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home | Sample Articles | Wish Your Best Athlete Was Also Your . . .

Wish Your Best Athlete Was Also Your Best Leader?

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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"As I look back on my coaching career, almost all of our best seasons occurred when my best player was also my best leader." Mike Fox, North Carolina Head Baseball Coach

While virtually anyone, regardless of athletic ability, could earn enough respect to become a leader, the ideal situation is almost always when your best athlete is also your best leader.


Inevitably, your best athlete already has a certain level of respect from the team because of their athletic skills. Their physical talent gives them an undeniable leg up on their teammates when it comes to leadership and provides them with an early platform from which to lead.

If they can combine their physical talent with effective leadership skills, they become a formidable force on your team. This "Best Athlete/Best Leader" Combo commands a certain presence and respect that gets everyone on the team to listen to them and follow their lead. And ultimately translates to a team that trains and competes at a high level.

The problem is, more often than not, your best athlete is not always your best leader.

Just because a person has the best athletic skills on your team does not also guarantee they have the best leadership skills.

Unfortunately, like you, I have seen many "Best Athletes" through the years who were prone to laziness, arrogance, selfishness, poor people skills, an overly active social life, being uncoachable, etc. - hardly the makings of an effective leader.

Worse, if the rest of your team follows this "Best Athlete" who has poor leadership skills, your season could be a disaster.

Unfortunately, if you leave their leadership development to chance, you are lucky if your best athlete is also your best leader more than 20% of the time. (Odds obviously not in your favor.)

Rather than hoping your best athlete has a modicum of leadership skills, I encourage you to start now to develop their leadership skills just as you do their physical skills.


I highly encourage you to identify your best athletes when they are young and provide them with leadership training early - something Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox astutely suggested when we first developed the UNC program.

With our Leadership Academies, our coaches now purposely target and encourage their best young, athletic talents to get involved in our Emerging Leaders leadership development programming during their freshman and sophomore years.

Knowing that these talented athletes already have a platform of respect from which to lead because of their physical talent, we invest an intensive year of leadership development training in them too.

Since they already have the physical talent part of the equation, our goal is to develop their leadership skills while they are young.

Then, by the time they are a junior and senior, they are much more likely to have the magical "Best Athlete AND Best Leader" Combo, which is so critical to a team's success.

The question for you then becomes:

What are you doing now with your young, talented athletes to try to develop them into your team's future best leaders?

Invest the time now to coach, develop, and groom your young talents to become your team's best leaders. It will be time well spent and serve to create a solid leadership pipeline that you and your program can rely on for many years to come.

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