Why ‘teamship’ can be better than ‘leadership’

I once sat down with a well-known coach who said to me: “Dan, I want more leaders and I want you to help me develop them”.

And, as my time with this coach and team unfolded, what became apparent is what I’ve always felt about this notion of leadership expansion.

It is not leaders necessarily that the coach was looking for, it was better teammates – team players more so than leaders.

It was players who had the flexibility to look beyond themselves and their game, and on to the games of others.

It was players who were willing to be an active part of team discussions to build a shared mental model around the tactical, physical and mental components of the game.

It was players who could communicate and support others accordingly. It was players who would offer social support to their teammates.

Yes, these are the kinds of skills and processes that build teamship – and that build teams. But they can be hard to develop!

The above isn’t necessarily leadership, although such skills can be a part of leadership. They are skills to be a damned good co-worker and colleague. They are processes to be a good teammate and perhaps a great friend.

None of this is to say that leadership isn’t important – it is! But not everyone can be a leader.

For example, leaders make decisions and help others make decisions, and not everyone can do that. But everyone, with practice and possibly with help, can be a great teammate!


By player, coach and Women’s Soccer Coaching editor Hannah Duncan

“I’ve seen it from both sides of the fence. It starts with recruitment. If you go into a club where there’s a bad environment, you need to bring in players who will fit the environment you’re trying to create.

“Not everybody can do that, so if you are trying to work with what you’ve got, you create the environment by giving people respect, a voice and a chance to have ownership over team values.

“Players are then in a position to hold each other to account if others aren’t respecting those values. People are going to be fighting for positions so there’s going to be an element of competition, but you’re playing for the same team and you should all want success, and that comes from supporting each other.

As a coach, you’re not always going to be everyone’s favourite person, because you’re only picking 11. But if you check in with those players, you give them reasons why they’re not playing or areas to improve – and make sure they know you’re noticing when they do – players feel part of a team environment.

“Being respectful, honest and supportive goes a long way with people.”

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