Learning Leadership at a Young Age / by James Leath

“If your output exceeds your input, your upkeep will be your downfall.”- Thomas Nelson, Pastor of Denton Bible Church

“You are going to have to run practice the next few weeks; I am running for city council. Are you up to it?” No problem, I thought. After all, I had just been voted team captain and felt I had a pretty good grasp on the game. I was in 8th grade.

Of course, inside I was a mess. What did I know about running practice? Why would the team listen to me? Luckily, the former coach was still a teacher on campus and we had a good relationship so the next day I sought out his advice.

After listening to the situation, he leaned back in his chair and smiled. He didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity though in reality it was probably only 10 seconds or so. He turned to his computer (the same one I had used to play Oregon Trail during recess the year before) and printed out the playbook from last year. When it was done printing, he handed it to me and gave me great advice I still use to this day.

He said, “Write down what needs to be learned for the week, then break it down into 3 parts, one for each day of practice. Figure out the skills needed to be able to run those plays and create drills around those skills. Put it together at the end of practice, and review the next day.” I was feverishly taking notes as he talked. “Lastly, talk to the team and come up with some expectations everyone agrees on, then as a team decide on consequences for not following those rules. If you all agree, then everyone has the right to enforce.”

At lunch time, I found brought out my notebook and found a tree to sit under as I designed practice. After school came around and the new coach asked the team if they would be okay if I ran practice since he was going to be making phone calls. They agreed, and with that, practice began. I pulled out my notebook and showed them what the goals for today would be, but first, we needed to set some team rules and consequences. I wish I still had that list. That season, we went undefeated, winning the championship and solidifying my future as a coach.

Baseball season rolled around, and we went defeated, but that is another story for another day.

That summer, a man named Paul Babcock gave me three books on tape, all by John C. Maxwell. They all had something to do with leadership, and since I had had a taste of what it was like to lead, I must have listened to those books 4 or 5 times each as I rode my bike throughout the community. Since then, I have continued to improve my ability to lead a team through books and by asking questions to as many coaches who will listen.

Why do I tell this story? I learned the value of leadership at a young age because I was given a challenge beyond what I thought I was capable. Instead of doing it for me, the adults in my life I turned to for help gave me clues but ultimately let me figure it out myself. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I had to set starting lineups and learned very fast that it is difficult to coach and be friends with the players on the team. But I kept reading. I kept learning and asking questions. I am so grateful they let me struggle instead of trying to fix the problem. I think kids these days would do well to struggle a bit more than they are usually allowed to.

As the Head of Leadership Development at IMG Academy, my team and I go throw a book a month. They are usually non-fiction and have something to do with leadership, but sometimes we’ll read a fiction book by Jon Gordon or recently, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. Here is a list of the books we have gone through over the past few months:

October: The Way of the Champion, Dr. Jerry Lynch November: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card December: Legacy, by James Kerr January: Deep Work, by Cal Newport February: The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday March: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell April: Forces of Character: Conversations About Building A Life Of Impact, by Chad Hennings

I recommend all of these, but there are many others I have written about before.