How to Become a Leader in Youth Basketball

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” This inspirational statement from Coach Vince Lombardi depicts the essence of leadership. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to or has the drive to become a leader. However, generally speaking, all individuals are put into scenarios where they see and witness leaders doing what they do best: LEAD. One of these situations is team sports and in particular, leader in youth basketball, which will be discussed here.

Leader or Follower?

As I briefly alluded to in the introduction, not everyone is made to be a leader. Some don’t want to work hard enough to achieve it, while others simply might not be interested. With this said, there are two types of people: leaders and followers.

Basketball is a sport that gives more than one participant the opportunity to step up and to use their leadership skills to drive the team to success. First and foremost, the coach should be considered a leader. He or she should act as a guiding force for these young athletes. Second, there can be a few leaders on the roster. This doesn’t necessarily mean the player that is the most talented or scores the most points, but rather one that is looked up to by the rest of the team. The leader should have a positive influence on their teammates.

Next, we have the followers. Being a follower isn’t a bad thing. Followers aren’t necessarily bad players; in fact, they can be some of the better players on the team. However, the reason they aren’t leaders is because they are more comfortable taking instruction from another individual. Whether it be due to a lack of confidence or their personality, they don’t feel like taking on a leadership role. The key point I’m trying to illustrate here is the difference between the two individuals and the fact that neither role definitively defines the talent level of a particular player.

Act Decisively

Leaders can lead with many different styles. Just pick up a psychology or management book and I’m sure you’d find some interesting statistics about the effectiveness of leading. Leadership in basketball can be communicated vocally or by example. One capability for basketball leaders that I consider vital is decision making. In basketball, there is constant motion. Opportunities can open and close in an instant. Leaders need to understand this fact and act accordingly. Whether they’re leading by example or vocally, they need to recognize problems when they arise and take action instantly.

For example, if a team is trailing by 10 and the game is quickly getting away, then a leader takes it upon themselves to make a momentum-changing play on either end. (For some examples of what I mean by “momentum-changing” plays, check out this video from CoachTube taught by Chris Meadows!) Similarly, if the player is more of a vocal leader, then this situation might involve them verbally motivating the players capable of changing the game. In the end, leaders should know how to handle the pressure and make quick decisions!

Work with a Team

No matter what environment you’re in, developing your ability to work with a team is an extremely beneficial tool. In school, you’ll have to work together with others on group projects to achieve a common goal. In the workplace, you’ll need to collaborate with co-workers to attain the best results for your company. The concept is particularly true in basketball. At every moment, there are five players on the court working as one unit.

Here Dr. Cory Dobbs, researcher of team building and leadership behavior explains the disciplines of leadership.

Source: Coaching for Leadership Masterclass course

Leaders in basketball need to quickly gain a thorough understanding of everyone on their team. They should know about their personalities, habits and what motivates them. Likewise, if the leader is one of the better players on the team, they need to learn how to share on the court. Failure to spread the ball around and give opportunities to others is an easy way to lose the interest and trust of teammates. Leadership skills developed on the hardwood are some that will benefit you in all other areas of your life. At the top of this list is the ability to work toward a common vision with your teammates, co-workers or whoever it may be that is involved.

Communication

All great leaders possess above-average communication skills. In basketball, it is essential that you learn these skills quickly. Otherwise, you’d quickly struggle to work as a unified group with your team. For example, you must promptly let your teammates know if there needs to be any adjustments made to the defense such as a switch. Similarly, if you have the ball, you need a way to signal teammates that you need a high screen. These are just a few of the many scenarios that arise in each and every game that require clear and effective communication skills. Perhaps, no one put this point into context better than the great Coach K, who said “Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.”

Perseverance

No matter how good your team is, chances are you’ll be faced with some adversity at one point or another during the season. Whether it be losing a star player to injury or being faced with a significant deficit during the game, there are going to be times where players will be looking for a guiding force. They’re trying to find a LEADER. All good leaders step up in these tough times and provide their teammates with motivation for success.

To give you an idea of this, I’ll use a case study of LeBron James. I think it’s fair to say LeBron is already one of the top five players of all-time. However, early in his career, LeBron sometimes looked hesitant in late game situations. I wouldn’t say he was scared of the moment, but I don’t think he was prepared to lead the rest of the team. The truth is LeBron was learning how to become a leader. Over the years, he’s slowly improved on this and has become a player that his teammates can trust. They not only know LeBron can get the job done, but that he isn’t afraid to step up when things aren’t going right!

Competition

Leaders need to induce the best out of their teammates. They need to enhance both their own personal games and the games of their teammates. If you’ve ever watched LeBron James or Chris Paul, they continuously put their teammates in positions to succeed. Whether it be a perfectly timed pass or helping out on the glass, they set them up for success.

At the same time, leaders need to be those players in practice that are always pushing their teammates. They need to raise the intensity of each and every practice. They should be the players that are there in the weight room longer than everyone else. In the end, leaders create an environment where everyone is pushing each other and competing!

Consistency!

If I could describe a leader on the basketball court in one word, it would be consistency. This doesn’t mean they need to be consistently terrific in terms of statistics and on-court performance. Rather, it refers to the consistent effort put forth in leading the team. Effective leaders are always communicating, helping, pushing and motivating their teammates. These actions should never waver no matter the situation. Simply put, not everyone is a leader, but anyone can become a leader. It all comes down to hard work.

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Brandon Ogle
Author: Brandon Ogle

Youth Sports
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