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Leadership can make a team great
By Becky Hammon, Special to the Rapid City Journal, 7/23/01

Throughout the history of sports, there have been many great players. On every professional sports team, you have the underdog, the superstar, the hustler and the blue-collar player. There have also been long lists of teams that haven't amounted to much of anything, except underachievers or overachievers.

Take for example, the Los Angeles Lakers with the talent of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant before Phil Jackson joined them as coach. The Lakers were struggling. They had a lot of ego, a lot of talent, but not a lot of championship rings.

One element that separates good teams from great teams is leadership. Every great team must have great leadership. It's the mandatory element in sports, especially team sports. Leaders are developed in a variety of ways, but I believe that many great leaders hold some qualities that put them a step above good leaders.

  • Great leaders are servants. A position of leadership also has a position of authority. It's not so you can tell others what to do, but so you can provide them with tools they need to reach their full potential.
  • Great leaders can get a group of people to buy into the belief in a common goal and the individual sacrifices it may require along the way. They do so by their actions.
  • Great leaders sacrifice their own wants and needs for the good of the team. There's no selfishness in a great leader, and it's a contagious state of mind influencing those down through the "pecking order." The opposite is also true. If you have selfish leadership, it also is contagious and influences the attitude of the whole team. A good example of this in the WNBA would be a team such as the Washington Mystics. This is an extremely talented team, but it is currently at the bottom of the conference. The Mystics have a lot more talent than my team, but my team wins more. The players on that team would rather score more points as individuals than as a team. This individual selfish attitude kills any kind of chemistry on any team, even if it is more talented than other teams. No one player can beat any team, not at this level.
  • Great leaders don't have to tell you to follow them, people just naturally do. It's a magical trait that's just there, like a God-given talent. You may not understand why you have that talent, you just do, and it's a big responsibility to lead in the right direction.
  • Great leaders are approachable. They never stop learning. They're smart enough to know they don't have every answer. They listen, although they don't necessarily do what you may suggest. But they always listen.

It's a tough thing to be successful as a unit. It takes a lot of trust and individual sacrifice on everyone's part to reach that final goal. But once you do, it makes every sacrifice worthwhile.

One of my favorite quotes about leaders is "Attitude is contagious, is yours worth catching?"

Becky Hammon, an all-state basketball player at Rapid City Stevens and an All-American at Colorado State, is in her third year of pro basketball as a member of the WNBA's New York Liberty.