Define Success Leadership Philosophy
What defines success? For leaders of sports programs, it may sound like a straightforward answer. Wins, championships, banners, and trophies define success. 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 is more about the intangibles than records. Though 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. We compiled a list of their most proven successful leadership philosophies.
Coach Christina Gwyn-Barton: Empowering the students
Coach Christina Gwyn-Barton is the coach of the Keller High School softball team. She has held that position since 2017. Coach Gwyn-Barton helped Keller win its first-ever state championship as a player in 2003. She 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. The students are learning more about themselves and the world around them. 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.”
Coach Andrea Scott: Successful Community Members
Coach Barton’s leadership principle was echoed by varsity soccer coach, Adrea Scott, at Arlington High School. We asked her what success looks like to her. 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. She’s had many opportunities to have such encounters with her former athletes.
“That’s how I know if, as a coaching staff, we’re doing our job. [If] they’re successful people in the community and they’re giving back. I just love that about them when they come back here.
Nick LoGalbo: Explaining the bigger picture
At the higher levels, like college and professional sports, teams are made up of those who have worked unbelievably hard. They’ve put in hours of work to reach that level. But, junior high and high school students, may not always understand how what they’re doing in the present can affect their future — the grand plan.
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. I think that’s central to what I do here — what we do here, I should say. It’s about getting our leaders to understand this has to be process driven.”
Patience is a virtue, and sometimes it falls by the wayside in the whirlwind of day-to-day tasks. But, when working in athletics, that’s just the nature of the field. 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. So 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. Then in September 2021, he coached the USA Basketball 3×3 U18 team to a gold medal during the FIBA 3×3 World Cup.
Miss Val: Knowing You've Done Your Best
Over at UCLA, the legendary gymnastics coach Miss Val used a very similar principle to guide her team throughout 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, and was I considerate? Was I kind, and was I true to myself? Did I make excuses or not? And if I could check off the positive boxes, then I had a successful day.”
She is not only speaking about herself, but she also asks the same of her athletes. To Miss Val, gymnastics (and sports in general) is 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 tough life lessons that you don’t learn in the classroom. So, I decided I was going to utilize the time that I had with our student-athletes to develop these young women into champions in life. Knowing that they’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 gets people’s 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.
Micah Green: Trying to make a difference
Of course, good leadership principles can be found outside of sports, as well. 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. He 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, 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’s 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. 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.”