Building leadership skills is important part of youth soccer and Heartland Soccer Association

Youth sports are often viewed as a way to keep kids healthy and active, and to have fun with peers. They are also essential to the development of important social skills such as cooperation, teamwork and discipline. Another important life skill which can be learned while playing youth sports is leadership. Soccer provides many chances for kids to learn leadership roles.

“There’s so many opportunities,” said executive director of Heartland Soccer Association Shane Hackett.

“There’s usually a time in your team’s development when they’re coming up through the youth system where they might be working on something specific.”

As an example, a team might be working on playing the ball out of their defensive end. Within that framework, there will be a variety of different roles for players to become leaders.

“All kids and all of us as people, we all learn things at different times,” he said. “Some kids will pick it up quicker and some kids need to be leaders to help that concept come through so the whole team can achieve where you’re going to be able to work the ball up properly and get everybody to move to space, so then you can be able to create the angles to work the ball out of the back.”

Leaders can develop in a variety of ways. Coaches might assign different aspects of the game to different individuals to help develop those skills in all players, even when it comes to training and off-field activities.

“It can be who’s going to get everybody warmed up,” he said. “Or organizing people for events, or if it’s something that your team’s working on. Definitely and specifically on the leadership side, there’s so many opportunities, whether it’s during a practice or game, or outside of practice that people can step up and assume some type of leadership role.”

Individual players may be able to teach their own skills in a way that benefits all their teammates.

“There are so many facets of the game,” he said. “It’s not like you can master everything, so you’re all kind of taking a leadership role. That’s where I think the bigger piece of this is the game provides design because it does require so much skill at all different levels, that all the kids at some point have an opportunity to teach and lead. Leadership skills isn’t just one person; it isn’t just the captain on your team.”

In-game leadership skills are valuable.

“Speaking from a coach’s perspective, there are players we look to to be leaders on the field,” he said. “Whether that’s attitude, you’re wanting those couple of kids that never give up no matter what. And nobody wins every game, so from a sportsmanship standpoint, something I talk to parents about all the time, is how we deal with and how we handle losing a game is probably as important as how we celebrate when we win a game, especially if we feel like there’s a call that didn’t go our way.”

Soccer can teach how to deal with adversity.

“We know (as adults), there’s nothing that goes to plan with our lives,” Hackett said. “We know everything is going to change and nothing will go exactly like we planned. So, how do you adapt? How do you handle things that don’t go your way, so that we can move on and do other good things.”

Perseverance is a learned behavior which can be enhanced through leadership.

“There’s a philosophy that I grew up with and I don’t even remember it being taught by a coach,” he said. “It was taught by a couple of the players on the team I grew up with. In soccer you can get beat by a player who might out-dribble you or pass around you. You’re defeated in that moment, but actually the play is never over until you stop. That’s a big lesson. Some people think, ‘hey, they got around me, I’m going to stop, turn and watch.’ No, this isn’t over until you’re done and you’ve given up.  It’s not over until you stop.”

The game has a lot to teach youngsters, and many skills translate well to everyday situations once they’ve grown up. Being part of a team and working together with people who are different from you is an essential element of being a successful adult.

“You may not like everybody, but when you’re on a field and they’re your teammates, you want them to achieve the same goal,” Hackett said. “It’s the same thing in business. It’s not that we like everybody that sits in the cubicle next to us or that we have to interact with every day, but we’re all trying to reach a common goal. A lot of it is recognizing what that is and moving the pieces in the right direction so that we can accomplish our goal.”

The fluidity of soccer, shifting rapidly from attacking to defending, and playing on a wide-open field without many opportunities to stop and reset the action requires players to develop different skills. This helps create opportunities to lead and to be creative. Youth soccer players often grow up to be successful adults.

“When I look at the guys that I played with, they are all very high achievers,” he said. “A lot of those things are lessons learned on the field.”

For more information on the Heartland Soccer Association, visit

For more youth soccer coverage visit

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Article by Marc Bowman

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