Sports Leadership During COVID

The following blog features a Championship Performance interview with JC Glick, former Lt. Colonel with the Army Rangers who ran their physical fitness unit and now consults with sports teams about using military leadership principles to improve athletic departments.

 COVID Challenges.  This virus has presented sports teams with unprecedented upheaval in routine.  Becoming adaptable and staying focused are important traits to have for both coaches and athletes.  What advice do you have to improve in these areas?

Crisis situations illustrate the best and worst of athletic leadership. I can imagine coaches who were good at managing players truly struggling this time, and that is because managing people is one thing and leading them is quite another. You manage things: time, money, etc.; you lead people.  The best leaders in periods of crisis know their people, and have been in regular personal contact with their players. They are asking them important questions like, “How can I resource you better?”, and “what can I do to help you?” as opposed to simply asking them about the work they have been doing on their own.  When your people are in isolation, it’s more important than ever to check in to ask, “How are you doing?”  as an aside from your sport.  It is about leading holistically and seeing the player as the person.

The coach could also ask how the family is doing. You might say, “Are you worried about getting sick?  What about your parents or siblings?”

The goal should be to support the athlete where they are and find out what they need. By making more personal contact, you build relationships that grow stronger during difficult times. I would also encourage athletes to talk more to each other via zoom.  For example, they could set aside one hour where a group of five or six players has a social time to discuss whatever is on their minds. Really encourage them to keep track of one another.

Back to an earlier point, coaches usually give answers to players, i.e.: “do this”, “don’t do that”, “this is what you should do”.  True leaders really connect by being curious and asking where the athlete see their struggles and what they feel they need to get better.  If there is a difference between the perspective of the coach and the perspective of the athlete, it is an opportunity for more detailed discourse.

Examples: One player may say that they are struggling with nutrition, if they are not in a structured environment.  Another may need more help designing a training workout from home.

The key to leading effectively, in times of crises or not, is about being more curious with those you lead, and listening to either educate them, resource them, or adapt to their perspective.

Get tons more great, practical ideas to improve sports leadership from the books – The Football Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership and just released – The Basketball Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership.