“Build your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another, and of strength to be derived by unity.”
– Vince Lombardi
In 2013, I went from a small, rural school in South Dakota to one of the largest schools in our state. Having a team focused on unity and on the same standards was easier in a small school because we had every one of our students in class. We could speak every day, and I had a good feel on the vibe of the athletes. At Washington High School, I did not have that luxury, and it was hard to see and talk with my athletes daily. I whole-heartedly believe that leadership is a contact sport and that teams and leaders need to see and interact daily. The problem we faced in this new community was getting to know our players and the players getting to know us. We needed to come up with a method so we could work on developing our core standards and unify our Warriors as a cohesive unit.
Starting the Leadership Council
Starting the leadership council was a big task. It had to be real. It had to reflect both the athletes and me authentically. It had to be about giving our athletes a voice, and for them to build the team they wanted it to be. I wanted to give ownership to them, and I wanted to get to know them on a personal level. I began by speaking to one of my mentors, Lew Johnston. Lew gave me ideas on how he was running his senior leadership council. Then I researched Tom Osborne’s Unity Council during his time as head coach at Nebraska. I began reading leadership books from John Wooden, Jeff Janssen, John Gordon, Tim and Brian Knight, and many more. From this research, I trusted my heart and built the council with the sole purpose to help build a more accountable and focused team, just like the Lombardi quote.
The Makeup of the Leadership Council
Our Leadership Council meets every two weeks in the off-season. It originally started off with just seniors from the team but has since evolved to include elected members from each class. We meet before school for about 45 minutes. This past year, it included coaches from our basketball and volleyball teams because they wanted to learn how we were building our team. The purpose of this council is to help build the culture of the team. My job is to start and direct conversations. I spend most of my time taking notes and listening to their needs, wants, and concerns. We see true leaders step up and voice their thoughts. This creates an open dialogue, and it is fun to listen to the guys. This council makes a lot of decisions regarding the direction of the team, including which summer camps we will be attending to handling behavior issues. Before each meeting, I send out an agenda with a thought or idea to discuss, but we want it to be fluid. After each meeting, I send out notes of our discussions.