Character & Mental Toughness- USMC Leadership Principles Adapted for Athletics

Leadership Principles

This document is based on Marine Corps leadership principles from The Website for Young Marines.

It has been adapted for use by our players. One hopes that others are wise enough to realize that these principles do not just apply to Marines, or our particular sport, but to leaders in school, in other sports, in business and in the community.

The goal is for our players to develop their leadership skills in order to lead our team to success on and off the field of play. Likewise, we want our players to develop leadership skills that will benefit them in their future endeavors.

These leadership principles are proven guidelines, which if followed, will substantially enhance your ability to be an effective leader. Keep in mind that your ability to implement these principles will influence your opportunity to accomplish the mission, to earn the respect of your fellow Teammates, younger and older, and to make you an effective leader.

Make these principles work for you.

Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
This principle of leadership should be developed by the use of leadership traits. Evaluate yourself by using the leadership traits and determine your strengths and weaknesses. Work to improve your weaknesses and utilize your strengths. With a knowledge of yourself, and your experience and knowledge of group behavior, you can determine the best way to deal with any given situation. With some Teammates, and in certain situations, the firm, hard stand may be most effective; however, in other situations, the “big brother” approach may work better. You can improve yourself in many ways. Self-improvement can be achieved by reading and observing. Ask your friends and seniors for an honest evaluation of your leadership ability. This will help you to identify your weaknesses and strengths.

2. To develop the techniques of this principle you should:

I. Make an honest evaluation of yourself to determine your strong and weak personal qualities. Strive to overcome the weak ones and further strengthen those in which you are strong.
II. Seek the honest opinions of your friends or superiors to show you how to improve your leadership ability.
III. Learn by studying the causes for the success or the failure of other leaders.
IV. Develop a genuine interest in people; acquire an understanding of human nature.
V. Master the art of effective writing and speech.
VI. Have a definite goal and a definite plan to attain your goal.

Be technically and tactically proficient.

Technical Skills-how a player executes a movement, like blocking, block destruction, tackling, throwing, catching, forcing turnovers etc.

Tactical Skills– how a player understands and executes sports specific strategies like keeping contain, defensive leverage on the ball, staying on schedule on offense, clock management, blocking schemes, quarterback reads, route combinations, pursuit, etc.

1. Before you can lead, you must be able to do the job. The first principle is to know your job. As a Teammate, you must demonstrate your ability to accomplish the mission, and to do this you must be capable of answering questions and demonstrating competence in your sport. Respect is the reward of the Teammate who shows competence. Tactical and technical competence can be learned from books, on line videos, game films, and from repetition at practice.

2. To develop this leadership principle of being technically and tactically proficient you should:
I. Seek a well rounded education by frequent independent reading and watching on line videos about your position, lifting techniques, motivation, or going to camps.
II. Seek out and associate with capable leaders. Observe and study their actions.
III. Broaden your knowledge through association with members of other teams in your sport as well as members of other sports..
IV. Seek opportunities to apply knowledge through the exercise of command. Good leadership is acquired only through practice.
V. Prepare yourself for the job of leader at the next higher leadership level. Prepare to move up from a leader at your position or in your class or guiding younger players to a team leader.

 Know your Teammates and look out for their welfare.
1. This is one of the most important of the principles. You should know your Teammates and how they react to different situations. This knowledge can save you from losing. A Teammate who is nervous and lacks self confidence should never be put in a situation where an important, instant decision must be made. Knowledge of your Teammates’ personalities will enable you, as the leader, to decide how to best handle each Teammate and determine when close supervision is needed.

2. To put this principle into practice successfully you should:
Put your Teammates’ welfare before your own–correct grievances and remove discontent.
I. See the members of your unit and let them see you so that every Teammate may know you and feel that you know them. Be approachable. Be available. Be where they are.
II. Get to know and understand the Teammates under your command.
III. Let them see that you are determined that they be fully prepared for battle.
IV. Concern yourself with the home life of the members of your unit.
V. Help your Teammates get needed support from teachers or counselors when needed.
VI. Protect the health of your unit by active supervision of cleanliness and sanitation of the locker room, water bottles etc. Make sure that your Teammates take care of injuries and stretch properly.
VII. Determine what your unit’s mental attitude is; keep in touch with their thoughts.
VIII. Ensure fair and equal distribution of rewards. Recognize growth and achievement.
IX. Encourage individual development.
X. Provide sufficient recreational time and insist on participation. Organize positive off the field activities and encourage all team members to participate
XI. Share the hardships of your Teammates so you can better understand their reactions.

Keep your Teammates informed.
1. Teammates by nature are inquisitive. To promote efficiency and morale, a leader should inform the Teammates in his unit of all happenings and give reasons why things are to be done. This, of course, is done when time permits.. Informing your Teammates of the situation makes them feel that they are a part of the team and not just a cog in a wheel. Informed Teammates perform better and, if knowledgeable of the situation, can carry on without your personal supervision. The key to giving out information is to be sure that the Teammates have enough information to do their job intelligently and to inspire their initiative, enthusiasm, loyalty, and convictions.

2. Techniques in applying this principle are to:
Whenever possible, explain why tasks must be done and how you intend to do them.
I. Assure yourself, by frequent inspections, that immediate subordinates are passing on necessary information.
II. Be alert to detect the spread of rumors. Stop rumors by replacing them with the truth.
III. Build morale and esprit de corps by publicizing information concerning successes of your unit. Make announcements, post things in the locker room or weight room.
IV. Keep your unit informed about the current privileges, and other benefits granted to team members.

Set the example.
1. As a Teammate progresses through the ranks, all too often he/she takes on the attitude of “do as I say, not as I do.” Nothing turns Teammates off faster! As a Teammate leader your duty is to set the standards for your Teammates by personal example. Your appearance, attitude, physical fitness, and personal example are all watched by the Teammates in your unit. If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same of your Teammates. If your personal standards are not high you are setting a double standard for your Teammates, and you will rapidly lose their respect and confidence. Remember your Teammates reflect your image! Leadership is taught by example.

2. Techniques for setting the example are to:
Show your Teammates that you are willing to do the same things you ask them to do.
I. Be physically fit, appropriately equipped and correctly dressed.
II. Maintain an optimistic outlook. Develop the will to win by capitalizing on your unit’s abilities. The more difficult the situation is, the better your chance is to display an attitude of confidence.
III. Conduct yourself so that your personal habits are not open to criticism.
IV. Exercise initiative and promote the spirit of initiative in your Teammates.
V. Avoid showing favoritism to any subordinate.
VI. Share danger and hardship with your Teammates to demonstrate your willingness to assume your share of the difficulties.
VII. By your performance, develop the thought within your Teammates that you are the best Teammate for the position you hold.
VIII. Delegate authority and avoid over-supervision in order to develop leadership among subordinates.

  Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished.
1. This principle is necessary in the exercise of command. Before you can expect your Teammates to perform, they must know first what is expected of them. You must communicate your instructions in a clear, concise manner. Talk at a level that your Teammates are sure to understand, but not at a level so low that would insult their intelligence. Before your Teammates start a task, allow them a chance to ask questions or seek advice. Supervision is essential. Without supervision you cannot know if the assigned task is being properly accomplished. Over supervision is viewed by subordinates as harassment and effectively stops their initiative. Allow subordinates to use their own techniques, and then periodically check their progress.

2. The most important part of this principle is the accomplishment of the mission. All the leadership, supervision, and guidance in the world are wasted if the end result is not the successful accomplishment of the mission. In order to develop this principle you should:
Ensure that the need for an order exists before issuing the order.
I. Use the established chain of command.
II. Through study and practice, issue clear, concise, and positive orders.
III. Encourage subordinates to ask questions concerning any point in your orders or directives they do not understand.
IV. Question your Teammates to determine if there is any doubt or misunderstanding in regard to the task to be accomplished.
V. Supervise the execution of your orders.
VI. Make sure your Teammates have the resources needed to accomplish the mission.
VII. Vary your supervisory routine and the points which you emphasize during inspections.
VIII. Exercise care and thought in supervision. Over supervision hurts initiative and creates resentment; under supervision will not get the job done.

Train your Teammates as a team.
1. Every waking hour Teammates should be trained and schooled, challenged and tested, corrected and encouraged with perfection and teamwork as a goal. When not in games, Teammates are judged in on and off-field roles: perfection in drills and exercises, dress, bearing and demeanor; following school rules and team rules; self-improvement; and most importantly, performance. No excuse can be made for the failure of leaders to train their Teammates to the highest state of physical condition and to instruct them to be the very best in the profession of arms. Train with a purpose and emphasize the essential element of teamwork.

2. The sharing of hardships, dangers, and hard work strengthens a unit and reduces problems, it develops teamwork, improves morale and esprit and molds a feeling of unbounded loyalty and this is the basis for what makes men fight for wins in games; it is the foundation for bravery, for playing under pressure. Teach your teammates not to complain of tough training but instead to seek it and brag about it.

3. Teamwork is the key to successful operations. Teamwork is essential from the smallest unit to the entire program. As a Teammate leader, you must insist on teamwork from your Teammates. Train, play, and operate as a team. Be sure that each Teammate knows his/her position and responsibilities within the team framework. Recognize and celebrate even the smallest roles.

4. When team spirit is in evidence, the most difficult tasks become much easier to accomplish. Teamwork is a two-way street. Individual Teammates give their best, and in return the team provides the Teammate with security, recognition, and a sense of accomplishment.

5. To develop the techniques of this principle you should:
Train, study and train, prepare, and train thoroughly, endlessly.
I. Strive to maintain individual stability and unit integrity; keep the same positional leaders and class leaders as long as possible if they’re getting the job done. Needless transfers disrupt teamwork.
II. Emphasize use of the “buddy” system.
III. Encourage unit participation in recreational and athletic events.
IV. Never publicly blame an individual for the team’s failure nor praise one individual for the team’s success.
V. Provide the best available facilities for unit training and make maximum use of teamwork.
VI. Ensure that all training is meaningful, and that its purpose is clear to all members of the command.
VII. Acquaint each Teammate of your unit with the capabilities and limitations of all other units, thereby developing mutual trust and understanding.
VIII. Ensure that each positional leader understands the mechanics of tactical control for the unit.
IX. Base team training on realistic, current, and probable conditions.
X. Insist that every Teammate understands the functions of the other members of the team and how the team functions as a part of the unit.
XI. Seek opportunities to train with other positions.
XII. Whenever possible, train competitively. Make a piece of a workout or drill into a competition.

Make sound and timely decisions
1. The leader must be able to rapidly estimate a situation and make a sound decision based on that estimation. Hesitation or a reluctance to make a decision leads subordinates to lose confidence in your abilities as a leader. Loss of confidence in turn creates confusion and hesitation within the unit.

2. Once you make a decision and discover it is the wrong one, don’t hesitate to revise your decision. Teammates respect the leader who corrects mistakes immediately instead of trying to bluff through a poor decision.

3. Techniques to develop this principle include:
Develop a logical and orderly thought process by practicing objective estimates of the situation.
I. When time and situation permit, plan for every possible event that can reasonably be foreseen.
II. Consider the advice and suggestions of your subordinates whenever possible before making decisions.
III. Announce decisions in time to allow subordinates to make necessary plans.
IV. Encourage subordinates to estimate and make plans at the same time you do.
V. Make sure your Teammates are familiar with your policies and plans.
VI. Consider the effects of your decisions on all members of your unit.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates.
1. Another way to show your Teammates that you are interested in their welfare is to give them the opportunity for individual growth. Assigning tasks and delegating the authority to accomplish tasks promotes mutual confidence and respect between the leader and subordinates. It also encourages the subordinates to exercise initiative and to give wholehearted cooperation in the accomplishment of unit tasks. When you properly delegate authority, you demonstrate faith in your Teammates and increase their desire for greater responsibilities. If you fail to delegate authority, you indicate a lack of leadership, and your subordinates may take it to be a lack of trust in their abilities.

2. To develop this principle you should:
Operate through the chain of command.
I. Provide clear, well thought directions. Tell your subordinates what to do, not how to do it. Hold them responsible for results, although overall responsibility remains yours. Delegate enough authority to them to enable them to accomplish the task.
II. Give your Teammates frequent opportunities to perform duties usually performed by the next higher ranks.
III. Be quick to recognize your subordinates’ accomplishments when they demonstrate initiative and resourcefulness.
IV. Correct errors in judgment and initiative in a way which will encourage the Teammate to try harder. Avoid public criticism or condemnation.
V. Give advice and assistance freely when it is requested by your subordinates.
VI. Let your Teammates know that you will accept honest errors without punishment in return; teach from these mistakes by critique and constructive guidance.
VII. Resist the urge to micro-manage; don’t give restrictive guidance which destroys initiative, drive, innovation, enthusiasm; creates boredom; and increases workload of leaders.
VIII. Assign your Teammates to positions in accordance with demonstrated or potential ability.
IX. Be prompt and fair in backing subordinates. Until convinced otherwise, have faith in each subordinate.
X. Accept responsibility willingly and insist that your subordinates live by the same standard.

Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities.
1. Successful completion of a task depends upon how well you know your unit’s capabilities. If the task assigned is one that your unit has not been trained to do, failure is very likely to result. Failures lower your unit’s morale and self esteem. Seek out challenging tasks for your unit, but be sure that your unit is prepared for and has the ability to successfully complete the mission.

2. Techniques for development of this principle are to:
Do not volunteer your unit for tasks it is not capable of completing. Not only will the unit fail, but your Teammates will think you are seeking personal glory.
I. Keep yourself informed as to the operational effectiveness of your command.
II. Be sure that tasks assigned to subordinates are reasonable. Do not hesitate to demand their utmost urgency.
III. Analyze all assigned tasks. If the means at your disposal are inadequate, inform your immediate supervisor and request the necessary support.
IV. Assign tasks equally among your Teammates.
V. Use the full capabilities of your unit before requesting assistance.

Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.
1. For personal growth, you must actively seek out challenges. You must use initiative and sound judgment when trying to accomplish jobs that are not required. Seeking responsibilities also means that you take responsibility for your actions. You are responsible for all your unit does or fails to do. Regardless of the actions of your subordinates, the responsibility for decisions and their application falls on you. You must issue all orders in your name. Stick by your convictions and do what you think is right, but accept justified and constructive criticism. Never remove or demote a subordinate for a failure that is the result of your own mistake.

2. Techniques in developing this principle are to:
Learn the duties of your immediate leader, and be prepared to accept the responsibilities of these duties.
I. Seek different leadership positions that will give you experience in accepting responsibility in different fields.
II. Take every opportunity that offers increased responsibility.
III. Perform every act, large or small, to the best of your ability. Your reward will be increased opportunity to perform bigger and more important tasks.
IV. Stand up for what you think is right; have the courage of your convictions.
V. Carefully evaluate a subordinate’s failure before taking action. Make sure the apparent shortcomings are not due to an error on your part. Consider the Teammates that are available, salvage a Teammate if possible, and replace a Teammate when necessary.
VI. In the absence of orders, take the initiative to perform the actions you believe your leader would direct you to perform if he/she were present.

Leadership Traits

1. Definition. Creating a favorable impression in carriage, appearance, and personal conduct at all times.
2. Significance. The ability to look, act, and speak like a leader whether or not these manifestations indicate one’s true feelings. Some signs of these traits are clear and plain speech, an erect gait, and impeccable personal appearance.
3. Example. Wearing clean uniforms and appropriate dress for school and for school functions. Avoiding profane and vulgar language. Keeping a trim, fit appearance. Keeping your head, keeping your word and keeping your temper.

1. Definition. Courage is a mental quality that recognizes fear of danger or criticism, but enables a Teammate to proceed in the face of it with calmness and firmness.
2. Significance. Knowing and standing for what is right, even in the face of popular disfavor, is often the leader’s lot. The business of fighting and winning games is a dangerous one; the importance of courage on the field of play is obvious.
3. Example. Accepting criticism for making subordinates stay for an extra hour to get the job done correctly.

1. Definition. Ability to make decisions promptly and to announce them in a clear, forceful manner.
2. Significance. The quality of character which guides a person to accumulate all available facts in a circumstance, weigh the facts, choose and announce an alternative which seems best. It is often better that a decision be made promptly than a potentially better one be made at the expense of more time.
3. Example. A leader who sees a potentially dangerous situation developing, immediately takes action to prevent injury from occurring. For example, if he/she sees a Teammate exhibiting signs of dehydration or concussion, he/she should immediately inform the leader of the problem, and if if need be direct that proper precautions be taken.

1. Definition. The certainty of proper performance of duty.
2. Significance. The quality which permits a leader to assign a task to a teammate with the understanding that it will be accomplished with minimum supervision. This understanding includes the assumption that the initiative will be taken on small matters not covered by instructions.
3. Example. The leader ensures that the team shows up in the proper uniform without having been told to by the staff. The leader, who hates a particular drill or exercise, or cleaning up the locker area, bench area or bus, yet makes sure the task is completed by in the manner that it was instructed by staff.

1. Definition. The mental and physical stamina measured by the ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship
2. Significance. The quality of withstanding pain during a drill in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership. Leaders are responsible for leading their units in physical endeavors and for motivating them as well.
3. Example. A Teammate staying in the huddle at practice even though he/she has blisters on both feet and had only an hour of sleep the previous night. A Teammate who works all night to ensure that a fellow Teammate understands his positional responsibilities prior to a game, or helps them study for a make or break test the following morning.

1. Definition. The display of sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of duty
2. Significance. Displaying interest in a task, and an optimism that it can be successfully completed, greatly enhances the likelihood that the task will be successfully completed.
3. Example. A Teammate who leads a chant or offers to help carry a water jug that is giving someone great difficulty despite being physically tired himself, encourages his fellow Teammates to persevere.

1. Definition. Taking action in the absence of orders.
2. Significance. Since a Teammate often works without close supervision, emphasis is placed on being a self-starter. Initiative is a founding principle of the Character Way philosophy.
3. Example. In the unexplained absence of a coach, a leader takes charge of the team and carries out the training schedule.

1. Definition. Uprightness of character and soundness of moral principles. The quality of truthfulness and honesty.
2. Significance. A Teammate’s word is his/her bond. Nothing less than complete honesty in all of your dealings with subordinates, peers, and superiors is acceptable.
3. Example. A Teammate who uses the correct technique in lifting or in a drill, even when he/she cannot be seen by a staff member. During a game, if something goes wrong or is not corrected as had been previously directed, the teammate can be counted upon to always respond truthfully and honestly.

1. Definition. The ability to weigh facts and possible courses of action in order to make sound decisions.
2. Significance. Sound judgment allows a leader to make appropriate decisions in the guidance and training of his/her Teammates and the direction of his/her unit. A Teammate who exercises good judgment weighs pros and cons accordingly to arrive at an appropriate decision/take proper action.
3. Example. A Teammate properly apportions his free time in order to relax as well as to study.

1. Definition. Giving reward and punishment according to the merits of the case in question. The ability to administer a system of rewards and punishments impartially and consistently.
2. Significance. The quality of displaying fairness and impartiality is critical in order to gain the trust and respect of subordinates and maintain discipline and unit cohesion, particularly in the exercise of responsibility as a leader.
3. Example. Fair apportionment of tasks by leaders during all practices and game days.

1. Definition. Understanding of a science or an art. The range of one’s information, including athletic or academic knowledge and an understanding of your Teammates.
2. Significance. The gaining and retention of character and mental toughness instruction, athletic instruction, and academic subject material is important for your growth and development.
3. Example. The Teammate who not only knows how leadership principles apply to one sport, but also to others, as well as to leadership roles at his part-time job.

1. Definition. The quality of faithfulness to city, the program, and the team, and to one’s leaders, underclassmen, and peers.
2. Significance. The motto of the Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. You owe unswerving loyalty up and down the chain of command: to staff, subordinates, and peers.
3. Example. A Teammate displaying enthusiasm in carrying out an order, though he may privately disagree with it. The order may be to conduct a particularly difficult workout. The job has to be done, and even if the leader disagrees, he must impart confidence and enthusiasm for the mission to his men.

1. Definition. The ability to deal with others without creating hostility.
2. Significance. The quality of consistently treating staff, peers, upperclassmen, and underclassmen with respect and courtesy is a sign of maturity. Tact allows commands, guidance, and opinions to be expressed in a constructive and beneficial manner. This deference must be extended under all conditions regardless of true feelings.
3. Example. A Teammate discreetly points out a mistake in drill to staff by waiting until after the practice has ended and by privately asking which of the two methods are correct. He/she anticipates that the staff member will realize the correct method when shown, and later provide correct instruction to the unit.

1. Definition. Avoidance of providing for one’s own comfort and personal advancement at the expense of others.
2. Significance. The quality of looking out for the needs of your subordinates before your own is the essence of leadership. This quality is not to be confused with putting these matters ahead of the accomplishment of the mission.
3. A teammate ensures all members of his unit have gotten a drink before he does, or if water is scarce, he will share what he has and ensure that others do the same. Another example occurs frequently when a Teammate receives a package of food from home: the delicacies are shared with everyone in the squad. Yet another form of unselfishness involves the time of the leader. If a Teammate needs extra instruction or guidance, the leader is expected to make his/her free time available whenever a need arises.

Many Teammate leaders remember these traits with the acronym JJ DID TIE BUCKLE
Justice Judgement

Dependability Initiative Decisiveness

Tact Integrity Enthusiasm

Bearing Unselfishness Courage Knowledge Loyalty Endurance

To learn more please check Coach Moore’s book, “On Character and Mental Toughness,” by clicking here.

About coachbillmoore

Educator/Author/Speaker/HS & NCAA Coach Character Coach Read Coach Moore’s book “On Character and Mental Toughness” Paperback available at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. "The measure of your character and mental toughness is the space between what you are doing and what you could be doing." -Coach Bill Moore
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