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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Sports for Leadership

Sport can teach a lot of life skills to athletes of all ages. One of my personal favourites is leadership. I completed my Bachelor of Leadership from the University of New Brunswick in 2016 and love discussing what a leader and leadership is with my athletes during mental training. I think that there are 6 key aspects to leadership:

  • Effective citizenship

  • Knowing oneself and others

  • Problem solving

  • Personal well-being

  • Multi literacy

  • Social interaction

The descriptions for these six aspects will be described throughout the article. All six of these fit into one of two types of leadership; self leadership and outward leadership. These six outcomes were the learning outcomes that directed the classes during my undergraduate degree and the definitions in this article are based on my understanding from them.

Self Leadership

Self leadership is the ability to lead yourself. It is the ability to consciously influence your thoughts, attitude and behaviour to achieve your personal goals. Sport teaches a lot of important qualities of self leadership.

Knowing oneself and others is an important aspect of self leadership. Knowing oneself takes a lot of reflection and can take a long time to fully know who you are. This is the foundation of leadership. It requires an in-depth understanding of the self. A leader must know what drives them, understanding their values, beliefs and assumptions that drive them. Sport can teach us a lot about ourselves and our values in life.

Personal well-being is ever becoming more important in our day and age. There are several different subcategories of personal well-being, like spiritual well-being, emotional well-being, intellectual well-being, physical well-being, occupational well-being, and social well-being. Sport can help with several of these, specifically our emotional, physical and social well-being. The health benefits of sport are well known and can have a positive impact on our emotional and physical well-being. While the social aspects of sport can have an impact on our social well-being. Personally, I get a lot of pride and satisfaction from my job as a swim coach, this also contributes to my personal well-being through occupational wellbeing.

Effective Citizenship takes a broad interpretation of the concept of citizenship, treating it not only as a status in a particular country but as a role. A citizen is not only a rights holder but also a social agent, a member of a bigger community. Being an effective citizen is not a one time accomplishment, but an ongoing project. This is achieved through an ongoing process of reflection, learning and caring and involving oneself in the community life and self-governance. Sport teaches the value of being involved in a community and giving back to the community. When I was involved in swimming I was part of a team, we often volunteered at community events as a way of team building. This was an important part of my self discovery as I learned about the community I lived in, and the value of giving back and being part of the community. Sport teaches individuals the values of being an effective citizen which turns into community involvement and action, whether through voting, or volunteering. Sport taught me about taking responsibility for myself, and through this I learned the importance of taking responsibility for my community and the betterment of the community. Being an effective citizen is a value that’s importance is taught through sport.

Outward Leadership

The second half of knowing oneself and others is knowing others, which is vital to outward leadership. As a leader you will be working with a lot of people. Leadership requires an understanding of other worldviews, other experiences, empathy and also be aware of how your own worldview and experiences can differ from others and how to balance them. Sport can teach us a lot about working with others. On a team you learn from one another and play to each other's strengths and weaknesses. All this can contribute to having a better understanding of others that can strengthen a leader's ability to lead others.

Multi literacy is the ability to acquire basic cognitive skills such as reading, writing and comprehension, but also the ability to understand social awareness, and critical reflection as a basis for social change. Multi literacy can include concepts like verbal literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, and cultural literacy. Multi literacy is a way of reading the world through specific contexts. Sport teaches us skills that help us achieve multi literacy. Taking in information that our coaches give us, analyzing it and turning it into a product that helps us perform better. Sport can help us learn and be more effective communicators.

Social interaction is the intentional or unintentional exchange between two or more people. Effective social interaction is the driving force of the social cohesion of any group. Different social settings require different social skills. Social interaction requires assessing group dynamic and roles, managing conflict and developing foundational interaction skills. Sport teaches people how to interact with others in a variety of settings. Teamwork is essential for leaders and interacting with the team to create an effective workplace is important.

Problem Solving is understanding complex situations and offering solutions. Solving problems is essential to leaders. Sport provides countless problems for people to solve. Young athletes are faced with problems that give them the opportunity to explore weighing options, thinking critically, brainstorming multiple solutions, how to seek support and how to commit to a final decision. Sport also provides a space for athletes to make spontaneous decisions when there isn’t much time to think and process, during In game challenges like bouncing back from adversity.


Sport teaches leadership skills and the essential aspects of leadership. Sports can create effective leaders in our community. This is one way that sport is setting athletes up for a life of impact. Sports can have a social impact by preparing athletes with the skills necessary to excel as leaders in our communities and change the world for the better. Sport empowers people and gives them the opportunities to develop important skills.


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