Confession, if 18-year-old me writing this and I was Kevin Durant, I might be cheering against the Warriors this week in the Finals.
Just like I’d might have wanted the Alabama Crimson Tide to lose the title game if I was Jalen Hurts.
Thankfully those two men did a better job of leading their teammates than I would have.
This idea of leading from everywhere came up this week with talk around the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors have gone 5-0 in the last five games. I’m not going to be ridiculous like sports TV’s talking heads and make the claim that the team is better without a top-3 player (they’re not). I am however, making the claim that if my younger-self was him, I’d have a hard time cheering for my own team to win without me.
Because I’d only be thinking this: if they can win (and win this easily) without me, what does that mean for me?
If our identity is tied up in being a starter instead of being a leader, then we’re in trouble outside of just sports.
The hardest game of my entire sports career was 18 years ago when I didn’t even touch the field. I was forced to the sidelines of a playoff game due to a suffering a concussion the week before.
I needed my team to win so I could return the next week, but I struggled with the inner turmoil of not wanting my backup to play too well. I anxiously paced the sidelines as I watched as my backup account for six touchdowns in a rout of our nearby rival.
I was sick to my stomach with worry that I’d lost my starting job my senior year. One of my best friends on the team reminded me that “we’d be doing the same thing if you played,” but I wasn’t confident in that encouragement. Anytime your identity is attached to your position as an athlete and not that as a leader, you will struggled to watch your team excel without you.
I may have been a captain for our team that year but in that moment I was being a terrible leader and teammate.
True leadership isn’t about your individual status. It’s not about wanting your teammate to struggle. It’s about the team winning. Do you care more about winning or your own highlight reels?
We > me.
“If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.”Abby Wambach
It wasn’t until years later that I was able to shift my mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance. It doesn’t matter if you wear a “C” on your jersey or not, you lead by your actions and your words. A leader must have an abundant mindset because:
- You are open sharing praise with others
- You encourage teammates to give their best
- You believe that a teammate’s shine doesn’t diminish your own because it makes the team better – and increases your chances of winning.
I discussed this topic at length with former MLB strength & conditioning coach Rachel Balkovec on the Compete Every Day podcast here. Unlike me, Rachel lost her starting job permanently after a case of the “yips.” “How did you manage that loss of role and identity?” I wondered.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Rachel found a way to still contribute and lead her teammates – just from a different place on the team. Listen to the full interview here.
As a person, your identity is bigger than your position on the depth chart or your role as an “athlete.” It’s about who you are as a person – and how much bigger that is than what’s in between the lines on a field/court.
A Competitor says that it’s my job to lead my teammates inside and outside of those field lines.
A Competitor says that if you’re better than me, it’s my job to raise my game to a higher level – not to cheer against you and my teammates out of jealousy.
And a Competitor says that it’s my job to lead and encourage my teammates from the field and the bench.
Your position doesn’t determine your output – your choices do. Choose to compete and lead from everywhere your team needs you.