Developing effective leadership qualities through sports

Coaching junior cricket

Coaching junior cricket

Younger leaders can effectively develop leadership qualities through sports.  Spending time learning, practicing and then executing your skills in a team game against a committed opposition helps build effective leadership qualities in oneself.

I have been blessed to have played cricket for more than 20 years and that too competitively.  I have no hesitation in declaring that the game has taught me some huge lessons and shaped my personality.

Playing and more importantly leading a team in sport helps develop significant intelligence and a variable response system.

The following are some properties of sports that distinguish it from other disciplines and make this a supplemental university:

  1. 1.      Learning a skill and then practicing it to perfection – In most sports, you have to learn some skill that develops your strength, hand-eye coordination, flexibility, stamina, focus and much more.  As you practice the skill to perfection, you learn discipline, patience, perseverance and other personality skills that stay with you and become your distinguishing traits.
  1. 2.      Understanding your role in a team – the better teams have players who know their exact roles and play it to perfection.  They also have captains who communicate the game plan and roles clearly to players.  Clarity of roles in a team, whether it is sport or work, is highly important.
  1. 3.      Understanding team objectives – it’s all about the team.  There are many instances of players who have played well, but got castigated since they were self-centered and their game (on those instances) did not achieve team objectives.
  1. 4.      Competition – The biggest part of sport is competition.  Facing competition is one of the biggest thrills and experiences of playing sport.   It forces you to step out of your comfort zone.
  1. 5.      Responding to varied oppositions – when one works on a shop-floor or in the office, the repeated operation are against a static, consistent and similar opposing force.  In sport, you have to encounter inconsistent and dissimilar forces.  For example if you practiced bowling a curve ball that curves away from a right-handed batter, during a game you may get a left-hander facing you.  If you are a batter, you will constantly be facing balls that are much differently bowled than the ones you are used to.  This calls for spontaneous change in your response to what you’ve practiced.  A high degree of flexibility and agility gets built into you as a result of sport.  Entrepreneurship, higher levels in managing a business and R&D are probably other areas where incoming forces tend to be varied and inconsistent.
  1. 6.      Strategy – every sport has strategy associated with it.  In cricket, the ball, the playing surface and even the atmospheric conditions are variables that have to be planned for and battled strategically.  Other sports have their own variables, both inherent and artificially introduced.  Captaincy in cricket is not only about building your own team and laying plans to thwart the competition, but also managing these variables.
  1. 7.      Coaching – the best way to understand something is to attempt teaching it to someone else.  Coaching in sport is a very satisfying experience and you almost develop a mentoring mindset.  This is very similar to developing new members in your team or your successors – something that effective leaders do naturally.
  1. 8.      Team dynamics – trusting your team-mates, understanding other personalities and following the captain’s directions are part of the game.
  1. 9.      Leading without referential authority – in amateur sport (such as my cricket club) people pay to play.  There is no referential authority as you may have, say in the workplace.  There is no compensation-linked-performance-review at the end of a season at the amateur level! Managing such players is much more of an art than a science and hence more complex.
  1. 10.  Organization skills – in order to get a fixture scheduled and then executed to completion, a lot of organization and logistics have to be managed.    Off-field communications become very important.  One has to manage communications with a number of varied stakeholders not limited to ground officials, your own team, opposition team, umpires, etc.
  1. 11.  Time management – I remember a good player once came late for a three-day match.  When the coin was tossed and the teams exchanged, he was not available and hence was kept in the reserves.  Needless to say, he “carried the drinks” for three days for players of far less caliber.  After that, he never came late to a game!  One of my principal values is keeping time, developed over the years through sport.
  1. 12.  SelfDiscipline – To play (and enjoy) a game, one has to maintain a certain level of basic fitness to ensure against injury and another level of sharper fitness to sustain your innings.  Spending long periods on a hot afternoon, grinding down the opposition bowling, or bowling over after over at a settled batsman, takes a lot out of you.  This requires a high degree of selfdiscipline, not only at practice but also during the game.
  1. 13.  Perseverance – I remember every evening after I return from work, religiously hitting a ball suspended using a rope and a sock 200 times.  Not only did this perseverance help my hand-eye coordination, it also conditioned my bat.  Needless to say, some of my best scores came when I persevered with this daily routine.
  1. 14.  Patience – For a long period I noticed a pattern in that I was getting out after making scores between 50 and 60 while batting.  I was told that I needed to be patient and “not get satisfied” with this score, but push on to make a century (100 or more runs).  This thought helped me build patience and then slowly I started converting those good starts into centuries.  Sport helps inculcate patience.
  2. Even while bowling to good batsmen who are playing well, one learns to be patient and not experiment with every delivery.
  1. 15.  Self-confidence and backing your abilities – When you accomplish something once, you build confidence in yourself.  You start backing your abilities and know you can do it again.  Whether it is getting someone out, pulling off a difficult catch or even getting a century, you develop the confidence in your own abilities.  This is easily transferred to other activities including work.
  1. 16.  Building a network of contacts – I found some of my best friends on a cricket field.

I am sure there are more attributes to sport than what I have listed here.  Please share your thoughts, using the comments section below.

 Image: © Kay Leadership Academy.  Photographer: Satish Prabhakar