Coach Brad · Coaching · Development · Education · Leadership · Positive Sports Environment · Success

Intentional Youth Leadership Development

Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.

Colin Wilson – writer, philosopher, and novelist

Pre-Academy Game Day 1Background Story: On Saturday mornings in Savannah, I coach a soccer program for children that are U8 soccer players. Within this program, the coaching staff and I have set up six teams of seven or eight players to participate on a field that features 4 field players and a GK. The format we use is the introduction to “game situations” for the players and proper sideline behavior for the family members. We focus on basic game play truths that are relevant in this format until graduation. FUN is also the most significant aspect of our program as it is the one that leads to increased passion for the participants.

Leadership Growth: The type of leadership development that happens in this setting is not obvious for the athletes and observers. While the game and warm-up activities are happening, the referees and warm-up coaches are U13 to U16 players that previously participated in the program years ago. The casual fan on these days looks at the referee simply as part of the game. The players look at the referees and warm-up coaches as their coach and friend because of the interaction we promote. The “coaches and referees” are gaining leadership skills and abilities every time they stand in front of a group of players and parents that has high expectations of them.

The Referee and Warm-Up Crew

Placing these young athletes in leadership positions at an early age provides a meaningful experience. The players did not luck into this situation or come upon the leadership growth experience by chance. Prior to the beginning of the season, I intentionally ask older players at our club if they would like to referee. These players have demonstrated qualities of leadership over numerous years and through our leadership program, we are able to continue developing these traits. After gaining consent from the player and parent, the older players are assigned duties in which they will either be the referee, warm-up coach, or sometimes both on certain weekends.

Growth Process: Our process is quite simple. Not only are the older players gaining knowledge and perspective during their coaching and refereeing experiences, they are immersed in a position of leadership. Prior to the activity and after the player has been briefed on their role expectations, I ask the older player what they think will be their toughest task and what will be the easiest. We have a short discussion and I ask them to think about these questions throughout the activity with the expectation we will chat about them and their level of success in detail after the game.

Some of the thoughts the players have discussed with me during our discussions follow:

  • It is hard to get the players to focus during the warm-up.
  • As a referee, I am not sure when to limit the aggressiveness.
  • I am going to be more organized today during the warm-up.
  • I am a better referee when I blow the whistle loud and I am close to the play.
  • When I am coaching the players, they do a better job when I make shorter, more focused comments to them.

Each one of these statements demonstrates the growth of a leader. I believe the referee and warm-up coach will become a better player and person because of this opportunity and hopefully will be a leader of others in their chosen profession due in part to these leadership experiences.

Our Why: Creating intentional leadership opportunities promotes individual growth and success for the students going through the training. Holt and Dunn (2004) suggests that elite athletes possess a range of psychological characteristics including:

  • the ability to cope with anxiety and obstacles.
  • self-confidence.
  • competitiveness.
  • intrinsic motivation.
  • the ability to block distractions.
  • the ability to set and achieve goals.

It is our job as coaches and leaders to assist developing athletes in learning how to become a leader. Leadership opportunities allow athletes to further develop the psychological characteristics mentioned above that will set them apart on the field, in the classroom, and as professionals when their playing days are over.

As a coach, do you care about your current, past, and future students enough to give them leadership training and growth opportunities? Has the relationship you have built reached the status of meaningful on and off the field? Create a new goal to not only increase skill and athletic ability in your players but provide leadership training. Athletes are usually not receiving this type of training in the school setting or at home.  Take it upon yourself to provide this meaningful experience…to GROW A LEADER…to transform a life.

Empowering athletes, families, coaches, and organizations to create opportunities for lifetime success,

Coach Brad

Hire a SpeakerSlide2

CLICK HERE to learn our WHY…


Holt, N.L., & Dunn, J.G.H.  (2004).  Toward a grounded theory of the psychosocial competencies and environmental conditions associated with soccer success.  Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 199-219.

One thought on “Intentional Youth Leadership Development

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s