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Coach's Playbook

Leading Players To Promise and Purpose

Posted on 9/28/2016 by Shaleek Blackburn

Inside a team huddle

The Locker Room: When the right people, perspective and processes are in order, it’s a place of positive reinforcement, reflection and focused energy. It’s a place where athletes can take a respite from high-stakes competition and coaches can strategize how to cultivate their team’s collective talents, hearts and minds.

Whether you are coaching a Pee Wee league, a professional team or any other sports organization, the main objective of locker room leadership is the same, says Jim Kunau, who spent 19 years as a highly successful head football coach at Orange Lutheran High School

“Outstanding leaders are transformative, and part of the ability to have a transformative effect is to build great relationships with people,” says Kunau. “In order to do that, you need to have your hand on the heartbeat of the individuals you’re working with.”

In addition to being a place to refuel, team culture can be built in the locker room, says Kunau, a Leadership and Administration and Sports Ethics assistant professor at Concordia University Irvine.

“Good coaches are constantly working to create a culture of excellence,” he says. “Whether locker room or meeting room, it’s very important for leaders to proactively instill and reinforce good values, and create a positive, values-centered culture.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed with the recent alleged bullying controversy with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins guard, Richie Incognito, not all team communication – in or out of the locker room – is edifying. How can coaches determine when the ‘hazing line’ has been crossed and, at the same time, what athletes can do to step up to the leadership plate?

“On the one hand, strong accountability and tough standards are needed to elevate behavior and performance,” Kunau says. “On the other hand, that needs to be balanced with always treating others with respect and having a genuine concern for the welfare of others.” If athletes buy into the coach’s mission, vision, and values for the team, they will, says Kunau, “be those locker room voices of conviction and cohesiveness that leaders can trust and lean on to create healthy team unity.”

3 Tips For Effective Locker Room Leadership

Truth always wins

Anchor your locker room in truth: Operate with honesty, openness and candor. It will build trust.

Demonstrate good character

You need to have outstanding, unblemished character; be the person others can look to as a model.

Have a purpose

Good leaders are powered by purpose; that purpose can be divided into two things: vision and mission, make them both known to your team.

Tags: Coaching, leadership, sports

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