Many who have played team sports know what it’s like to be a leader.
A leader of a team, whether captain or some other capacity, doesn’t always have to be the best player, the leading scorer, the most vocal in the room and on the field of play.
No, leaders come from different and sometimes unexpected sources.
With the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds women’s basketball team, leaders are starting to emerge for the 2012-13 season.
Head coach Jeff Speedy, now that he’s had his club together for about a month in preparation for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport season, is starting to see patterns emerge as he tries to piece together the many puzzle items he has with the start of each new campaign.
With turnover the reality of CIS sports, a player who may have been a rookie or second year player a year ago, may find herself taking on a new role.
The more experience you gain, the more you start to understand it takes more than raw talent and teamwork to reach the summit.
For Laura Fowler and Claire Colborne, two of the more experienced members of the UNB squad, the math is fairly simple.
With a teammate such as Melissa Foster finishing her career at UNB this year, sometimes leadership is a key component in helping others make the transition.
They can look to players who wore UNB colours before them in search of leadership qualities.
“We are such a young team this year, so I think it’s expected that everyone who is returning has to step up and lead in some way,” said Fowler, returning this year to the line-up after a long road back from a knee injury. “Claire and I have been named the official leaders or captains, if you will, by Coach Speedy, but our team has some older girls who are going to have to help pull everything together. Not only do they have to help, but it’s expected of them to help.”
When there’s a minute to go in a tie game and Coach Speedy is pleading for a defensive stop on the sideline or drawing up a play to score a basket during a timeout, that’s when experience certainly steps in and assumes a role.
Where a rookie may be wide-eyed and gulping, a player such as Fowler or Colborne may take it in stride knowing their experience can help calm any storms.
Leadership comes in many shapes, sizes and colours.
Rarely is it black and white. And square.
“Being a leader comes naturally to some girls and for others, it requires a lot of work and time and understanding what is expected of them,” said Colborne, who logs a ton of minutes and is UNB’s leading scorer night in, night out. “We have a lot of girls this year with leadership qualities. We see some of it starting to come out already from some of the younger players and that’s a great sign. Laura and I need the help of other veterans, but it’s about finding the right time for someone to step up. Sometimes it happens gradually, other times it happens quickly, maybe even early in the season depending on the situation.”
It’s rare for a rookie player to walk in and demand the ball, demand attention of her peers and demand respect from veteran opponents in the Atlantic University Sport conference.
Don’t think for one minute opposition veterans aren’t aware who’s on the court against them.
“The biggest change coming into our league for a first year player or a second year player who didn’t get a lot of minutes is the pace compared to high school or practice,” said Fowler. “Everyone is so much faster and stronger and in most cases, older. You have to get used to playing less minutes. There are times when new players come in, check things out and don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Once they get past that, perhaps leadership qualities will start to emerge.”
The UNB team showed a lot of grit, despite going 0-3 at the recent Accreon Helen Campbell Tournament at the Currie Center.
Battles for loose balls on the floor, high octane games for so early in the season and players learning a new system and new teammates can make for some interesting growth moments.
Simple gestures as a high five or words of wisdom from an experienced player can help create team chemistry.
And that’s what every coach is seeking including Speedy.
“ I really like the make up of this group,” commented Coach Speedy. “It is great to have numerous vets who can and are willing to lead. It is also important to have some youth to keep it fun and also to push the older players. We have all the ingredients to be a very close team and a team that really has each other’s backs. It is going to be an enjoyable journey.”
And these leaders have a big role to play in making this a special group and a positive experience.
“A leader for our team doesn’t have to be the most vocal, but they certainly can’t be the quietest, either,” offered Colborne. “As a leader you need to earn the respect and trust of your teammates. If they don’t trust you or have faith in your ability, they won’t listen to you or follow your instructions or directions. You can’t tell a teammate to work harder if you’re not willing to work as hard as you possibly can.”
As the pre-season continues with more games and practices, the Varsity Reds will eventually find their leaders for this season.
Fowler, Colborne and Foster are certainly three who have already stepped up.
Someone else is waiting in the wings and developing their leadership skills.
“We’re still early in the season and we’re getting used to playing together and even working on getting to know each other better,” Fowler said. “Our tournament was a great learning experience. It exposed our weaknesses and showed where we need to focus. The returning players really need to step up and set a strong example for the rookies.”
Spoken like a true leader.