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How Do We Build Good Leaders in High School Athletics?

A high school basketball coach surprised me when he told me recently that he couldn’t get any of his boys on the team to be the “captain.” Typically, he said, the team votes on each season’s new captains, but when the votes were counted, the two students who got the most votes turned down the job.

They didn’t want the responsibility of leading.

Perhaps the players possessed a wrong view of leadership, distorted by adult leaders caught up in power and control. Or, perhaps they possessed a correct view, and did not want the increased duties and commitment. Either way, we’ve got a problem.

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

According to a 2016 survey of employers—the number one quality sought for when hiring new team members is the very human quality of leadership. Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University in Boston reports that more than 80% of respondents indicated they look for some form of leadership on the applicant’s resume when they hire; followed by ability to work on a team, 79%.

My guess is, it may be the same if we polled coaches in high school or club sports. Where have all the leaders gone?

One answer may be found in the data. In 1954, Dr. Julian Rotter developed an assessment that measured a person’s “Locus of Control.” By adolescence, people usually develop an internal or external locus of control. By this he meant:

  1. Internal locus of control: My success is up to me. I’m responsible for results.
  2. External locus of control: My success is up to people or factors outside of me.

By 1963, Dr. Rotter concluded that people with an “internal locus of control” end up far more successful and achieve measurably more than others. This is predictable.

What’s most chilling is—since 2002, students report an increasing external locus of control and a decreasing internal locus of control. In other words, because kids today are overwhelmed with the demands on their life and by the information they take in on their smart phone, they begin to play “defense” not “offense” in their minds. They become reactive. They assume that success is up to someone else, and not them.

May I suggest the obvious?

You won’t win any championships with a team full of student athletes who have an “external locus of control.” More importantly, you won’t end up with outstanding young adults who possess an “external locus of control.” They’ll always tend to look to someone or something else to make it happen for them.

Building Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Coaching teenage athletes can be a challenge. Dr. Aaron Sterns said, “Adolescence is a time of maximum resistance to further growth. It is a time characterized by the teenager’s ingenious efforts to maintain the privileges of childhood, while at the same time demanding the rights of adulthood. It’s a point beyond which most humans don’t pass emotionally. The more we do for our children, the less they can do for themselves. The dependent child of today is destined to become the dependent parent of tomorrow.”

This is why our organization, Growing Leaders, is committed to partner with schools and organizations to cultivate leadership habits and attitudes in students. We do this by providing a tool called, Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes.” The courses and training programs launch conversations through images and experiences that build leaders who possess an “internal locus of control.”

We are honored to have just been named a preferred vendor of character and leadership development resources by the NIAAA, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. It will be a privilege to furnish tools for coaches and student athletes that equip them to be better leaders, who win both on the field and in life. Let’s go build leaders and change the world.


Want to prepare athletes for excellence in sports and life?
Check out Habitudes® for Athletes.

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Habitudes for Athletes helps you:

  • Transform a group of individual athletes into a unified force.
  • Create teams of student-athletes who build trust with each other and their coaches.
  • Create language to talk about real life issues in a safe and authentic way.
  • Build teams where every athlete thinks and acts like a leader.
  • Build athletes who make wise decisions that keep them in competition and out of trouble.

View Free Sample & Learn More Here

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How Do We Build Good Leaders in High School Athletics?