If he cannot paint a picture of what success looks like, there will be 105 folks coming up with ideas of their own.
A position coach is expected to have the technical knowledge to coach players. They also serve as mentors to student-athletes balancing the dual responsibilities of academics and sports. What sets them apart from the competition is their ability to gain the trust of their players utilizing all the elements of ’emotional intelligence’.
The majority of folks who have chosen coaching as their career learn leadership by osmosis. They build a skill set from experience and observation. Most coaches may never have heard the term ’emotional intelligence’, but the best lead from self-confidence, integrity, empathy, social skills and the drive to achieve.
The success of a team and the job security of the coach rests on the performance of folks between the ages of 17 and 22.
These folks who play football in Division I schools have been living separate lives from us mere mortals since elementary school. They have followed a career trajectory that parallels their peers in some ways, but diverges at key decision points, the most visible being the college admissions process.
Where along the way does the quarterback learn the foundations of leadership?
The ‘student’ part of student-athlete is the perfect portal to leadership development that will serve in the present on the field, and provide the foundation for success after football.
I was listening to sports radio on a nine hour drive through the Mid Atlantic states on Monday. On one program analysts were dissecting the quarterback selection decisions of a number of teams, both college and pro. Each decision considered physical ability, football ‘smarts’, but most importantly confidence and trust. If a player did not have the confidence and trust to their coach and team, they were benched.
How many of those folks sitting on the bench this season would be on the field if a mentor or professor had introduced them to the fundamentals of leadership? I’m not suggesting a complete turnaround, but if a player understood how to communicate more effectively, lose a bit of the arrogance and build support among his teammates, would the playing field be a bit more level?
Recently a court ruled that college athletes cannot be considered as employees. That does not exempt the adults in the athletic building from ensuring their student-athletes have access to the faculty expertise available on every college campus. Time for coaches to recognize the value of the academy, draw upon that wisdom and encourage their players to develop key leadership and life competencies.