5 Ways to Lead Players Who Don’t Want to Be Led

By Stephanie Zonars

Recently I helped facilitate a Captains’ Academy for college women’s basketball team leaders. Some of their questions dealt with how to lead teammates who don’t want to be led. Teammates with bad attitudes, poor effort or both.

A few days after the Academy, I read a terrific article—7 Ways to Lead People Who Don’t Want to Be Led, by Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan. The conversations with student-athletes still fresh in my mind, the authors’ points struck a chord.

Their premise is that we live in a culture where people want to make an impact right away (as opposed to learning the ropes and paying their dues, like past generations). Leadership is much less top-down than years ago.

Their tips for leaders resonated with me, so I’ve reiterated five of them here with application to coaches and players.

Stand for something.

Investing time in crafting your team mission, vision and values is crucial. But not so you can have fancy graphics up on the locker room wall (although I do recommend that!).

Those words give everyone associated with your team clarity and purpose—but only if they know them.

We asked the athletes at the Academy if they knew their team core values. A few did, but the majority did not. Most had to rack their brains to remember them. And some said their team hadn’t developed core values.

Your vision and values should be easily repeatable (read: concise and few in number) and so memorable that anyone associated with your team can recite them instantly.

You must talk about them so incessantly (almost to the point of annoyance!) that they become inscribed on every heart.

These statements and words become THE PROGRAM—what everyone measures their behavior against and holds one another accountable to.

Create cultures of the willing.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing when it comes to trying to understand why so many college athletes transfer these days.

The reasons may be varied, but would it be as prevalent if every coach created a team culture in which staff and student-athletes felt truly valued and appreciated as people? Where everyone felt like their presence and role really mattered?

That alone may reverse the trend.

During the Academy, an athlete and I were discussing her strengths. Not as a player, but as a person.

“What do your coaches or teammates tell you you’re good at?” I asked. “What kinds of compliments do they give you?”

She gave me a blank stare. “They don’t really tell me that stuff. They only talk about what I’m good at in basketball.”

Broke my heart.

This beautiful young woman with so many talents and gifts could not tell me one strength outside of being an excellent basketball player.

It’s not her coach’s fault that she struggled to answer the question. But if coaches would help athletes see the truth about their strengths and value as human beings, you will inspire not only confidence, but also an unbreakable, willing loyalty to the team.

Keep it fun.

As sports and money become more and more intertwined, the pressure and seriousness increased.

Many teams want to be known for hard work and discipline. Some go so far as to call important away games “business trips.”

Obviously none of us will realize our dreams without working hard. Hard work is a necessary ingredient to success in life.

But somewhere along the way we’ve lost the importance of play, enjoyment and fun!

Your athletes started participating in their sport because it was fun, so you’ve got to find a way keep that spirit alive.

What is fun about your locker room? Your offices? Your team meals? Your road trips?

If your team’s fun meter is running low, ask players and staff for ideas about how you can ramp it up!

Obsess about what, not how.

…stop obsessing over how things get done. Worry more about what gets done. By trying to control everything, ironically, you end up losing control. —Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan

Read. That. Again.

If you are a head coach, please stop trying to control everything in your program.

It’s likely a result of the pressure and heightened responsibility you feel, but the culture you create by seeking to control it all is counter-productive at best. [Tweet That!]

Those you lead feel defeated when you give them an assignment, only to micromanage the process. Or to swoop in at the end to take it back.

Delegating is an art and the level of continued involvement with projects delegated depends on the experience and confidence of the individual. Some will need more check ins and guidance than others.

Regardless, the more ownership you give over the how, the better—for them and for you.

Say good job and mean it.

The Michigan men’s basketball locker room has an interesting feature. The frosted doors at the entrance reach neither the ceiling or the floor.

As you approach the doors, you can see a word on the far wall of the locker room—one of their core values—in the open space between the top of the door an17d the ceiling.

It’s obviously a word they want to remember every day.

All of us should.

What’s the word?


We all want to feel appreciated. To have someone notice a job well done and acknowledge us.

It’s so easy you may not realize how significantly it will impact your team.

Try it and watch the recipient’s body language change and her spirit lift!

Some people on your team will resist being led, but using these ideas can chip away at that resistance and help you create a culture that people clamor to join.

5 Ways to Lead Players Who Don’t Want to Be Led appeared first on Life Beyond Sport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at LifeBeyondSport.com.

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