Developing Leadership in 2014

Some of my reading list.

Some of my reading list from 2013.

If you know me personally you get how deeply I reflect on my coaching, the impact I have on the lives of those I teach, and am downright obsessive (my wife’s words, not mine) about learning and personal growth.  In this post I want to share with you one of my coaching goals for 2014, developing leadership.

For me sports have always been a metaphor for life.  All those little cliches and motivational phrases ring so true to me.  Wining is certainly nice but victories are short-lived and many times unfulfilling.  In fact, I think winning is really just a by-product of a deeper process of a growth mindset.

Let’s be real for a minute and face the facts that it is difficult to make a living playing professional tennis and college scholarships are not even a sure thing as competition with international students is fierce.  I believe most parents know this and do not get their children involved in tennis, at least initially, for the fame, glory, and scholarships.  I believe parents get their children involved in tennis because it teaches them so many valuable life lessons.  I wrote about this many times before and most of the parents I talk to think it is true as well.  What I find interesting is that my reasons for getting into coaching was to teach the very same lessons parent’s initially were seeking.

Do not get confused, I certainly have the knowledge and skills to help players develop on the court, turn into better athletes, and achieve performance goals.  However, in the process of developing those attributes I find deeper lessons are taught that are invaluable in the lives and performance of young people.  I truly believe that if the work I was doing had no effect on a young person’s life besides just improving forehands and conditioning my passion would fade very quickly.

I saw and still do see a tremendous opportunity to use sports and tennis in particular to develop leadership qualities in young athletes.  In my relentless quest I have spent the better part of this past year studying leadership, in particular the works of Dr. Tim Elmore and a non-profit called Growing Leaders.  Dr. Elmore has an elegantly simple manner in which he uses word-pictures to get complex and profound messages about leadership across.  And if you know me I am all for analogies!

An example of one of Dr. Elmore’s images is that of an iceberg.  10% of the iceberg is above the surface of the water and is what everyone sees.  90% of the iceberg is below the surface of the water and is the part that no one sees.  Take that image an explain to a young athlete that they are the iceberg and the 10% that people see represents their skills.  The 90% people do not see is their character.  It is character that makes up the biggest part of who they are as an athlete and a person.  There are many athletes who have the skill that everyone sees but are missing the character that keeps them grounded.  It is pretty easy to turn to any professional sport and find examples of athletes with tremendous talent and little character and integrity.  In fact, an iceberg with little under the surface is known as a “growler” and is very easy to push in any direction because it lacks mass.

This is just an example of one of many lessons and images I plan to incorporate into my coaching in 2014.  I have found that a combination of great coaching of the technical skills and fitness brings a player along very quickly.  But when a coach begins developing a player as a person real magic happens.  First, players realize very quickly that a coach cares about them as a person and as the old saying goes, “no once cares what you know, until they know you care.”  Second, players begin to look at their whole life differently, including why they play the sport to begin with.  When a young athlete finds a deep personal meaning in why they play a sport  good things are going to happen, regardless of the win/loss record.

I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.  And if you are an athlete, parent or coach interested in learning more about developing leadership I strongly recommend the Habitudes Series by Dr. Tim Elmore.  The books are very easy to read yet profoundly meaningful.

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