As times are changing so must our leadership

It is the common paradigm as coaches, and especially Head Coaches, to believe they are the top of the hierarchy. All below work for them to ensure the success of the program and as such the winning record is attributed to the Head Coach.

It is understandable that one might have this perception, this is after all the way society has worked for a long time. Yet, I suggest there is another way, a more effective way. I implore you to consider working for your players and your staff. That is to intentionally be a servant leader.

What is a servant leader?

Whilst the principles of Servant Leadership date back further than biblical times, to Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, Robert Greenleaf was the first to coin the term. He defined a servant leader as, "One who has a natural inclination to serve the needs of their followers before their own."

Within in a coaching context this may require you as a coach to see more than just a "screener/rebounder." Whilst the screener/rebounder may win you games that year you have a duty to that player to develop them in all areas. This might mean that instead of playing zone defense with your Under 12 team, that you play man to man to teach the proper skills required to play the game at a higher level. Sure, you might lose more games in the short term but in the long term you will develop better players.

A servant leader is one who sets the vision and implements the necessary actions and through their example and counsel influences their followers to become more and do more in the process of realizing that vision. I think of the phrase “see a need, fill a need” and I think of the people who I have worked for. Those who are prepared to roll their sleeves up and do any of the dirty work that goes on in the program, they lead by example and they are never asking someone to do something they don’t do themselves.

There are 8 main areas through which a servant leader separates themselves from other styles of leaders:

1) Empowerment

2) Accountability

3) Standing Back

4) Humility

5) Authenticity

6) Courage


8) Stewardship

Why should you be a servant leader?

All of this sounds warm and fuzzy I’m sure, but why should you change anything your doing when your getting results with what you’re doing?

What if I told you your results could be better?

Research shows athletes coached by servant leader coaches have higher levels of intrinsic motivation, increased satisfaction, significantly enhanced mental skills. Most importantly for you coach, higher levels of performance both in terms of perceived team performance expectations and results.

How can I be a servant leader?

So this servant leadership style coaching is sounding more appealing, but "where would I even begin" I hear you say?

Let’s start here. I’m sure you have made your expectations of your players very clear, but have you ever asked them their expectations of you? Have you ever asked them what they need from you to be the best they can be?

Accept your players for who they are as individuals. Catch them doing good? Fill them up with specific and genuine praise. Asking more questions in practice and off the court will help you understand your followers better. Empower your players to make decisions, step back so they can fail and learn from it, and allow them to take ownership. Finally, be transparent, invite feedback, and allow others to be open and honest without being defensive.

Chris Straker

Written by Chris Straker

Chris Straker is currently an assistant coach at Georgia Southern. He has spent time on staff at Columbus State, San Diego State and spent 5 years as a head coach in the professional ranks in England's WBBL.