Leadership in Sports

Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, sports were a huge part of my life as a child, and continue to be today. Back in those days, the only Detroit sports team that could actually be considered competitive was the Detroit Red Wings. Throughout the mid-late 90s and early 2000s the Red Wings dominated the National Hockey League and won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997-98, and another in 2002. As a young kid looking for a hero, there was always one person that stood out above every other professional athlete, Steve Yzerman. Whether playing street hockey with my friends after school or ice hockey in the winter when the lake froze, I always wanted to be like Steve Yzerman.

The Captain

Referred to as “The Captain,” Yzerman played 22 seasons in the NHL and won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. Yzerman was named Captain at the age of 21. When he retired in 2006 at the age of 41, Yzerman went into the history books as the longest-serving captain of any team in sports history. Steve Yzerman was an idol to the entire state of Michigan, not only for his incredible talent, but for his incredible leadership and selfless attitude.

On several occasions Yzerman played injured because he wanted to help the team win. Yzerman pointed to himself first when the team wasn’t performing as well as they could. Yzerman was a quiet, lead-by-example type of leader. When he spoke, people listened. One of his leadership skills was to know exactly when to speak up to his team, and know exactly what to say. He was the ultimate leader, captain, and professional. For these reasons, Detroit and the state of Michigan embraced Yzerman as their leader.

Role Models in Sports

Along with Yzerman, there are plenty of sports figures that have become heroes and idols to us. Sports have long provided us all with great entertainment, exhilaration, and fond memories. Perhaps more importantly, the arena of sport provides us with heroes and idols we can all look up to, no matter what your age. With the growth and success the major sports leagues have seen in the last decade, the importance of the leadership of our role models has increased. Unfortunately, there are plenty of poor role models in the sports world, evidence that being a role model doesn’t necessarily mean you are a leader. But, I suppose that’s what makes the good role models and true leaders that much more special.

Leadership Shows Itself in Winning

Sports allow us to see intangible attributes in the form of success or failure. What you see during games is the result of hours and hours of practice and hard work. Workouts, film study, and practice all combine to form the products we see on the courts, ice, and fields. The best teams are often made up of the most talented individuals. But, more importantly, the best teams also have the best leaders. Perhaps the most difficult attribute to see is leadership. Leadership by nature is intangible but is implicit in winning. Leadership in sports takes the shape of good chemistry between teammates, coaches, and staff. The relationships built between members of a winning team have the power of leadership built into them. Winning teams, organizations, and companies are all able to be successful because they have quality leadership.

We can take a lot from watching a sports team over the course of a game, and even more over the course of a season. It’s fascinating to see how true leaders can impact the outcome of a game. We’ve seen it many times, the leader of a team steps up when the team needed it most. Sometimes we call this being “clutch.” Whatever you call it, a part of that success comes from the leadership ability of that individual. Leaders want the ball, want to make something happen, and want to win. Leadership, combined with talent and many other factors, ultimately leads to victory. No matter what type of team you’re talking about, sports, business, non-profit, or volunteer, if you combine good people with good leadership, you have the winning combination.

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