WES’s WISDOM: Young athletes would do well to follow Panthers legend’s lead

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite athletes of all time speak with the undefeated and postseason-bound Hilton Head Prep baseball team. I’ve been a Panthers fan since I first learned the game of football, and watching legendary linebacker Luke Kuechly inspire our very own Dolphins was a dream assignment for me.  

Kuechly epitomized the power of leadership like few other athletes I’ve witnessed, helping orchestrate his Panther defense to an unthinkable Super Bowl five years ago. In football, the linebacker is considered the captain of the defensive unit, and Kuechly put it upon himself to make sure 11 players on the field were giving their all on every play. He was one of a select group of athletes who had the rare gift of making his entire team better. 

From my time watching and covering all levels of sports, I’ve seen some good players excel on the field, but I’ve also seen some better players who lead. If you’re looking to take that next step in your high school athletic career and help your team get to the mountaintop, here are some valuable lessons on leadership that I’ve seen from Kuechly and some of our own stars here in the Lowco. 

Communicate, on and off the field. 

There are few factors more important to a team’s success than strong and effective communication. Relaying information to teammates in an informative and concise manner can be the difference between a big play and a missed opportunity. Being vocal before, during, and after a possession will not only improve your chances of achieving your goals but will also earn you respect among your teammates and solidify yourself as a team player. 

How many times has Kuechly seen an important element in the opposing offense and relayed it to his teammates? To work together in a team environment, successful communication is a necessity. 

Hilton Head High senior Brooke Simons did it consistently this year for her volleyball and lacrosse squads. Whether it was during game action or on the sidelines, Simons made sure to use her knowledge for the benefit of the entire team, leading her Seahawks to unforgettable playoff runs and a volleyball state championship. If you want to make a difference to your team while gaining the trust of your fellow athletes and coaches, use your voice — and your play — to be that catalyst of a winning program.

Show up on time, and take practice seriously.

A good leader must set a solid example to the rest of the team, and that starts with going to practice and showing up on time. It may be a given to some, but it’s hard to gain the trust of someone who is not consistently dedicated to helping the team get better. 

Making practice a priority shows to everyone around the team that you have a passion for helping the group improve and reach its desired goals. If you can, get there early and be a player who motivates your teammates to go all in. 

The rewards on the field won’t come without a devout emphasis on getting there through repeated practice. Setting an example to lead a team can only start through the drive to get better, and it all comes from consistent and effective work on the training grounds. 

Learn from the best!

It’s hard to become a good leader without following the men and women who have done it for years, on and off the field and court. Whether it’s a quarterback like JP Peduzzi or stellar basketball stars such as Will McCracken or Dior Shelton, we’ve seen incredible examples of Lowco phenoms who have showcased not just their amazing talent, but also their superb leadership. 

The best only get better by learning from others, so taking the advice of those who have succeeded before undoubtedly helps the future big names. It would have been impossible for stars like Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Derek Jeter became legends without picking up pointers from champions of the past. To become a strong leader, you must also be a strong follower, and learn from those who came before you so when your time comes to be the man or woman in charge, you’ll already be prepared to crush it.

Develop the “next pitch/play/shot mentality.”

It’s simply impossible to be perfect. Everybody has tried, but aside from 23 major league pitchers, nobody has succeeded, and even they relied on their teammates to make plays around them. But what we can control is how we respond when it goes imperfect. We all make bad shots, pitches, throws, and decisions during games, but only the best players and leaders know how to respond to adversity. 

Whether it’s communication on the sideline, a strong mental attitude and commitment to bounce back, or the frame of mind to correct mistakes with a short-term memory, having a next-play mentality is key to finding long-term success. And if you can transfer that energy onto the rest of your team, you will be a heck of a leader and difference-maker when all is said and done. 

Give that extra 10 percent.

It’s a saying that we’ve all heard so many times. “Give 110%.” Giving 100% is fantastic, but pushing to go above and beyond what you think you are capable of will not only make yourself better, but your entire team as well. 

Kuechly knew that to be a star in the NFL, he had to not just make the plays he was supposed to, but also put in the extra effort and energy to make that one tackle for his team to prevent a first down that ends up changing the momentum of a game. Players that give 110% in games AND during practice will gain massive appreciation from coaches, teammates, and fans. 

Want to earn more playing time? Do what is expected of you, and then some. Be a player associated with giving your all, and you will set an incredibly positive example for everyone.

The best part of these tips? You can use them off the field as well. They extend to every corner and endeavor of life. It’s hard to master something as difficult as effective leadership, but it’s there for the taking by only those who have the drive to make it happen. If you can follow these five guidelines, you will set yourself up for a rewarding and memorable career in sports, in school, and beyond. 

By Wes Kerr

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