When a child starts playing a sport, it’s often thanks to encouragement from their parents or other adults in their world. These leaders play a significant role in a child’s desire to play sports like basketball, whether they realize their impact or not. A great leader will help a young athlete to have confidence in their game, feel the desire to improve, approach things with positivity and ultimately become the best athlete they can.

What makes a great leader?

At Burlington Basketball, we recognize that leadership comes from within and we’re all here to set an example for our youth athletes. With a focus on development – development of community, children and creating a safe environment to thrive – with and through basketball. That’s “winning”.

In team sports, a leader is most often thought to be the coach of the team, however, everyone involved has the capability to be a leader. From parents to fellow players, the ability to lead a team and its players comes down to the respect they have for each other.

A great leader shows and commands respect, leads by example and possesses a number of different attributes that allow him to be seen as an authority in the sport. Qualities like confidence, discipline, self-control, great work ethic and positive attitude all work together to create a well-rounded leader.

How to be a great leader for kids in youth sports

Regardless of your role in youth sports, there are a number of things that you can do in order to be a great leader and a great role model.


Being a great leader as a parent largely comes down to leading by example. Parents are often the first exposure that children have with leadership, so setting a great example can help pave the way for a successful and happy sports career. There are several things you can do as a parent to help your child become the best athlete they can.

    • Help them show up on time
    • Be encouraging but not disparaging
    • Be positive towards the game, other players and their progress
    • Cheer without anger
    • Advocate for your child when they are struggling to advocate for themselves


A coach is almost always the crux of any child’s sports experience. A great coach will often be the difference between a child who want to push themselves to succeed on the court, and one that is ready to walk away after a few seasons. The leadership style that a coach embodies will make all the difference, especially when it comes to younger players.

    • Showcase great communication
    • Challenge your team members
    • Encourage players to push their limits and reach their goals
    • Focus on teamwork
    • Treat your players fairly, giving all some playing time and the chance to feel like they’re contributing to the team

Organization director

Oftentimes the organization director isn’t well known to the team or players and can find themselves in the background. However, this role does present an important piece of the leadership puzzle. Without the organization director the coaches wouldn’t be able to create the team that they strive to build. Because of this, it is important for the person in this role to also display signs of great leadership for the benefit of each player.

    • Be available for team members, parents and coaches
    • Have a vision for each team and the organization as a whole
    • Be present at games and practices as much as possible
    • Provide training opportunities for the coaches in your organization
    • Stay aware of how your coaches are leading, and step in with feedback as necessary

Mental health and great leadership

Historically sports and mental health aren’t topics that fit in the same conversation. Sports have a history of cultivating mental and emotional toughness however that trend is thankfully starting to change. The idea that athletes have to be strong and stoic, without letting their emotions show through or their mental health to show cracks is an antiquated one. Athletes deserve the opportunity to be true to themselves just as much as everyone else does, and it’s great leadership that will get them there.

A great leader is essential for any athlete, particularly those just starting in the sport. With national averages showing that youth athletic participation drops off around 13 years old, and kids citing the reason being that sports aren’t fun anymore, it’s important to recognize the role that leaders play. Whether it’s parents, coaches, directors or fellow teammates, great leadership needs to recognize that kids play sports because they want to have fun, not because they want to be grinding day in and day out.

Great leadership is about more than just winning

Anyone involved in sports for any length of time has likely been taught that the point of playing a game is to win. However, as mental health and fair play move to the forefront of youth sports, it’s important to stress that athletics should be able much more than just winning. The lessons that athletes learn on the court, the friends they make and the fun they have all work together to create a well-rounded player that will benefit for the rest of their lives from the time they spent on the court.