Sport Hockey So you think you can lead?
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So you think you can lead?

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Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.

Some lead with words, some lead with actions. On and off the field, they’re the ones we turn to in times of trial.

I was seeking some leadership guidance so I went straight to the top: Kookaburras captain Mark Knowles.

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The 31-year-old has captained “75 to 100 games”, leading our best players into battle against the rest of the world.

Being named captain

After a period where the role was rotated, Knowles was named sole captain in January 2014.

The first words he received from coach Ric Charlesworth?

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“He said: “Everyone will follow someone who is being exceptional on the field. So the biggest challenge for you is to play well,” Knowles said.

“I really took that talk seriously.

Knowles in action for Australia. Photo: Getty
Knowles in action for Australia. Photo: Getty

“Everyone can talk and everyone can yell in the huddle before a match.

“But, to be a really good captain, you have to be able to play consistently and play at a high level.”

Does it affect your performance?

As Knowles discusses his career trajectory, his role as a leader, at all levels, becomes apparent.

Even when asked if there was any extra pressure in his first game as sole captain, with the world watching, he seems nonplussed.

“Not really [any extra pressure] to tell you the truth. The biggest difference I felt was that I was doing it on my own which was a weird kind of feeling,” he said.

“I was playing really well at the time and I was really confident in my own ability that I would be able to do it.”

Knowles felt he was not leading to his full potential when the captaincy was being rotated through the leadership group.

“I was always doubting how I was leading. I’m not a control freak but I certainly like to be leading and take charge,” he said.

“I just thought to myself this [sole captaincy] was perfect for me because I have kind of been let loose a little bit.

“Some people might have felt it was a bit more of a burden, I thought this was perfect. I could lead how I would like and how I think the team needed to be led.”

Leadership challenges

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though.

Knowles faces constant challenges at the helm of the team.

“You’ve got 30 guys in our national squad and every single one of those people want to be led differently,” he said.

Rolemodels are important - Bevan George was one of Knowles'. Photo: Getty
Rolemodels are important – Bevan George was one of Knowles’. Photo: Getty

“That’s the hardest thing I’ve found now…making my message count to the largest amount of people.”

Part of the solution was to delegate.

“I have allowed some other people to take charge.

“I really want my point, when I think it is required, to hit home, so I’ve allowed the co-captains a little bit more freedom to speak in meetings,” he said.

But the real key to addressing challenges in your leadership is to never stop learning.

“I’m really open about it. I don’t know anywhere near enough about leadership,” he added.

“I like to get feedback from different guys in the squad from different experience levels. I’m by no means a ‘know-it-all’.”

It was a refreshing statement from our nation’s hockey figurehead and a reminder that elite athletes are just like you and I…except they have six-packs.

Knowles’ five ways to become a great leader

1. Never think you have all the answers

“I’m at a stage of my life where I don’t have five to 10 years left in the sport and I need to pick up things as quick as I can. I love hearing other people in other sports and career paths and how they’re learning and how they’re leading and for me that’s all about the growth that I need to keep having.”

2. A strong work ethic/will is a must

“I’ve always wanted to do it. There are some people who don’t like being a leader, some people who don’t like having people looking up at them all the time. I’ve always had that personality.”

3. Have role models and learn from them

“I think you’ve got to have role models. When I was growing up, I had people who I was looking up to.”

4. Be honest and approachable

Liam Brown has done his fair share of travelling. Photo: Husted Images
Liam Brown has done his fair share of travelling. Photo: Husted Images

“I think for me it’s about being real, just to not chop and change your message all the time for different people. I am very clear in what I like players to do and how I like them to act and behave on and off the field.

“That doesn’t vary whether you’re a rookie first gamer or someone like Jamie Dwyer. You have to be real with yourself and real with your team-mates.”

5. Time your message

“That’s the hardest part… I always feel that I could do more or the players could do more but it’s not necessarily required or needed at that time.

“That’s been the hardest thing for me, to put things into perspective and put them to the side if they need to be or up front if they do need to be.”

Walking a mile in his shoes

Talk about doing the hard yards.

Toowoomba hockey player Liam Brown has reached a sporting milestone 66,000km in the making.

The 28-year-old played his 200th top-grade game in the Brisbane Hockey League on July 18.

For 13 seasons, Brown has travelled from his home town of Toowoomba to Brisbane to play and train.

He has racked up about 66,000km along the way, spending roughly 770 hours or 32 full days travelling in the car.

Congrats, Liam!

Tim Doutré tweets here.

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