Wood's Words: Leadership


I have been the captain of my cross country team for two years now and I still rarely have a clue what I'm doing. For many years of my life, I've been a quiet follower. I did my work and that was all. People would tell me where to go and what to do and I would do it. I never needed to pay attention to coaches when they explained the workouts because a captain would just fill me in later. When I myself became a captain, I had to shape up.

There are countless books on leadership. There are seminars. Online training courses. You name it. The problem with that is that leadership isn't just about stepping up and acting like you're in charge. The one thing that no class can teach you is reaction to spontaneity. I can learn the workouts and relay information to my teammates. I can tell them where to go and what to do without sounding overbearing. I can keep this ship on track. But none of those things really count. My leadership has only truly been tested in the moments where something unexpected has happened. When coaches aren't around and something happens for better or worse, people look to me for how to react. In the face of unseen adversity and challenge, I have to react in a productive, thoughtful way, even if I don't know what's going on - especially if I have no idea what's going on. Last year was a true test of reaction. No plan stuck around for very long and meets were canceled more than they were created. Summer training was difficult because we didn't know why we were training. There was no guarantee of a season and without coaches, team motivation was at an all-time low. Even when I felt my own motivation slipping and felt just as lost and confused as everyone else, I needed to keep a positive attitude and a level head. People in leadership roles all around the world were having the same problem at the time. Cross country captains from every school were dealing with the same problems. Some went above and beyond, achieving things I never thought possible. Others floundered under the pressure and their teams suffered for it. The challenge even brought new leaders to the front of the pack. Even those not put in formal leadership positions stepped up. 

Oftentimes, as I've come to learn, the right voices are usually the quietest ones. The people who are spoken over and who often run towards the back of the pack see a different side to any problem. I started out as a quiet kid and was able to observe things that others overlooked. All too often, those at the front of the pack, the fastest of the fast, are dealing with a completely different array of issues and complaints. As leaders, they are soon to forget the problems happening in other areas. Problems that are only noticed typically by the quietest of the bunch. That is why, as track season begins to ramp up, I implore the quietest of the group to step to the forefront of leadership conversations. In order to aid leaders or be one yourself, all aspects and angles of the team need to be considered. This ensures that the right decisions are being made. 

A phrase I've heard several times (which does nothing to help my ego) is that there will be another captain like me. This irks me to no end because one: I'm not perfect; two: why not? I am not extraordinary. I simply love what I do and try to infect others with that love. I get excited when someone realizes that they really do enjoy this sport. There are countless others with this same passion. Those are the people who need to step up. Every sport needs more people who want to be there. Oftentimes, those at the top of the heap are those most tired of the sport. Running is not something you can force someone to do. It has to be a choice or else the work will have no quality. So, if you really do enjoy this sport and you're not here for a PE credit, step up. Let us hear you because you're the people we want to hear from. This is a time when leadership is scarce and more valuable than ever. If we can fill those spots with passionate people who love the sport, then we're golden. I've known many different kinds of runners throughout my career. Among them, I've noticed that the quietest are either uninterested in the sport or are the most devoted of us all. Leadership groups deserve to be run by passionate people, quiet and loud.

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