Is Your Athletic Department Developing Leaders?

The goal of every coach, teacher, and athletic director should be to develop young people into leaders. It has been said that people are either born with the capacity to lead or they are not, but we don’t think that is the case. Students may be born with qualities that aid in leadership, but effective leaders are developed intentionally over time. The athletic director should look for every opportunity to instill leadership in athletes.

What is leadership? So many definitions are available for this one word. We think Dr. Phil Johnson of Global Next defined leadership best in his book The Leadership Paradox: Leading in Unexpected and Extraordinary Ways

… a sacred covenant between you and the world to influence others for a purpose greater than yourself.” (p. 37)

Try to let that definition of leadership be real in your life and it will change the way you view your job.

Equally as important, try to instill that definition of leadership in your athletes.

In today’s post, we’ll identify four potential areas within the athletic department to develop leadership skills in our athletes. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.


Responsibility and leadership go hand in hand. Give some of your athletes a responsibility in your athletic department by assigning them certain custodial or maintenance tasks.

Christ taught that the first part of being a leader is being a servant. He led twelve men, but He also washed their feet.

Teaching leadership through cleaning (or similar duties) will help develop a proper leadership attitude.

Your athletes certainly don’t have to be scrubbing toilets, but small chores that will improve or enhance your facilities will go a long way.

Cleaning also develops ownership. Those who clean an area or an object will think twice before they make a mess of it. They will also encourage classmates, teammates, and others to tidy up after themselves.

Whether it’s in the morning before school, after lunch in the cafeteria, or after games in the gym, give some of your athletes a regular cleaning assignment and watch them grow in responsibility.

This is best utilized in younger athletes, since their performance in these small tasks will show coaches which students can be entrusted with larger responsibilities and which ones need a bit more time to mature.


Many high school teams utilize team captains, but every coach has his own process and set of standards for selecting those captains. We’ve even heard of one coach that doesn’t name captains; he figures whoever wants the role will fill it.

No matter how you decide who your captains are, one thing you definitely need to set in stone is what your captains will do. Why are they in this position? What does being a captain in your athletic department entail?

We would recommend choosing two captains per team. Select one with more natural leadership ability and one that needs some more development and guidance. Make sure that both are faithful teammates who have the respect of their team.

Trust your captains to take care of leading the team in simple things: daily warm-up and stretches, tracking practice attendance, equipment collection/distribution, etc. Be sure to hold them accountable to the way you want things done.

Give them servant leadership roles as well.  Our varsity boys’ basketball captains collect jerseys after practice, load them into the washing machine and start the cycle. They are also in charge of cleaning out the bus after away trips.

Give them some perks as well. Make being a captain something desirable. This is your chance to teach young people the value of leadership.

Basketball captains for my teams in the past have had a pre-season steak dinner with my family at my home. We would talk about the season, play games, and enjoy the time together.

Make being a captain desirable and valuable.



That’s right, give your athletes an opportunity to coach. Athletes will become better teammates after they have tried to organize and execute a practice of their own.

Does your school have elementary programs? If so, get your athletes involved as coaches or assistants.

Have your upperclassmen take turns sitting on the bench with your junior high teams. They can help the coach, take stats, provide water; whatever is needed.

One great way an athlete can help out on a younger team’s bench is by being the “bench coach.” A bench coach’s job is to keep the bench players interested in the game by being energetic, asking players questions, and encouraging the team.

It’s natural to want to lead those that you love.

By giving your athletes a chance to coach, you will develop in them a love for their fellow students. This will breed some school spirit and will develop leadership as well.

Soon, you’ll see these players coaching each other (in a good way) and practicing servant leadership on their own.


Camps and Clinics

A healthy athletic department is always hosting camps and clinics for their younger athletes and for the community.

What better way to develop leadership than to have your high school athletes play a major role in running these camps and clinics?

During clinics, have your teams demonstrate whatever is being taught. Knowing that the eyes are on them as they perform will cause them to step up their game. They will take ownership of the material and see to it that the campers are learning.

We host summer basketball and volleyball camps at VBA. Our best leadership development among our high school athletes is done through these camps. We have our athletes coach teams, officiate games, lead in drills, and serve snacks and lunch.

Basically, the camps put them outside their comfort zone and force them to take action. They also learn that the jobs of coaches, officials, teachers, and administrators are very difficult, which makes them think twice about complaining or having a bad attitude in the future.



If you truly want to develop your athletes into leaders, then you need to give them opportunities to practice and develop leadership skills.

These are just a few jobs that help athletes grow in responsibility. Developing true leadership will take effort on the part of the school, administration, athletic director, and coach.

Remember to instill in your athletes that leadership in its best form is serving others.

Be intentional about finding ways to develop leadership.


What are some ways that your athletic department develops leadership?

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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