Managing v. leading

This is a subject that probably doesn’t get covered enough. It cuts right to the core of what a coach can do versus what coaches often limit themselves to doing. 
There is a big difference between managing players and leading them. Managing players involves setting up tournaments, setting up practices, making sure everyone knows the team rules, putting together a lineup, changing players, and other tactical types of tasks. It is a very valuable function to be sure, and many coaches put their emphasis on trying to do those tasks well. But it isn’t leadership.

Leadership is about motivating players, getting them to believe in themselves, teaching them to do the right things (even if it means you might lose a game), and generally how to conduct themselves as human beings. Think of it this way: management is putting players in the positions where they can make the best contributions. Leadership is helping them find a way to improve their games to increase their contributions to the team.

A manager will remove a pitcher when she starts to get a hit. A leader will make sure that when she leaves her confidence remains high.

When they’re playing poorly, a manager will try to get his team going by yelling at them to “get their attention.” A leader will work hard to make sure that players understand it’s the responsibility of each player to do her very best every time she steps out on the field.

A manager will teach her players her “system” and try to get them to fit into it. A leader will adjust what she does on the field to suit the players she has. For example, a manager will place a lot of importance on pitchers getting strikeouts, even if she doesn’t have a dominant pitcher. A leader will recognize she doesn’t have a dominant pitcher and will come up with a new strategy to help the team win — usually shoring up the defense and/or putting extra time into hitting.

A manager see his players as chess pieces to be moved around the board. A leader sees his players as human beings, each with her own hopes, fears, desires, and goals. He will do his best to figure out what each player needs, and will work to build a relationship with each one.

A manager usually has a coaching style. A leader has as many coaching styles as she has players. This is not to say she favors one over another. To the contrary, she treats each one equally, according to her needs. Those who need positive reinforcement get it. Those who need an occasional kick in the pants get it. Those who need things explained in depth get it, while those who just need quick marching orders get what they need and are sent on their way.

The long and short of it is, every team has a manager. But not every team has a leader. To determine which you are, think about your relationship with your players. Do they comply with what you say because they have no choice, or do they look to you for guidance? The former is a manager, the latter is a leader. Do your players tolerate you the way they do hot and humid weather, or do they genuinely enjoy playing for you? The former is the sign of a manager. The latter is the sign of a leader.

It’s a lot tougher to be a leader than a manager. Being a leader means you need to question yourself constantly, and be aware of what’s happening around you. Being a manager only requires fulfilling the tasks that are part of your job. Being a leader, however, is much more rewarding in the long run, because while managers can help their teams win, leaders help the individuals on those team grow — both as players and as human beings.

So which are you?


About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on February 8, 2008, in Coaching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. One of the best posts I’ve read on here. The coach that I coach with on my DD’s team is definitely a leader, and we’re lucky to play for someone like that. I’d like to add in that managers think short-term results, while leaders think short-term AND long-term results. A leader will rarely if ever sacrifice the long-term for the short-term.


  2. Thanks, John. Always good to hear from you. You are definitely fortunate to have a leader with your team. I have a feeling there is more than one. Good point on the long-term v. short-term results. That is very true. Managers manage for the moment. Leaders lead to achieve a goal.


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