Define Success Leadership Philosophy
What defines success? For leaders of sports programs, it may sound like a straightforward answer: Wins, championships, banners, trophies, the works. But, when it comes to leading high school-aged students, that is not always the case. Sure, all of those things are nice to have, but according to group leaders who already have many championships to their name, they were never the focus.
For some of the most accomplished group leaders, defining success was more about the intangibles than records, although their pursuit of the former usually led them to the latter. To understand what exactly these intangibles are and what they look like in action, we interviewed group leaders across different art and athletic programs, and compiled this list of the three most proven successful leadership philosophies.
Empowering the students
Coach Christina Gwyn-Barton is the coach of the Keller High School softball team, a position she has been holding since 2017. Coach Gwyn-Barton helped Keller win its first ever state championship as a player in 2003, and has consistently kept the school competitive as a coach. But, in her own words, “I would not define our success based upon the score at the end of the game, or even our record.”
Any group leader who has worked with high school students knows how unique that setting is; it’s a time of rapid and sometimes even tumultuous changes. These students are learning more about themselves and the world around them, and group leaders play a role in helping them navigate this process.
All of that is to say, coach Gwyn-Barton believes in giving students the tools and freedoms to work and grow into who they want to be.
“As an individual, I define success as really empowering our players to find out who they are and find the confidence and courage to be who they want.”
This particular leadership principle was echoed by varsity soccer coach at Arlington High School, Andrea Scott. When asked what success looks like, coach Scott responded, “To see when the girls come back, and they have given back to the community, and they’re good people, and they have jobs and college degrees.”
Coach Scott has been coaching the team since 2006, giving her many opportunities to have such encounters with her former athletes.
“That’s how I know us as a coaching staff, we’re doing our job, [if] they’re successful people in the community and they’re going to give back. And I just love that about them when they come back here.”
Explaining the bigger picture
At the higher levels, like collegiate and even professional sports, teams are made up of those who have worked unbelievably hard and put in hours of work to reach that level. But, for junior high and high school students, they may not always understand how what they’re doing in the present can affect the future — the grand plan, so to speak.
That’s why Nick LoGalbo, the athletic director and head boys basketball coach at Lane Technical College Prep High School, makes it his mission to convey this message to his students.
“I think we are defined in our society by results, and [in] really trying to shift that persona, a leader has to define success by the process and the way we go about things. And I think that’s central to what I do here — what we do here, I should say — is getting our leaders to understand this has to be process driven.”
Patience is a virtue, and in the whirlwind of day-to-day tasks, sometimes it falls by the wayside. But, when working in athletics, that’s just the nature of the field. Again, coach LoGalbo knows this, and actively runs his programs in a way that will benefit his students long after they’ve left his supervision.
“As you know, we have to get our students [to understand] the big picture; that they can take something from sport to affect the trajectory of their lives.”
Coach LoGalbo and his athletes have benefited from this approach greatly: in 2020 he reached 150 wins as a coach, and in September 2021, he coached the USA basketball 3×3 U18 team to a gold medal during the FIBA 3×3 World Cup.
Over at UCLA, the legendary gymnastics coach Miss Val used a very similar principle to guide her team over the course of her storied tenure.
“Success is peace of mind in knowing that you’ve done your best,” says Miss Val.
“Was I honest? Was I hardworking? Was I considerate? Was I kind? Was I true to myself? Did I make excuses or not? And if I could check off the boxes that were positive, then I had a successful day.”
She is speaking about herself, but she also asks the same of her athletes. To Miss Val, gymnastics (and sports in general) are a powerful and unique teaching tool, and she strives to get the most out of it while leading her program.
“I believe this sport is a masterclass in teaching really, really, really tough life lessons that you don’t learn in the classroom. And so I was going to utilize the time that I had with our student athletes to develop these young women into champions in life that we’re going to go out in the world and make the world a better place.”
Like coach LoGalbo, Miss Val’s leadership has proven to be a key factor for success. While with the Bruins, Miss Val and her students collected 7 national championships and 18 PAC-12 championships. Also like coach LoGalbo, she says this was never the main focus.
“Winning is what gives people attention, but then I get to come through and give them a curve ball and say, I never focused on winning, ever. I focused on developing superheroes through sport.”
We would love to hear what you or your fellow group leaders think of these approaches so far. Share this article on social media to start your own conversation about how you define success.
Trying to make a difference
Good leadership principles can be found outside of sports, of course. Programs that are based on STEM and the arts still present the same opportunities for students — and the same challenges for group leaders.
Micah Green is the Fine Arts Coordinator of Theatre & Dance at Arlington ISD, and has taught theatre at all levels, giving him special insight into what it’s like to be a leader of all types of students.
“As I’ve grown in my career and I’ve grown in my understanding of personal success, my definition has changed. Now my idea of success is way more simple: Are you making a difference? From the teacher perspective, are you making a difference in a kid’s life? Are you making a difference in two kids’ lives? Five kids? 10?”
Mr. Green’s stance on how to define success is in-line with the others we’ve covered today, which is that prioritizing the students and their development is ultimately more rewarding than chasing accolades (both figuratively and literally).
As Mr. Green put it, “I really view success now as just how many lives can you touch…You’re not going to go to Broadway every day, but you can make a difference in someone’s life every day. So for me, that’s what success means.”