Leadership is absolutely crucial to success in lacrosse.
There’s an old saying that has always been somewhat prophetic: “On bad teams, no one leads. On good teams, the coaches lead. On great teams, the players lead.”
I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve found it to be as accurate a statement as any in sports.
Lacrosse Leadership from within the Group
There are coaches across the globe who believe their season’s success or failure lies within the group’s leadership. If players have a great ability to hold each other accountable, then that makes life a lot easier for the coaching staff both on and off the field. A great example of this is the 2011 Virginia men’s lacrosse team.
Head coach Dom Starsia has spoken at length about how his leadership group that year made some very difficult decisions on how things would be done within the lacrosse program. Those decisions and the leadership within the group helped the Cavs culminate the year with a national championship. That won’t happen with every team, but leadership plays a huge role in being in the mix for a championship.
Lacrosse leadership is essential, and one of the most important decisions within a team is choosing who will lead the group. Sometimes the decision is easy, sometimes the decision is extremely difficult. For coaches, it is very important to be transparent in how the process works within your program.
The process can take many forms:
· Players vote for the team captains
· The most senior players fill the captain roles
· Rotate the role through the lineup over the course of the season
· By committee, where everyone gets a say
· Coaches select the captains
· A combination of the previously mentioned forms
The root of everything has to start with leadership development. There are natural leaders within every group, and they often emerge very early on. Coaches may see glimpses of leadership from others but know that they might need to expand on those skills and improve over time.
Leadership is a skill that has to be worked on continually, just like any other lacrosse skill a player may work on in practice. Creating a growth mindset environment where people aren’t afraid to fail is something that ultimately helps with leadership development.
Players can be put in specific scenarios both on and off the field where they take ownership of an exercise and have to lead their groups. Lacrosse programs have also turned to what is called a leadership committee to help with development. This is where a set number of individuals from each class are chosen to participate in the group and help with specific decisions within the program. This allows leaders in younger classes to develop their skills without the pressures of having the captain’s title. Urban Meyer has spoken about this in the past when it came to his success early on at Ohio State.
One item that is often overlooked but is also very important to the players: you DO NOT have to have a title to be a leader within your program. Often times, there are leaders within a team who don’t have the captain’s title but other players still gravitate toward them and they have great influence. These people have to be cultivated, too.
Lastly, it is extremely important to build meaningful relationships within the program. Coaches need to be relationship builders and culture drivers. That will trickle down to the players within the lacrosse program and ultimately create an environment built on accountability and strong leadership.