By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Student-athletes spend hours perfecting their passes, throws, serves and shots.
But some of these teenagers are being asked to be team leaders, which requires a whole different set of skills. Bowling Green High School athletic director Michele Wolf has seen students struggle with these leadership roles during her years working with young athletes.
“I’ve noticed over time that sometimes our captains don’t know how to lead,” she said.
So Wolf has designed a sports leadership program that helps team captains practice the skills they need to work with their teammates and coaches.
“I wanted our captains to be coaches on the pitch,” she said. “It’s a 100% learned skill.”
Wolf hosts leadership sessions, teaching captains how to build trust, improve communication and set realistic expectations.
“You have to understand what it means to be a good moral person before you can lead other people,” Wolf said.
“These kids are put in very difficult positions on certain days,” she said, explaining that captains make tough decisions, like determining their teammates’ playing time. “They have difficult conversations. Sometimes they’re on an island doing the right thing.
Team captains meet several times per sports season for the leadership program.
“The kids are extremely engaged – of course I nurture them,” Wolf said.
They are encouraged to talk about issues they face in their leadership roles.
“I want them to feel comfortable sharing their struggles,” Wolf said. “They are going to make mistakes. They can attack their teammates. We want them to learn from this interaction.
Above all, Wolf wants teen leaders to gain confidence beyond their athletic skills. Using a series of books and visits from leaders, such as BGSU head volleyball coach Danijela Tomic, Wolf hopes to teach young captains to believe in themselves.
“We really try to give them the confidence to lead,” she said.
The leadership course also teaches athletes to express emotions like frustration to their coaches in a productive way. Wolf talks to the captains about creating a plan before having conversations with their coaches or teammates.
They learn fast communication and resolution – to prevent problems from snowballing.
“They need to address these issues immediately, find a solution and move on,” Wolf said.
Some team captains find it difficult to express their concerns to their coaches. Wolf therefore lets them train with her.
“They can come in and complain about a coach for 10 minutes,” but then they have to find solutions.
Wolf said she would participate in talks between team captains and their coaches – but athletes needed to talk.
“This is conflict resolution in its most basic form,” she said. “I’m not going to do this for them.”
These skills will live on beyond high school, beyond football fields, tennis courts and cross-country courses.
This fall, there are 27 students in the sports leadership program, most of them juniors and seniors. Wolf is expanding the program into the next round of undergraduate leaders, with coaches asked to identify younger teammates who show leadership potential.