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  • 35 Teen Leadership Activities and Games [Every High School Teen Should Play]
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  • December 2, 2022

A high school teenager heading up a leadership game among her fellow student peers

Many teens show excellent potential to become young leaders in the future, and if they wish to improve and develop those skills to the next level , there is good news: There are now tons of teen leadership activities and team building games that cultivate leadership abilities and grant participants the skills to be great managers and successful leaders one day, whether currently middle school students, high schoolers, or older career-bound team leaders. 

These games are an effective way to help youth leaders master the different skills needed to bring a whole class of peers together, which can result in young tweens or teens leading large groups and making an impressive mark on their school , community, or the world at large. Below are 35 activities and games that can help any teen develop their leadership skills so they can land the job of their dreams one day, whether that’s teaching an elementary school class or heading a board of directors meeting for a Fortune 500 company.

This 60-minute game requires teens to maneuver through a minefield without stepping on any mines. Fake mines are placed in strategic areas of the minefield and the team members have to work together to remember where the mines are and figure out how to walk across the lot without hitting a mine. The game improves problem-solving skills and teamwork.

  • The Human Knot

For this game, everyone stands in a circle and extends their hands into the middle of the circle. The first thing you’ll do is grab a hand without looking at who it belongs to, then hold another hand with your remaining hand. Once everyone does this, a tangled knot will appear, and it’s up to everyone in the circle to figure out how to get untangled, which invariably requires some team work and effective leadership from a problem solving participant or two.

Great leaders realize that there are often many options when trying to get out of a particular situation. In this game, the “leader” presents various options to the group, and each member has a sticky note that they’ll place on the option they favor. It’s up to the leader to help those who are unsure which option to choose, which can make this an interesting game when it comes to managing interpersonal relationships without coming off as too authoritarian and allowing peers the feeling of ownership of a task, even if they’ve allowed the leader to influence their decision.

  • What I Need from You

A common goal for all leaders in this activity is to make it clear what is expected of the team, especially if the team is virtual, remote, or of a large group size. Each member of the team tells the rest of the team what they need for a particular project, and each leader and the rest of the team members all have to understand what that need is. This is a great work environment simulation to help young adults speak up and ensure they are heard, even when their lack of seniority, inexperience, or lower age tempts them to shrink back or shy away.

For this game, have everyone sit in a circle. One person is blindfolded and goes to the center of the circle. They explore the area with the help of the people in the circle, who are directing this person and keeping them safe. Each person gets the chance to be the person in the center.

  • Jigsaw Puzzle Pieces

Start this game by dividing people up into small groups. Each group is given puzzle pieces to put together, and they’re timed, but they don’t know that their pieces are only part of the whole puzzle. The teams have to coordinate with one another to complete the entire puzzle.

  • Incoming Tide Survival

This game should be played with 8-16 young people, who pretend they’re on a deserted island and have to create a structure to help them leave the island, using only the materials that they are given at the beginning of the game. Time the game at 45 minutes. This is one of the best games to develop creative thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as fast action-oriented solutions, thanks to the time limit.

  • Video Scavenger Hunt

Divide the group into 4- to 8-member teams . Each team videotapes themselves searching for the items they need to find. This is another of the many team-building activities that requires the teams to work together in order to complete the project and find as many items as possible. The team with the most items wins the game.

  • Active Listening

This is a fun game that requires active listening skills. Each team has 3 members: a subject who explores the question asked, a listener totally focused on the subject, and an observer who watches the other 2 members interact. 

  • Start, Stop, Continue

Perfect for virtual teams, you start by creating a situation and asking all members if the team should start something, stop something, or continue as they are already doing. It is good for improving communication skills and creating openness.

  • Four Leaders

This game requires a form that you can download, and four teams try to work through a certain scenario using one of four leadership attitudes: positive attitude, negative attitude, your own desire, and the desires of others. Decide the scenarios ahead of time.

This is a game you can play with high school students even in the middle of the school year. It doesn’t take after-hours time to do it. Give teams of 6 to 12 members 30 minutes, and it requires one blindfolded person to find a “bomb,” with only what other members are saying to help them find it. The nice thing about this high-stakes scenario and common group goal is that it facilitates healthy relationships and positive communication for teams under duress or high-pressure situations.

  • Volunteer Activities

Today’s teen leaders are tomorrow’s adult leaders, and teens can discover what their leadership qualities are by volunteering in the community. The best part about community service is that teens can always volunteer with organizations that do the type of work they’re interested in and wish to do one day themselves, thus broadening their professional network and gaining experience and exposure to industries, organizations, and causes of interest.

  • Leadership Camps

To discover their leadership style, teens can attend workshops, camps, or masterclasses on how to become a better leader. These activities are easy to find and are usually led by experts in the field, giving teens a great way to get a head start in accelerating their leadership potential and empowering them to set goals and pursue projects or opportunities that call for independent, influential leaders.

  • Local Politics

From public speaking to learning from various role models, teens always benefit from getting involved in local politics. There are numerous internships and volunteer positions that help improve teens’ leadership skills, giving them opportunities to learn a lot about this field. Starting with school politics (like student government) and advancing to local politics (like city council) can forge a path and passion for a future career in government or perhaps inspire the next presidential candidate!

  • Clubs and Sports

School is not just for learning; it’s also a way to develop skills outside of the classroom. Clubs and sports make it easy for kids to learn all about leadership in a fun way, and with these groups, there is truly something for everyone.

  • Pass the Can

To get started, have everyone sit in a circle and put an object – such as a rock or can opener – in a can. Have them pass the can around but each time, the leader has to give them special instructions ; for example, you can’t use your hands, you have to use your feet, etc. This activity not only cultivates leadership, but it also promotes innovation, creativity, problem-solving, and outside-the-box thinking.

  • 30 Seconds Left

Becoming a better leader requires really knowing the people under you. Ask the team to tell everyone else about their best achievements and accomplishments, but tell them they only have 30 seconds to do so. It’s a good game to get to know others on a personal level, as well as to help players develop a concise personal statement or personal pitch, which will come in handy in future interviews, competitions, and job applications.

Here’s another of the group games that is both fun and educational. Ask each member to write down 5 icebreaker questions to ask the other members. Have the members count their “yes” answers and whoever has the most points wins the game.

  • Regularly Scheduled Game Nights

Regular game nights can be as good as leadership workshops. They allow for bonding between the team members, allow everyone to have fun, and require a leader to emerge in order to be successful. Choose card games, board games, or anything else that appeals to you.

  • Student Media

Leaders excel when they’re involved in student media, including the school newspaper and yearbook . If you love to write and share information with others, this is the activity for you. Plus, it helps with decision-making and working closely with others, while also delivering an impressive, finished product that looks great on a resume or college application.

  • Confidence Course

The confidence course, also called an obstacle course, is perfect for future leaders because it’s tough and takes a lot to finish. Once you’re done with the course, you’ll be amazed at how good you feel, and it takes certain leadership skills in order to complete it successfully. Confidence courses are usually hard both physically and emotionally, so they are really a challenge.

  • STEM Competitions

STEM competitions take place locally and internationally , and the better leader you are, the more successful you are at these competitions. Even better, you can easily find the most recent list of the competitions in many places on the Internet. They are easy to find, fun to attend, impressive on your credentials, and great life experiences to demonstrate the leadership concepts you’ve been honing.

  • Student Council

Running for the student council requires teens to be good leaders and very organized, so there are multiple benefits. These organizations are also good for developing both professional and personal growth, and it can increase the number of friends you have, too. One benefit of student council is that it forces students of varying cultural values, interests, and priorities to come together for the highest good of their class and school, which can create interesting debates, discussions, and peaceful compromises on the road to each decision and chosen action.

  • Planning Lunches or Dinners

Student leadership skills can be developed while planning group meals in order to plan certain activities. You can bond with other people and plan an organized activity at the same time, both of which are excellent skills to learn. You also get to eat, which is the best part of the entire activity!

  • Escape Room

An escape room is a game that is offered by companies that specialize in these types of activities. They are often utilized by entire families while on vacation, and they are rooms designed to “escape” from something, such as the guillotine or the zombie apocalypse! The best thing about escape rooms is that they’re inherently enjoyable, exciting, and adrenaline-inducing, thus creating a positive memorable experience in which leadership and teamwork are just seamless byproducts of the primary activity.

Book clubs are great because they need people to lead the group each month. Teens can choose fun books that they actually want to read, then choose a different person to lead the group every time they meet. It’s best if this activity goes on for many months, but it’s not a requirement. The most ambitious leaders in book clubs may decide to run a book drive or theme each club meeting and chosen book around a community issue and aim to solve it or positively contribute to it through a joint activity, so the club is much more than simply a reading and discussion club, but also an altruistic community service-oriented mission group.

  • Collaborate to Create

Get into a group and decide what type of story you want to write, then have each member write just a certain section of the book. In order for the book to sound good and be cohesive, the team has to work together and collaborate on everything. This is a good activity for conflict resolution because problems can easily arise as the group is tasked with molding their individual and disjointed sections into a well-structured story that makes sense with an ultimate resolution.

  • Photo Finish (Similar to Electric Fence)

Draw a line on the floor and have a team on either side. Taking turns with the teams, have them cross the line to the other side when you say “go.” This is one of those games that sounds easy but often requires some problem-solving and other skills to be successful. Oftentimes, participants are thinking of “why” they should cross the line and are hesitant.

  • Community Bingo

Have designated individuals that organize mock bingo games with other students. Have those individuals organize the entire activity from start to finish. There is a lot involved in planning and organizing this type of activity, so a lot of responsibility and organizational skills are required, particularly for young children or tweens who’ve never organized a large group event.

  • Get Off the Sofa

For this game, have 4-6 teens sit on a sofa, then choose a leader for each group. Have the leader try to get the teens off the sofa by asking about something they like to do. For instance, you can lure them off the sofa by asking if they like washing their car, helping with chores, playing video games, etc.

  • Tag Team Snack Challenge

This one is good for teaching various life skills. Divide people into small groups and have each group prepare a snack without speaking. Let the members of each group take turns with a certain instruction, and give each member 30 seconds to complete their part of the routine.

  • Discussion About Leaders

Have a group discussion about leaders each member admires. Have that member tell who they admire – even if it’s someone they don’t personally know – and have them describe to the group why they admire this person. This activity is usually a real eye-opener for all of the participants, not to mention interesting.

  • Round Tables

Set up 4-5 tables, depending on how many participants you have, and designate leaders that will go to a certain table and give them an activity to complete, which could be something to make or something similar. The goal is to see how clearly each leader communicates with the members.

Have everyone in the group write down keywords that describe themselves, then have everyone share their own keywords with the rest of the group. This activity can identify potential leaders and also tell you what each participant thinks of themselves.

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leadership activities for high school athletes

Demonstrating Leadership as a High School Sports Captain

leadership activities for high school athletes

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There is no question that leading other people is not easy. Whether it means taking charge in a group project for school, putting together a fundraiser or a volunteer event, or even coordinating social plans on a Friday night, it can be at times difficult and time-consuming to try to get people to listen to you and work together to benefit the group as a whole.

This being said, for all the trials and tribulations that one might have to go through in a leadership position, there are usually many benefits as well. This is certainly the case in high school sports. Becoming a team captain for your high school sports team can be a fulfilling experience that offers many professional and personal benefits. Read on to find out more about how you can set a model for leadership as a sports captain.

Introduction to Leadership in Sports

Every sport is different in the amount of teamwork it requires, but even more individual sports teams (like wrestling and tennis) train together and have a certain team dynamic. Whether it is an individualized or a team sport, all sports can benefit from having a student leader, and so high school sports teams usually have a student captain.

Many high school sports teams have a captain in addition to a professional coach because student athletes might have a better rapport with their teammates than an adult coach. Although a coach might be able to relate to students more than a teacher or another authority figure, there is no question that student captains will obviously have more common ground with other students.

For students who are chosen to be captains, taking on a leadership position can also be helpful for college applications—admissions committees want to see students who are able to take on responsibility and work well with others. For more information about taking on leadership roles, check out this CollegeVine blog post .

Becoming Captain of Your Sports Team

Typically, the process of becoming captain of your high school sports team will vary from school to school. Usually, the process will depend upon some combination of the opinion of your peers and the opinion of your coaches. For example, the team might have a vote to determine candidates, and the coach might make the final designation. For clarification of your specific school and team’s procedures, you should ask your coach.

If you’re seeking out a leadership position on your team, it is in your best interest to make sure you are well-respected and well-liked by your team members. Show up to events on time and make an effort to engage with all members of the team (not just the members who might happen to be your friends). Offer to help others on your team out, and be sure that you’re not a show-off or a ball hog.

You should also make sure that you are an experienced and solid performer in your sport—although this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be the very top player on the team.

In addition, it will be helpful if you display dedication and visibly work hard towards team goals. If the team is looking to improve its strategy, you should be helping to make these changes. If there are conflicts within your team that need to get resolved, get involved and help your team members talk it out. You should also be trustworthy and work well with your coach—if you do end up becoming captain, you’ll be working hard alongside him or her, so you want to demonstrate that you can handle the responsibility and helpful to both your team members and your coach.   

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Leadership on the Field

One major aspect of demonstrating leadership as a sports captain is being a leader on the field, on the court, or in the gym. This means taking responsibility for tasks delegated to you by your coach—these tasks will vary a lot from team to team, so be sure to ask your coach if you’re not sure what is required of you or what will be helpful. Be sure that you provide direction and encouragement to your teammates during training and practice sessions. You should also try to give substantive feedback that others can use to improve. Try to think of how you can benefit the team as a whole, not just how you can give yourself opportunities to shine.

In addition, you should try to come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different team members in order to help craft and support a successful overall strategy. Lastly, one of the most important ways you can lead is to set a good example—pay attention to your coach and be sure to show them respect, play fair, and be sure to show good sportsmanship even when a game or event doesn’t necessarily go your way.

Leadership off the Field

While there are many ways in which you can demonstrate your leadership skills on the field, there are also ways that you can do this off the field. First of all, you can maintain the expectations of good behavior and practice what you preach. This might mean taking the high road where others might be tempted to do something immature (perhaps something like making fun of the members of a competing team).

You should also try to set a good example for maintaining academic performance and balancing priorities as a student athlete. This might mean staying in on a Friday night to study for a test because you know you’ll have training all weekend, or it might mean working on your homework together with teammates before or after practice.

It may also be wise to maintain close relationships with other members of the team and to encourage others to do the same—not only can social tensions impede the athletic performance of a team, but they can also be unpleasant for any and all of the teammates involved! Remember that if there’s a problem between two or more members of your team, it is always best to try and communicate in order to resolve the issue rather than remaining passive aggressive and allowing tensions to worsen.

In general, if you want to demonstrate leadership as a high school sports captain, you should strive to be someone that your team members can emulate and look up to. Perhaps you have a personal hero of your own in athletics or otherwise—think of this individual and ask yourself what they might do in a given situation involving your team.

In order to demonstrate leadership both on and off the field, it is most important that you lead by example. Continue to be the type of team member that thinks about the entire group rather than just him or herself, and be respectful to your coach as well. While taking on the role of team captain might be difficult and straining at times, there is no question that with proper consideration and dedication, this role can be very beneficial both to you personally and to your teammates.

For more information about leadership roles and student athletics, check out these blog posts:

Your Resume, Revamped: Securing Leadership Positions and Perfecting your Extracurricular Profile

A Guide to Leadership Roles in Music Groups

Leading Your School’s Chapter of UNICEF Club

Extracurricular Activities for Student Athletes

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leadership activities for high school athletes

83 Leadership Activities, Building Games, and Exercises

leadership activities and exercises

Leadership activities are associated with benefits to business, including increased performance and productivity.

However, perhaps the sign of a truly successful leader is a happy, healthy workplace. Interested in what leadership activities can do for your workplace or school? Read on.

With the activities below, there may be some overlap with activities found under certain headings – for example, activities suitable for adults may also be useful for groups, or with employees.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Work & Career Coaching Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify opportunities for professional growth and create a more meaningful career.

This Article Contains:

What are leadership activities, what are they used for, 8 examples of leadership activities, 4 leadership workshop ideas, 2 activities that showcase different leadership styles, 3 situational leadership activities and scenarios, 8 games and activities for kids to learn leadership skills, 6 leadership development activities for teens and youth (pdf), 3 classroom leadership activities for students in elementary and middle school, 6 leadership activities and games for high school students, 3 activities and exercises for college students (pdf), 7 leadership games and activities for adults, 5 leadership group and team activities, 8 leadership training activities for employees, 5 leadership building exercises for managers, 11 leadership exercises for team building in the workplace, a take-home message.

Increasingly, people are assuming positions of leadership in the workplace (Cserti, 2018). However, the journey to becoming a leader is lengthy (Cserti, 2018). Leadership activities are valuable on the journey to becoming an effective leader , and also develop confidence in leadership teams (Cserti, 2018; Stepshift, 2016).

Leadership activities may be conducted on or off site, and be physical or sedentary (Stepshift, 2016). Leadership activities can either be performed by a leader in their own team, or with an external facilitator (Cserti, 2018). They may take the form of specially organized themed events, such as scavenger hunts (Stepshift, 2016). Or, they may be smaller, office-based tasks built into an ordinary workday.

For example, leadership activities could consist of meeting openers or conference break activities (Stepshift, 2016).

Leadership activities can be an effective way for individuals to practice and strengthen their leadership and team-building skills (Cserti, 2018). They can also be fun!

The structure of leadership activities is essential. It is important that the participants can relate the activity to the workplace setting (Stepshift, 2016).

The 10 Skills Every Leadership Coach Should Teach

The working style, principles, and values of a leader is a crucial aspect in determining the behavior within an organization (Cserti, 2018). Leadership training can help leaders become role-models (Cserti, 2018). The behavior of leaders and what they consider the “norm” determines which behaviors are enforced and those which are punished (Cserti, 2018).

Given the importance of a leader’s behavior, it is also essential that they learn skills, such as:


Leaders need to develop the ability to clearly, succinctly explain to employees everything from the goals of a company to the details of specific work-tasks (Doyle, 2019). Many components are important for effective communication , including active listening, reading body language and written communication such as emails (Doyle, 2019).

Leaders need to inspire employees. They may do this by increasing worker’s self-esteem , by recognizing effort and achievement, or by giving a worker new responsibilities to further their investment in the business (Doyle, 2019).

Leaders can achieve this by identifying the skills that workers have, and as such assign tasks to each worker based on the skills they have (Doyle, 2019).

Being positive helps develop a happy , healthy work environment, even when the workplace is busy or stressful (Doyle, 2019).


By demonstrating integrity , workers will feel at ease to approach their leader with questions or concerns (Doyle, 2019). Building trust is one of the most essential leadership skills.

Good leaders are willing to try novel solutions or to approach problems in a non-traditional way (Doyle, 2019).

Leaders are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to provide team members with information about their performance, without ‘micromanaging’ their work (Doyle, 2019).


A good leader accepts mistakes or failures and instead look for solutions for improvement of a situation (Doyle, 2019). This skill also includes being reflective and being open to feedback (Doyle, 2019).

A leader should strive to follow through with everything that they agree to do (Doyle, 2019). It also involves applying appropriate feedback and keeping promises (Doyle, 2019).


Leaders need to be able to accept changes and creatively problem-solve, as well as being open to suggestions and feedback (Doyle, 2019).

While these skills are explained in a workplace context, they can easily be applied to other leadership situations such as sports or community groups.

Now that you have more clarity as to what leadership activities are, and what they are used for, let us look at a wide selection of activities. While some of the activities and games may not immediately appear to be ‘leadership activities,’ the chosen activities might develop and promote the leadership skills outlined above.

7 Ways to Practice Leadership Without Actually Being a Leader

Here are eight such activities:

  • Sports Sports provide the experience of being a team member and developing leadership skills (Flavin, 2018).
  • Cross-cultural experience Experiences with a different culture provide new, potentially uncomfortable situations and help develop communication skills that may not be learned elsewhere (Flavin, 2018). Overseas travel, or working with a different cultural group within your community can provide an opportunity to learn new skills, or may involve barriers that must be overcome – all teaching leadership (Flavin, 2018).
  • Social groups Involvement in social activities helps potential leaders develop a well-rounded, confident personality which enhances their capacity to lead a team (Flavin, 2018).
  • Internships Taking an internship position demonstrates initiative in finding opportunities to learn and seeking practical work – valuable skills in leadership (Flavin, 2018).
  • Volunteering As well as showing ambition, volunteering shows that you are willing to commit yourself to something that you are passionate about (Flavin, 2018).
  • Student government and organizations Specifically considering students, being involved in co-curricular organizations help individuals develop leadership (Flavin, 2018). Being involved in student government or organizations can provide opportunities to demonstrate leadership and have an impact on those around you (Flavin, 2018).
  • ‘Passion projects’ Showing commitment to a passion for better communities; for example, mentoring shows that you are likely to focus on the greater good for a team (Flavin, 2018).
  • ‘Teamwork’ This can be anything at all, from helping out with planning a family event or participating in a volunteer day, will demonstrate and develop leadership skills (Flavin, 2018).

leadership activities for high school athletes

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These 17 Work & Career Coaching Exercises [PDF] contain everything you need to help others find more meaning and satisfaction in their work.

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Effective leaders are aware that continuing professional and personal development is the key to ongoing success (Higgins, 2018). As such, they recognize that leadership workshops are important (Higgins, 2018). What activities can be used in such a workshop?

Here are four suggestions:

Idea 1: ‘Tallest Tower’ (from Stepshift, 2016)

Participants are provided with everyday items such as toothpicks, wooden blocks, uncooked pasta and so on. The task is to build the tallest possible free-standing structure from the materials provided. This activity is designed to encourage creative problem-solving and developing collaboration skills.

Idea 2: ‘Centre Stage’ (from Higgins, 2018)

Select four team members as volunteers. One team member plays the role of an employee who has missed meetings or been late to work in recent times. Each of the other three participants demonstrates a different style of leader (to save time, nominate the particular personality trait). Ask all participants to form a circle, and put two chairs in the middle of the circle.

After each demonstration of how to deal with the employee, ask the whole group to reflect on the different leadership approaches. For example, the group could consider what worked and what did not. Finally, to conclude this activity, ask the group to consider what the ‘ideal’ leader would do in the scenario.

Idea 3: ‘Minefield’ (from Stepshift, 2016)

This activity helps build trust and improve communication skills. It involves participants working in pairs, with one team member being blindfolded. Then, using only specified communication techniques, the pair negotiate their way around or over a ‘minefield’ of obstacles.

So, for example, the participants may be told they are only able to use commands such as the words ‘left’ or ‘right,’ ‘forwards’ or ‘backwards.’ The aim is to help the blindfolded team member to navigate the ‘minefield’.

Idea 4: ‘Magic Carpet’ (from Higgins, 2018)

Provide a small tarp or rug, which has enough room for all workshop participants to stand within its boundaries. Then, inform the group that their task is to work together to flip the rug or tarp over without any participant stepping off. If (or when) a participant steps off the teams have discussed all of the paragraphs or tarp, the team must begin again.

Leadership styles

These are: autocratic (also known as authoritarian), delegative (also called ‘free reign)’ and democratic (which is also called participative) (Clark, 2015; Johnson-Gerard, 2017).

An autocratic leader makes decisions without first consulting others, while a delegative leader allows the staff to make the decisions (Johnson-Gerard, 2017). Finally, a democratic leader consults with the staff in making workplace decisions (Johnson-Gerard, 2017).

Here is an excellent resource for exploring different leadership styles.

The workbook also provides some helpful worksheets.

The following two activities help participants think more deeply about styles of leadership. The group should be divided into small groups of 3 – 4 participants. The participants work in groups for the first activity, and then they work individually on the second activity.

Activity One (Clark, 2015)

Provide a list of approximately 10 – 12 scenarios displaying the three different leadership styles. For example, “a new supervisor has just been put in charge of the production line. He immediately starts by telling the crew what change needs to be made. When some suggestions are made, he tells them he does not have time to consider them”.

The group then works together to figure out which leadership style is used in each scenario and to talk about whether it is effective, or if a different style could work better.

Encourage participants to think about themselves in a similar situation and their reaction to the particular leadership style.

Activity Two (Clark, 2015)

Provide participants with the statement ‘consider a time when you, or another leader, used the authoritarian (autocratic), participative (democratic) or delegative (free reign) style of leadership’.

Ask participants to reflect on the statement and make a few comments, such as: was it effective? Would a different leadership style have worked better? What were the employees’ experiences? Did they learn from the leadership style? What was it they learned? Which style is easiest to use (and why)? Alternatively, nominate the style which the participant prefers (and why).

To conclude these two activities, come together as a whole group and discuss what was learned about the three styles of leadership.

Leadership building activities – Project management training – ProjectManager

Situational leadership is when a leader is flexible in their approach and uses different leadership strategies depending on the situation (Johnson-Gerard, 2017). The following three games, from Johnson-Gerard (2017) provide an opportunity to explore situational leadership:

1. ‘Jumping Ship’

The aim of this game is for participants to reflect upon different leadership styles and come up with a list of actual workplace scenarios which would need a leader to abandon a natural leadership style for one that is more effective (i.e., to ‘jump ship’).

Each group is given three large pieces of paper. Ask the teams to write one style of leadership on each (i.e., autocratic, delegative, democratic). Then, allow the groups 45 minutes to come up with real work situations for which employing the particular leadership style would be disastrous.

Ask the groups to place the sheets of paper up on the wall, and to discuss the sheets as a team. As a whole group, review the posters.

2. ‘Who Ya Gonna Call’

Each participant begins by writing a one-paragraph description of a work situation that is not going well. Collect these, and at the top of each page, number them in consecutive order. Then, divide the participants into two teams.

Give each team half of the paragraphs. Then, ask the teams to choose the style of leadership that would be the least and the most effective in solving the problem. Have the teams note their answers on a piece of paper, being sure to identify the paragraph number on the top of each page, and their choices.

Then, ask the teams to swap paragraphs and repeat the activity.

When the teams have discussed all the paragraphs, discuss the scenarios and review the choices as a group. Where the team’s choices are different, discuss as a group.

3. ‘Ducks in a Row’

This particular activity enables participants to devise a 3-to-5 step decision-making process they can use when challenging leadership situations occur.

Ask participants to form pairs. Then, ask them to come up with the steps that an effective leader goes through in order to work out how to manage a difficult situation. After about 30 minutes, ask each pair to review the steps they have come up with for the group, and to write them on a large piece of paper.

Ask every pair to review their process, and after all the pairs have done so, have a group discussion that enables a consensus to be reached about the three to five most effective steps to take in a difficult leadership situation.

Fun exercises for children

Edsys (2016) provides eight suggested activities for children to learn leadership skills:

1. ‘Create a New You’

Provide children with materials such as textas, crayons, poster/construction paper, magazines, and scissors. Then, ask them to draw themselves, using things that clearly show that the picture is theirs – such as using cut-outs of their most favorite things to do, foods they like, pets, and whatever else makes them unique.

Once the children have finished their posters, they can show their completed work to the other children – helping kids to improve their confidence to lead.

2. ‘Same or Different’

The children sit in a circle. Ask the first child to point to another child in the circle who is similar to them, either in appearance, hair-style or clothing color. Then, when the child has chosen someone, ask them to note other differences and similarities they have with the child they have chosen.

3. ‘Move the Egg’

Ask children to form groups of four or five. Then, have the children select a leader for their team. Each participant is given a spoon and an egg. The leader has the task of finding an effective way to move the eggs from one point to another. For example, one option may be for children to form a line to pass each egg along.

Another leader may suggest forgetting about the spoons altogether and merely tell their group to make a run for it. The winner of the game is the group that can get their egg safely across the finish in the most creative way.

4. ‘Lead the Blindfolded’

This game requires a large indoor or outdoor area. Divide the children into two groups and give them enough blindfolds for everyone except one member to put on. The teams are placed at opposite sides of the space. The child who is not blindfolded is required to lead their team to the other side of the designated space, using clear commands.

Ensure that each member of the team has an opportunity to lead their team. The winner is the team that sees its members successfully cross the finish line.

5. ‘Charity Support’

Help children support a charity by organizing a fundraiser. Each child can have a different task. For example, one child may select the charity, another may find a suitable space to hold the fundraising activity, and another child can collect donations.

6. ‘Planning Strategies’

Teach children to divide a large task into smaller steps. Set the children a large task, such as holding a class function. Show the children a plan that enables them to achieve the task step by step. This activity can involve a number of children sharing tasks. Suggest to the children how they may be able to improve.

7. ‘Volunteer Roles’

Volunteering plays a role in leadership. Discuss with children how they would like to help someone in need. Older children may be interested in taking a role in an organization in their community. The children should be helped to select a volunteer opportunity that gives them a chance to practice leadership and work with other children.

8. ‘A Quick Quiz’

In this task, ask students to be prepared to evaluate an experience when it is over. Then, after the experience, ask the child questions. For example, inquire “Do you remember the name of the dog we saw?”, “What was it?”, “Did you touch the dog?”, “What is the owner’s name?” and so on.

This is an excellent introduction to leadership for kids in grades 4 – 6 (children aged approximately 9 – 12 years).

The following resources are appropriate for helping teens and youth to develop leadership:

1. “Leaders are, can, and think”

This looks at what a leader is, and what their role can and should be.

2. “Who do you admire and why?”

This worksheet examines leadership role models and the qualities we see in them that we want to develop in ourselves.

3. “4 Ways leaders approach tasks: Leaders Motivation”

This handout focuses on leadership attitude.

4. “Lesson Planet”

Links to 45+ reviewed resources for teen leadership which can be accessed free by registering your details.

5. The Women’s Learning Partnership

This partnership has created a comprehensive manual for promoting leadership for teens aged 13 – 17 years. The manual outlines a number of sessions which guide leadership development activities.

6. “I Care Values Activity”

This is a fun, engaging and introspective activity . It is suitable for students aged 13 and upwards, so it can be used with older students or adults too.

Leadership games

Examples of such activities are:

1. ‘Just Listen’ (Edsys, 2016)

Make an agreement that you and the student(s) will refrain from talking about yourselves for a whole day. Ask them, rather, to listen to others, and if they do talk to another person, it should be about the person whom they are talking to. This game helps children to learn how important it is to focus on other people rather than themselves, which forms the basis of ‘relational leadership’.

2. Silence Classroom Leadership Game (Stapleton, 2018).

To begin the activity, the teacher divides students into two teams, and the teams move to either side of the classroom. The desks may be pushed aside to create more space. The teacher instructs the students to, for example, ‘line up according to the first letter of your surname’ or ‘arrange yourselves into age order by the month your birthday is in’. The students then follow the directions without speaking a word to one another.

Students are permitted to use hand signals, or even write instructions down on paper. The teacher’s instruction to the students is that they are not allowed to talk. The winning team is the one that completes the task successfully.

3. ‘The Cup Game’ (Tony, 2018)

Divide students into pairs and select one student to be the leader. Each team should face each other standing up, with a plastic cup in the middle. The leader calls out simple directions, such as ‘touch your knee’, ‘close one eye’ and so on.

When the leader calls out “cup” the students should try and be the first to grab the cup. The player who successfully grabs the cup should pair up with another player who also got the cup. Those without a cup sit down and watch.

Once the new teams of two have formed, the cup is put in between the players and the game begins again. This process continues until only one person is left standing – and the resulting winner becomes the new leader… and play can begin all over again.

By high school, students are more sophisticated. Here are some interesting activities for high school students to develop leadership.

1. Brainstorming for change (Stapleton, 2018)

The teacher puts students into groups of 4 or 5. The goal is for students to come up with possible solutions to social, political or economic problems. Working together, students brainstorm both small- and large-scale solutions to a given problem topic.

Once the groups have finalized their list of detailed solutions, the teacher facilitates a discussion with the whole class, and together they examine which of the identified solutions could be a viable option and why.

2. Leadership characteristics (Stapleton, 2018)

The teacher puts students into pairs or groups of three. Then, each group member shares a story about someone whom they consider to be an influential leader. After each story has been shared, students discuss the characteristics that they think made the person in the story an effective leader.

Once each student has shared a story, students compile a list of all the characteristics of an influential leader they identified. Post these characteristics on the walls around the classroom.

3. Blindfold leader game (Stapleton, 2018)

The teacher arranges the students into a single line, and comes up with a starting point and finishing point. Then, the teacher places a blindfold on every student except for the student who is at the front of the line.

The teacher tells each student to put their left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front of them. Next, the teacher says “go”. The aim is for the leader (who is not blindfolded) to walk towards the finishing point, providing instructions to students behind, who are blindfolded.

An extra challenging game sees the teacher putting obstacles in the path – the leader must direct followers on how to avoid the obstacles and successfully reach the finish line. When this goal is achieved, a different student takes a turn of being the leader.

4. Buckets and balls (Cohen, 2017)

This game aims to move all the balls from one box to another. The catch is, team members cannot use their hands or arms. In equal-sized teams, players choose one ‘handler’ per team. This is the only person who can touch the balls with their hands.

The handler must remain behind the start line throughout the game. Team members attempt to get balls from their bucket at the finish line, and get them to the team’s handler without the ball touching their hands or arms.

The handler places the balls into the empty bucket at the start line. If a team member touches the ball, they are disqualified and can no longer participate. Give teams a 5-minute time limit. All teams play at the same time, and the team that has the most balls in the handler’s bucket at the end of the game wins.

5. Team jigsaw (Cohen, 2017)

Two teams have to complete a jigsaw puzzle within a 20 – 30-minute time limit. Give each team a box containing a puzzle. At first, A body will assume that their task is to complete the puzzle. As they work on it, however, teams will realize that the puzzle is missing some of its pieces and has some additional pieces that do not fit their puzzle.

Teams then have the task to communicate with one another, and they will eventually realize that they need to work together to complete the puzzle. Teams are only allowed to exchange pieces of the puzzle one at a time.

6. ‘Sneak-a-peak’ (Cohen, 2017)

Divide participants into two teams. Build a structure out of Lego. Make it complicated, but able to be replicated. Ensure that there is sufficient Lego left to build two similar copies of the structure.

Make sure that this structure is kept out of eyesight.

A player from each team is allowed to see the structure for 10 seconds. Then, the players will return to their respective teams and have 25 seconds in which to give his/her team instruction as to how to build the structure. Then, the teams have 1 minute to build the structure.

When that minute is up, another team member takes a look at the structure for 10 seconds and has a further 25 seconds to deliver their instructions to their team.

This process continues until all the team members have had a chance to examine the structure and provide instructions. The team that successfully built the structure is the winner.

Leadership and team building exercised for students

  • “ The Leadership Training Activity Book ” by Lois. B. Hart and Charlotte S. Waisman (2005) contains 50 handouts for leadership activities that would be suitable for college students. Find it on Amazon .
  • This resource provides helpful leadership tip sheets that are suitable for college students. Examples of tip sheets are “ten keys to effective listening” and “basic confrontation guidelines”.
  • Another valuable resource that can be used to develop team-building – an aspect of leadership.

A wide range of leadership activities are suitable for adults:

1. The Marshmallow Challenge

In this activity , teams use spaghetti sticks, tape and string to construct the tallest free-standing structure. They are given one marshmallow, which must be placed at the top of the structure. Devised by Tom Wujec.

2. ‘Stand up’ (Landau, 2018)

This game is convenient in that it requires no materials. It involves two people. They sit on the floor, facing one another. They hold hands, and the soles of their feet are placed together. Then, the task is for both people to stand up at the same time. This game builds trust and teamwork, and also develops skills in problem solving and collaboration.

3. Zoom (Stepshift, 2016)

A set of randomly provided sequential pictures are given to the participants. The task requires participants to put the pictures in the correct order to recreate the story, without knowing which pictures the other participants have. This activity can be an effective way to improve communication, patience, and tolerance.

4. ‘You’re a Poet’ (Landau, 2018)

To harness creativity and reflect on leadership concepts, one activity for adults is to write a poem. This activity can be done individually or in small groups. The aim is to consider leadership in creative ways to find new perspectives.

5. ‘Leadership Pizza’ (Cserti, 2018)

This activity can help adults develop leadership. It does so by providing a self-assessment tool. People begin by identifying the skills, attitudes, and attributes that they consider being important for successful leadership. The individual then rates their own development in the defined areas. The framework can also provide a helpful tool in assisting adults in identifying their leadership development goals in a coaching session.

6. Leadership advice from your role model (Cserti, 2018)

Each participant considers a role model who they admire. They then think about a young person they know. If the young person was to ask the role model for leadership advice, what kind of advice would the role model give?

In groups, discuss and share the sort of advice identified and talk about contradicting points and how they can be reconciled. This sharing discussion may be a practical introduction to the idea of situational leadership.

7. ‘Crocodile River’ (Cserti, 2018)

This outdoor activity challenges a group to physically provide support to the group members’ behavior move from one end of a designated space to the other.

Participants are told to pretend that the whole team must cross a wide river which contains dangerous crocodiles. Magic stones (which are represented by wooden planks) provide the only supports to be used to cross the river (which has ‘banks’ that are marked out by two ropes).

These ‘stones’ only float on the water if there is constant body contact. These ‘stones’ (i.e., the wooden planks) are placed next to the ‘river bank’ – there should be one less plank than the total number of participants. As part of the game, if a participant’s hand or foot touches the ‘water’, it will be bitten off (if this happens during the challenge, the participant must hold the hand behind their back).

The facilitator then pretends to be the ‘crocodile’, keeping a close eye on the group as they attempt to cross the river. When one of the stones (the planks) is not in body contact, it is removed. When participants mistakenly touch the ground with their hands or feet, tell them that the limb has therefore been bitten off and the player must continue without using it.

This activity continues until the group succeeds in getting all group members to the other side of the ‘river’. If anyone falls in, the group is deemed to have failed, and they must begin the river crossing attempt again.

1. ‘Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue’ (Cserti, 2018)

Leadership group activities

Openness creates trust, which then promotes further openness. This activity is designed to be used by a group that has spent sufficient time together in order to have a range of shared experiences they can draw from when they are providing feedback.

Each participant takes a post-it and writes the name of the person who they are addressing on it. Then, they write on the post-it:

“To…. Something I would like you to START doing is…. something I would like you to STOP doing is…. something I would like you to CONTINUE doing is……Signed: ___________”

In groups of around 4 to 6 people, participants complete these sentences on one post-it for the other participants in their group.

If they cannot think of relevant feedback for one of the prompts (i.e., start, stop, continue), they do not need to include it. Once the group has finished writing, they provide the feedback verbally, one at a time, and afterward hand the post-it to the relevant person.

2. Round Tables (Stepshift, 2016)

Four tables are set up with different tasks. Each task has separate steps that participants can be responsible for carrying out. The group select a team member, who is only allowed to communicate and delegate tasks but not take a part in the task. Each table is timed to record how long the task takes to be completed. Round Tables improves leadership and delegation skills.

3. ‘Pass the hoop’ (Landau, 2018)

This game requires participants to stand in a circle and hold hands. One person in the group has a hula hoop around their arm. The game aims to pass the hula hoop the whole way around the circle.

As well as promoting teamwork and problem-solving, this game develops communication skills. Being able to communicate effectively is a crucial skill for any successful leader to have.

4. ‘Improv night’ (Landau, 2018)

One key responsibility of the leader of a team is to encourage team bonding. One way to facilitate bonding is improvisation. ‘Improv’ develops skills in communication – helping teams to listen and pay attention. It also builds self-awareness, self-confidence, and creativity.

Arrange the group into ‘audience’ and ‘performers’. Then, members of the audience take turns in calling out the specified location, profession, and scenario (e.g., coffeehouse, cop, and purchasing a donut). Chosen suggestions are fun and should promote creativity.

5. ‘Shape-Shifting’ (Landau, 2018)

This game requires a rope that is tied at both ends to form a loop. The loop needs to be big enough for all group members to hold onto with both hands as they stand in a circle. The group is instructed to make a chosen shape (e.g., circle, square, triangle). The group attempts to create the shape on the floor.

Progressively, ask the group to make more complex shapes – e.g., a dog, or a tree. To add another layer of difficulty, instruct the team to communicate without talking – i.e., to rely on hand gestures. Afterward, have the group reflect on their experience and discuss the importance of communication.

Leadership is an integral feature of any workplace. Here are some activities to promote leadership in employees:

1. Your favorite manager (Cserti, 2018)

To begin this activity, employees individually take the role of three different people and brainstorm the particular behaviors that each person’s most favorite and least favorite managers demonstrate, from the chosen person’s perspective. After the employees have had the chance to reflect, the participants compare their list of behaviors – in pairs, and then subsequently, in groups.

The teams then prepare a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for developing better employee perceptions of the leader’s style.

2. Explore your values (Cserti, 2018)

The values of a leader are reflected in their organization. In this activity, each participant writes ten things that they value most in their lives, each one on a post-it. Then, ask the employees to spread the Post-its in a way in which they can see them all clearly. Then, explain to them that they will have 30 seconds to select the three Post-its that are of least importance to them.

It is essential to time strictly, so that the participants rely on their gut feelings.

Repeat the process, this time allowing participants to have 20 seconds to discard two more values. Finally, give the participants a further 20 seconds to throw another two away. Participants should have three Post-its in front of them, showing their top three important values.

Following the activity, have participants reflect individually for about 15 minutes about what was found, and then to discuss reflection questions in pairs or groups of three.

Because this activity is done quickly, participants are encouraged to follow their own intuition – rather than over-thinking and finding what they perceive to be the ‘right’ values.

3. ‘Leadership Coat of Arms’ (Cserti, 2018; Landau, 2018).

Each leader has their own values and the things that they consider valuable and important. These values guide the behavior of the leader and make up a person’s unique leadership philosophy.

This activity sees participants drawing their own ‘leadership coat of arms’ embodying their leadership philosophy.

Individuals have 10 – 15 minutes to draw their coat of arms. They can divide the coat of arms (or ‘crest’) into four sections. To fill each section, consider the categories of leadership skills, values that help influence others, recent achievements/accomplishments and what you like most about your current work.

They should be encouraged not to be overly concerned with how visually appealing their picture is but rather that it expressed what they personally believe to be important aspects of a leader.

Once the drawings are complete, the participants can show their drawings to the others in the group and explain their unique coat of arms. It is also helpful to reflect on the activity – consider which section was easiest to complete and whether your crest reflects your company’s values.

4. Communication: Coach the Builder (Goyette, 2016)

Divide employees into groups of four to seven people. Each group should be given two sets of blocks (such as Lego). Each set should have a minimum of 10 blocks.

Beforehand, you should construct a sample object (e.g., a house) from one of the sets of blocks. In each group, select a leader, a delegator, a builder and a note-taker. The note-taker watches and records the group’s behavior during the task. They take note of what appeared to be done well and how employees could improve.

The leader is given the item that you built – however, they are the only group member to see the object. Set a timer for ten minutes. To begin with, the leader describes to the delegator how the builder should build a replica of the item. However, the delegator does not see the object, and at this stage of the activity, the builder should not hear the instructions.

The delegator can speak with the leader as often as necessary during the 10 minutes. The builder attempts to build the same item that the leader can see. However, they are only relying on the delegator’s instructions. At this stage, the delegator should not see the object that the builder is constructing.

When the time is up, reveal both objects to all participants and see how closely they match. Finally, to wrap up the activity, employees can discuss what was either frustrating or easy about the process and discuss how they may do things differently in order to achieve better results.

5. Accountability (Goyette, 2016)

Begin a meeting by saying to the group – “the seating arrangement is totally wrong for today’s meeting. You have 60 seconds to improve it”. If the employees ask further questions, only repeat the instructions. While some employees may continue asking questions, others may start moving the furniture around straight away. Observe the team and what they do without giving any further information, feedback, or instructions.

After 1 minute, let the employees know to stop. Then, ask them whether the objective was achieved, and how. Discuss with employees how and why a lack of clarity makes it challenging to complete a task.

Then, discuss who asked for clarification and how they felt when the leader refused to give further details. Use this opportunity to highlight to employees how if they fail to ask questions, and when the person in charge of a project doesn’t provide the necessary clarification, the whole team is at risk of making mistakes or even not completing a task.

Finally, ask how the time pressure affected behavior. Discuss how employees may be more likely to respond to pressure, or stress, by taking action without first confirming a plan and the significant problems this approach can lead to.

6. The “what if” game (Deputy, 2018)

Present different hypothetical problematic scenarios to employees. Either individually or by providing a document that requires written answers, present situations such as “you didn’t follow the rules, and subsequently lost an important client. You have lost a lot of money for the company. How do you justify this? What is your solution?”.

The questions only need to be rough, and employees should only receive a short time with which to think of their responses. If there is a particularly challenging question, provide a time limit of five minutes.

7. ‘Silver Lining’ (Cohen, 2017)

Employees form teams of at least two people who have shared a work experience – e.g., working on a project together. One person shares an experience from working together that was negative for them.

Then, the second person reflects on the same experience but instead reflects on the positive aspects of the experience (i.e., the ‘ silver lining ’). Then this same person shares their own negative experience, and this time it is up to the other person to focus on the positive aspects of it.

Often, when people reflect on an experience, they do so with a particular perspective . By looking at the positive aspects of a ‘negative’ experience, this helps individuals shift perspectives. Furthermore, by sharing experiences, employees develop deeper relationships, and team bonding is promoted.

8. My favorite brand (Training Course Material, n.d.).

Ask employees to bring three or four printed logos/brands that they use regularly or admire most. Then, form groups of 3 – 4 people. Teams have a period of ten minutes to share and discuss their chosen logos.

Their task is to agree upon the team’s top 2 logos or brands which is their team’s choice. The team also selects a team spokesperson who will report to the bigger group about why the team chose the specific brands/logos.

Participants are encouraged to share personal experiences or stories that they had with their chosen brand. After the ten minutes elapses, each spokesperson presents the logos that the team began with as well as their two top chosen logos/brands. It is their role to explain to the group why the team voted on their top brand/logo.

1. Manager or leader? (Training Course Material, n.d.)

Positive communication at work

Small groups of managers work together to create two tables, one titled ‘leader’ and one titled ‘manager’. In each table, the group writes statements describing either management behavior or leadership behavior.

For example, the ‘manager’ table may contain statements such as “schedules work to be done” or “delegates tasks”. On the other hand, statements in the ‘leader’ table could be “motivating staff” and “creating culture”.

The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate to managers the difference between management versus leadership, and show that while ‘every leader can be a manager, not every manager can be a leader’. However, by brainstorming leadership behaviors, managers begin the process of becoming a successful leader.

2. The race of the leaders (Deputy, 2018)

This activity encourages leadership behaviors. To begin with, write a list of leadership qualities – approximately 10 – 20 statements – on a piece of paper. Describe the qualities – e.g., ‘I determine everything that happens to me’, and ‘I will not blame others for my problems’.

Read these statements out loud, and participants take a step forward if they believe a statement describes them. They must be prepared to give reasons as to why they think they possess each quality. Continue reading the statements until there is a definite ‘winner’.

3. The best team member (Training Course Material, n.d.).

Divide the group into teams of about 4 – 5 participants. Give each team a large, blank piece of paper and markers. Each group has the task to come up with as many characteristics of their ‘ideal’ team member as they can. Teams should consider what this ‘best team member ever’ would be like.

After ten minutes, the groups should examine the characteristics that they have written and work out the portion which are ‘technical’ skills and those which are ‘interpersonal’. The aim is to work out whether most of the traits can be classified as technical or interpersonal skills.

Teams usually come to realize that interpersonal skills in employees are especially critical and that these have a tremendous impact on the quality and quantity of workplace performance.

This activity can be adapted according to the setting. For example, if the focus is on leadership development, teams could discuss their ideal leader/supervisor.

4. The importance of feedback (Training Course Material, n.d.).

Divide the group into three teams. Provide each team with poster paper and markers or pens.

Team A is required to consider as many reasons as they can that would make them apprehensive to provide feedback to another person.

Team B is asked to consider what feedback can help them so, i.e., what feedback will help them accomplish.

Team C comes up with as many things as they can that would make a feedback session effective.

Each team has 15 minutes to brainstorm their ideas, then, each team can present their ideas.

Point out to Team A that the hurdles they suggested are self-imposed ideas that will lead to the manager fearing the worst. Instead, managers should be encouraged to share feedback on a more regular basis to gain the necessary experience in having such conversations. Furthermore, by having an awareness of the most effective way to prepare and deliver feedback can help a manager conquer the issues holding them back.

Point out to Team B that providing constructive feedback as needed is imperative for developing a productive work environment. A feedback discussion that is well-planned and thought out delivers an opportunity to share what you have noticed about another person’s job performance and bring about productive change.

Finally, after Team C has shared their ideas, point out that effective feedback is specific, honest, and backed up with evidence. The feedback will help others to come up with goals, make and reinforce positive changes, promote self-confidence and encourage action in the workplace.

Thank all the teams for their participation and input.

5. ‘Shark Tank’ (Deputy, 2018).

This activity is derived from a famous TV show that gives people a chance to show their entrepreneurial skills. Managers may work individually or in groups. The aim of this activity is for employees to come up with a business plan that outlines the steps of how to build a successful company from ‘startup’.

Once the managers have a plan, they can create a ‘pitch’, which should contain the brand’s name, its’ tagline (or slogan), a detailed business plan, a detailed marketing plan, financial predictions (sales, profits and market) and potential problems (competition, lack of resources).

In a role play, appoint a few chosen managers to be the ‘sharks’ (the ones who consider the projects’ merit and offer imaginary ‘investments’). The winning group, or individual, is the one who raised the most money from the ‘shark’.

1. The Human Icebreaker (Stepshift, 2016).

This is a simple activity that can alleviate tension and promote discussion and contribution. Participants devise a list of questions that relate to people generally – for example, “who is left-handed?”. Participants then discover which team members meet the question’s criteria. After 10 minutes, the participant who has the most answers wins. This activity promotes communication and helps team members build inter-personal skills.

2. ‘Office trivia’ (Cohen, 2017)

This quick activity can help as an ice-breaker and provides a flexible option for team building. Create a list of trivia questions that are related to the workplace. For example, “how many people named ‘John’ work in the accounting department?” or, “how many people work in the IT department?”. Read the questions out loud to the whole group. The employee with the most correct answers at the end is the winner.

3. Plane crash (Stepshift, 2016)

The participants imagine that they are on a plane which has crashed on a deserted island. They are allowed to select a specified number of items from around the workplace that would help the group to survive. Each chosen item is ranked in importance. The whole group must agree on their decision. This activity helps with creative problem solving and collaboration.

4. ‘Magazine story’ (Cohen, 2017)

Each team works together to come up with an imaginary cover story of a magazine, about a successful project or business achievement. The team designs the images, headlines, and come up with quotes.

5. The Human Knot (Stepshift, 2016)

Relying on cooperation, this is a good problem-solving and communication activity. Participants stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle. Then, they put their right hand in the hand of a person who stands across from them. They then put their left hand in the hand of another different person (but not someone standing directly next to them).

Participants are required to untangle the human knot without breaking the chain. If the chain is broken, the participants must start over.

6. Make your own movie (Cohen, 2017)

This is a fun activity that is suitable for both indoors and outdoors. Although it requires the necessary equipment (i.e., camera, tripod, and microphone), teams enjoy it. Employees should work in large groups (more than eight people) and divide responsibilities. Teams work together to come up with scripts for a 5 – 7-minute movie.

7. Radio Play (Cohen, 2017)

This activity can provide an alternative to making a movie. Employees work together, spending about one-hour planning and writing a play and taking a further 15 – 20 minutes to ‘perform’ it, keeping in mind that it is designed for radio.

Each participant places their chair, in no particular order, around the room. The room should be cleared of tables and other furniture. Each person should sit on their chair, pointing in a different direction. Then, request one manager to volunteer and come to the front of the room. Their task is to walk slowly back to their empty chair and sit down.

If their chair is occupied, they can move to the next empty chair available and sit on it. However, everyone else has the task of stopping the volunteer from sitting down.

Only one person at a time can stand and move. No one can make two consecutive moves. A person cannot sit on the chair that they have just left. Once the activity begins, the room is required to be silent. No one is allowed to touch the volunteer.

Give the managers 2 minutes to come up with their strategy. After every round, the participants should discuss what happened and select a new volunteer for the next round. The team is given 2 minutes preparation time each round. It is important that the volunteer’s movement is kept at a slow walk.

At the conclusion of the activity, it is beneficial for the team to discuss the activity. They may reflect upon whether they need a leader, what made planning difficult, whether everyone agreed on the plan, and what would make the task easier.

9. Back to back drawing (Cohen, 2017)

Provide vector shapes on separate pieces of paper (they can be shapes of signs, objects or merely abstract shapes). Participants sit in pairs, back-to-back. Employee A is given a sheet of paper and a pen, and employee B is provided with one of the printed shapes.

The aim of the activity is for employee A to draw the shape relying only on verbal instructions from employee B. Person B cannot only tell the other person what the shape is – he/she is only able to provide directions about how to draw it, or to describe its uses. Each team has two 2 minutes to draw the shape.

10. ‘All Aboard’ (Stepshift, 2016).

Teams use various materials, for example, pieces of wood or mats, to build a pretend ‘boat’. All the participants must stand on the ‘boat’ at once. Then, pieces of the ‘boat’ should be removed. The team should still strive to stand in the diminished space on the ‘boat’. All Aboard can promote communication, problem-solving and critical thinking.

11. Body of words (Cohen, 2017)

Participants are divided into teams of between four and eight people, and each team elects one leader. To prepare the activity, record words that have one less letter than the number of people in the team (i.e., if there are five people in the team, a suitable word could be ‘book’ which has four letters). Randomly select a word, and then the teams have the task of making the word using only their bodies.

Each team member moves and bends their body to form a letter. The team leader can direct their team.

What stands out to me from this article is the complexity of leadership. This article demonstrates that even if one is not a ‘natural’ leader, there are plenty of activities that can promote leadership skills. Even children can develop leadership, and what’s more, have fun with activities at the same time.

What do you think espouses leadership? Do you think that there are people who might tend to be leaders more than others? Perhaps you have a story about a leadership activity you have participated in or delivered – I would dearly like to hear about your experiences.

Thank you for reading.

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  • ‘tony’ (2018). Leadership games and activities for middle school students . Retrieved from https://www.kidsactivties.net/leadership-games-activities-for-middle-school-students/
  • Clark, Donald (2015). Leadership Styles Activity . Retrieved from www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/styles.html
  • Cohen, Esther (2017). 31 Team building activities your team will actually love . Retrieved from https://www.workamajig.com/blog/team-building-activities
  • Cserti, Robert (2018). 12 Effective leadership activities and games . Retrieved from https://www.sessionlab.com/blog/leadership-activities/
  • Deputy (2018). 6 Impactful leadership activities to try at work . Retrieved from https://www.deputy.com/blog/6-impactful-leadership-activities-to-try-at-work
  • Doyle, A. (2019). Top 10 leadership skills employers look for . Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-leadership-skills-2063782
  • Edsys (2016). 1 0 Activities for teachers to grow leadership skills in children . Retrieved from https://www.edsys.in/10-activities-for-teachers-to-grow-leadership-skills-in-children/
  • Flavin, B. (2018). 8 Leadership Experiences You Didn’t Know You Already Have . Retrieved from https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/leadership-experience-you-didnt-know-you-already-have/
  • Goyette, P.(2016). 3 Leadership activities that improve employee performance at all levels . Retrieved from https://www.eaglesflight.com/blog/3-leadership-activities-that-improve-employee-performance-at-all-levels
  • Higgins, R. (2018). 5 Fun and Inspirational Leadership Workshop Ideas . Retrieved from https://www.eventbrite.com.au/blog/leadership-workshop-ideas-ds00
  • Johnson-Gerard, M. (2017). Situational Leadership Games . Retrieved from https://bizfluent.com/list-6762581-situational-leadership-games.html
  • Landau, P. (2018). The 9 best leadership games for skill development . Retrieved from https://www.projectmanager.com/blog/the-9-best-leadership-games
  • Stapleton, S. (2018). Leadership activities for High School classrooms . Retrieved from https://classroom.synonym.com/leadership-activities-high-school-classrooms-7855904.html
  • Stepshift (2016). Leadership Training Activities . Retrieved from https://www.stepshift.co.nz/blog/developing-team-performance-with-senior-leadership-teams/strategic-planning-with-an-independent-facilitator/leadership-training-activities.html
  • The Pennsylvania State University (2012). I can be a leader! Leadership fun for children . Retrieved from https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/knowledge-areas/environment-curriculum/activities/all-activities/i-can-be-a-leader-leadership-fun-for-children
  • Training Course Material (n.d.). Leadership and management activities . Retrieved from https://www.trainingcoursematerial.com/free-games-activities/leadership-and-management-activities

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Jelena Acević

Great ideas, thank you!

Peter Harding

Thank you so much for providing such a useful list of activities to demonstrate and for such a varied target population. Innovative and attention-seeking exercises yet practical.

FullTilt Teams

Thank you for posting this informative blog. keep sharing.

Norita E. Manly

Too interesting for me to try all.

Chloe Mansergh

Great article! Having group activities Melbourne helps the team to enhance working together. I love how it brings people together and motivates employees to learn from each other.


Great activities. Thank you.

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This is an excellent article for every manager and leader tn build successful leadership. Thank you.

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Kids' Coding Corner | Create & Learn

10 Leadership Activities for High School Students

Create & Learn Team

Today we'll share some leadership activities for high school students. High school is the perfect time for students to gain leadership skills and life skills that will support them on their academic and professional journeys. Leadership is one of the most desired soft skills among employers hiring today and effective leaders help any team or organization improve. Leadership skills do not grow on trees, however, and while some kids are naturally good at bossing other kids around, that’s not what makes a good leader. Leaders do not need to be commanding, extraverted, or aggressive. In fact these qualities can have a negative impact, especially on large, diverse teams with complex goals.

Explore leadership activities for high school students

Good leaders are supportive, great listeners and communicators, and they lead through empathy and mutual respect. Great leaders are open minded and they take risks, which means trying new things, developing self awareness, and actively listening to others. This might sound complicated, but like any skill, leadership can be taught.

Which is why we put together this list of leadership activities for high school students to help you guide your teens toward activities which suit them. Some of them are more traditional, like the National Honors Society and the Future Business Leaders of America. But if you keep reading you might be surprised by some of the fun ways that high school students can learn how to become great leaders!

1. Tutoring and Volunteering

Great teachers make great learners in their students, but they are also great at learning themselves. In fact, studies have shown that when we learn something with the intention of teaching it to others, we learn more effectively than when studying for examinations or for personal enjoyment. Good leaders need to train and support their teams, and they are great at sharing their knowledge with others. They are also themselves eager to learn, and a good leader will be honest when they do not know something.

While some people in positions of power consider it embarrassing to make a mistake or not know something, a good leader will ask a lot of questions, remain honest with themselves, and work hard to fill in the gaps of their knowledge. For students with skills in one or more subjects, they can refine and reinforce their skills by tutoring younger students and those who are struggling.

Tutoring is a great way to gain experience as a volunteer, but there are other actions that support one’s local community: volunteering at a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, or a library can help kids learn the value of service and the importance of giving back while becoming role models.

2. High School AP Courses

Advanced Placement courses are introductory college and university courses offered to advanced high school students. These courses vary depending on one’s high school. The most commonly taught ones are Chemistry, Biology, English, History, and Calculus, but some schools offer AP Computer Science , Art and Design, Geography, Economics, International Languages, and more. At the culmination of these courses, students have the opportunity to complete an exam which can allow them to use the course for college credit.

They are an excellent means of getting a leg up and saving some money in college, but they are also great opportunities to see how university differs from high school and how to go deeper into their interests. AP courses are intentionally challenging, and they might be the hardest academic experience yet for many high school juniors and seniors. But by completing AP courses, students can gain confidence and expertise that can serve them well throughout their lives.

Join our live online, expert-led introduction to Java that also maps to AP Computer Science Java (APCSA) requirements, and is certified by the College Board.

3. Put the “A” in “STEAM”

Creative pursuits are never a waste of time. Especially for students, organized creative activities such as painting, music, cooking, and theater have incredible benefits for a growing mind. Learning music reinforces the patterns, logic, and relationships in both math and reading. Drawing and painting have long been primary ways in which students of Biology, Geography, and Architecture relate to the world around them , especially before the advent of photography and smartphones. Even with these advanced technologies, drawing a living organism by hand is a painstaking but mesmerizing activity that improves knowledge of physical biological structures.

The acronym STEAM was first advocated as a replacement for STEM by the Rhode Island School of Design, which argued that the creative arts help integrate the skills required for STEM while also helping students to become more well-rounded, expressive, and organized. Aside from patience, problem solving, and attention to detail, art is itself a transformative process of discovery, both of the artist herself and of the world around her.

When it comes to relationships of power, a lack of self awareness, self control, and patience are hallmarks of bad leadership, so by learning through creation, students can gain some small mastery over their young, illusive selves, something which even many adults. Studies have shown that these benefits are nearly universal, helping struggling students to learn better and giving high achieving students a low-stress outlet to help them decompress, which has been shown to reduce headaches in teenagers .

4. Student Government, Clubs, Publications, and Organizations

One of the most enduring opportunities for volunteering for high school students has long revolved around student government, after school clubs, student journalism, and national organizations. While the most obvious might be student council, where students run for election by their peers, many high school students might struggle with this level of direct, public leadership. For students who are more introverted, running for office can be a great way of stepping outside their comfort zone, but if that sounds too uncomfortable, then chess club, STEM clubs, and coding clubs are great options.

By setting goals, working in teams, and producing work such as a yearbook, a student newspaper, an amateur TV program, or a coding club, students can gain immense satisfaction and confidence that can propel them toward excellence, sparking a desire for future success. For artistic students who are interested in technology, courses in digital design in Photoshop or Canva and game design in Unity are great interdisciplinary activities for high school students.

Success is rarely achieved through talent or interest alone, but requires hard work and dedication above and beyond what is expected. While students should balance extracurricular activities to support and not hinder their education, it can be a fundamentally important experience to run for office or become a member of a club.  At the core level, these activities teach students to put more effort into their education than the baseline of simply attending school and doing one’s best.

5. National STEM Honors Society, National Honors Society, and National Merit Scholarship

These organizations encourage high school students to strive towards excellence as academics, but also as members of their communities. The National Honors Society recognizes academic excellence, while providing opportunities for scholarships, community service, and national competitions that help on resumes and college applications. There is also a specific National STEM Honors Society to help drive equality and community engagement in STEM education.

National Merit Scholars follow a similar tack, by providing recognition and financial support to students who achieve good grades in high school. Especially for lower income students, these resources are an excellent way to narrow the economic/educational achievement gap and open opportunities for students wondering how to fund their higher education .

6. Future Business Leaders of America

The FBLA is an organization dedicated to guiding future leaders in global business and entrepreneurship. Representing values of equality, diversity, and economic development, the FBLA helps over 200,000 students every year to become community-minded leaders through a variety of initiatives including competitions, workshops, scholarships, and conferences.

7. Sports and Gaming

Team sports are a great way for high school students to develop leadership skills . By leading a team, students must be able to organize others, train effectively, and adapt to rapidly changing situations, skills valued everywhere. Studies have found a direct correlation between exercise and higher test scores in STEM and language arts. Without even being a team captain, team members learn how to work with others to achieve a common goal, where communication and support are crucial. These are directly related to leadership.

But it doesn’t stop there: for less socially inclined people, there are other opportunities such as jogging, yoga, and swimming that can engender physical strength, endurance, better sleep, and resilient mental health. Sports teach team building, and exercise is a key component of building positive relationships with health, sleep, and proper diet , but the team work and competition aspects of sport extends to other forms of gaming. Board games and video games can be social or solo, but they provide students with a chance to problem solve, to imagine solutions to complex problems, and to have fun. While video games can disrupt sleep when they are played too late, and while many parents might worry about gaming being a waste of time, some studies have shown a positive correlation between video games and increased test scores in reading . Within moderation, we feel that gaming can be a stimulating, fun, and social activity for all ages.

8. Build Community Around Your Passions

Let’s take this a step further: students can learn better when they actively participate in their education . Likewise, students are likely to be motivated to learn better when they are pursuing something that they are already interested in , but they learn especially well when they are helping or teaching others . For this reason, we suggest that you get involved in your child’s passions and support their interests, even when they seem unrelated to your desired plan for your kids.

Video games and creative expression are excellent tools to reinforce learning STEM, but they are also doorways into STEAM, especially when it comes to Computer Science, coding, reading, and math. For example, ask any child under the age of 14 about Minecraft and Roblox . Chances are they have played one or the other, and considering how popular they are, your child probably already knows a lot about one or the other, if not both. What most kids and parents don’t know is that these are also great platforms for learning about coding , game design , and logic.

There’s a lot of tutorials online, but we suggest that coding classes are one of the best ways to encourage kids who love gaming to learn how to code. As one of the most in-demand skills and one of the areas of highest growth potential in the future tech-driven economy, learning to code early is a great way to get ahead. At Create & Learn, we believe that the future leaders of tomorrow will need to be comfortable with code, so we offer a range of live online courses for kids of all ages to learn computer programming in relation to gaming, art and design, robotics , and software engineering. We even have free coding classes led by experts to try.

9. FIRST Robotics and Robotics Competitions

If your high school student loves STEM, then FIRST Robotics is for them. FIRST Robotics is a national robotics competition that joins teams of students from around the country to design and build large robots that will work together with other teams to complete in a field game of some kind. Students also gain experience in fundraising and representing their schools in competitions. These teams are often the best of the best when it comes to STEM students, who also gain valuable experience in coding and programming their robots using Python or other programming languages.

10. The Importance of Structured Activity and Free Time for Teens

Time use is a topic that can provoke strong debates among parents, educators, and students. A longitudinal study on high school educational outcomes and time use shows that merely participating in extracurricular activities has been associated with positive improvements in academic performance and pro-social behaviors. These activities are important, because many children and teens have not yet had enough experience to know the options available to them. They must be shown and sometimes gently encouraged to try new things.

These activities provide them with communities of their peers as well as adult role models who can shape their self perception and their expectations towards leaders, both positively and negatively. It has been shown that too much unstructured time has been linked to disorders such as substance abuse and antisocial behavior in high school students. Structure is good for kids.

There is a fine line to walk however, as having no free time to be at ease among one’s peers can result in stunted social development and lower levels of autonomy as adults. All this is to say that if you want your child to learn leadership skills, then extracurricular activities of any kind can support that goal, but that too much activity and not enough free time can begin to have an adverse effect on academic performance and mental health.

Try leadership activities and examples for high school students

As a next step, speak with your child. Ask them what they think they are best at? What could they teach others? Encourage them to think about themselves as potential leaders, but then ask them, How could you become better? We suggest encouraging them to pursue two or three activities from the above list, each of which should aim at physical exercise, academics, and creativity. A sport, a club, and an artistic practice.

Keeping it simple and following their interests is a great place to start. But then we suggest signing up for an AP High School class, taking an online coding class , or perhaps a community painting or drawing class to light the creative spark that they might not have expected. Push them, gently, to explore their boundaries and be ready to encourage them at every step without getting too worried if they change directions. If you’re looking for an activity to begin today, you could check out some of our other articles on the top online coding bootcamps for kids and Math competitions for high school students .

Written by Bryan Gordon, a Create & Learn instructor. After ten years of working as an English teacher, Bryan began studying Math and Computer Science over the past few years. Aside from writing and teaching, he likes cooking, gardening, playing guitar, and hanging out with his cats, Baguette and Wally.

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15 Leadership Activities for High School Students

By: Virginia | Apr 1, 2022 4:09 PM

As leaders, teens can learn, collaborate, and grow. But leadership skills don’t just appear overnight, young people need the right outlets to develop them. These 15 ideas for high school activities can help them discover new hobbies, expand on their interests, and become amazing leaders.

Taking on a leadership role can be incredibly empowering, but as the expression goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. High school is a wonderful time to start a transformative journey that could shape their lives for years to come. 

Leadership activities for teens

To get things started, talk with your teen about their interests. There’s no question that leaders assume a lot of responsibility, and these responsibilities are a lot easier to shoulder if they’re doing something they love! That could be sports, STEM, the arts: there are possibilities for just about any hobby or extracurricular activity.

That said, high school is a wonderful time to audition for a play, even if they’ve never set foot on stage or try coding even if they’re a total newbie. Branching out can be very rewarding as well! (You can apply that same thinking to high school elective courses as well.)

So, check out these 15 ideas, encompassing both specific organizations and broad categories alike for launching leadership in high school and beyond. 

1. Future Business Leaders of America

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) is a nationwide organization and competition that focuses on business, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills. Teens can learn about real-world business principles and take on competitive challenges. Through FBLA, teens can lead their competition teams and even win scholarship opportunities. 

2. National Honor Society & National Merit Scholars

These organizations challenge high-achieving scholars to engage with their communities in meaningful ways. Both National Honor Society and National Merit Scholars combine leadership with academics in ways teens won’t find in the classroom alone. 

3. FIRST Robotics

Like sports teams, robotics teams provide ample opportunities for projects, competition, hard work, and learning to work together towards a common goal. FIRST Robotics is one of many national organizations that encourage teens to bring their STEM skills into a thrilling arena. Read more about joining a robotics team here ! 

4. Volunteer work

Nothing can inspire teens like a worthy cause. Talk with your teen about how they’d like to get involved with an advocacy organization. Volunteering can help change the world and expand a young person’s horizons in very meaningful ways. 

5. National STEM Honors Society

Yes, there’s an honors society just for STEM! National STEM Honors Society engages students with year-round enrichment, competitions, and ample opportunities to become a STEM leader within their communities.

6. Student publications

Whether it’s a school newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine, or YouTube channel, student publications offer plenty of project-based opportunities for kids to take a lead. If your child loves the written word, getting involved with their high school’s writing-centric extracurriculars is a great idea. 

Team captains and managers take on a tremendous leadership role. From building morale to developing strategy, organizing logistics, and so much more on and off the field, athletics are a tried and true way to build leadership and character. 

8. Community engagement 

Community organizations come in all shapes and sizes. Groups centered on the arts, the environment, politics, or a religious community can make a major impact. And by contributing to that impact, teens can show how they care for important issues. 

9. Jobs and internships

There are some lessons that can only be learned in the working world. By adding a job or internship to their resume, teens show they can take the lead with real-world responsibilities. Especially if your teen can demonstrate getting promoted or taking on more complex duties, having job experience on their resume could give them a real boost in applying for that dream college or internship. 

10. STEM competitions

On the local, regional, and national scale, STEM competitions provide techie enthusiasts with the chance to lead, practice teamwork, and innovate on STEM projects. If you’re ready to jump in, check out our comprehensive list of 2022 STEM competitions . 

11. Student government 

It’s a classic for good reason! To succeed in student government, teens need to practice public speaking, developing a platform, and motivating others to achieve mutual goals. And if this appeals to your student, they might also love Model UN , government on a grander, global scale.

12. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts

These organizations offer a wealth of different leadership opportunities in the outdoors, in their communities, and in honing a wide variety of skills. The Girl Scouts Gold Award and Eagle Scout status, the two highest accolades the organizations offer, speak volumes about the leadership skills participants have built over many years, and they give kids something to work towards!

13. Visual and performing arts

Whether it’s from the director’s chair, with a curator’s eye, or a choreographer’s moves, there are plenty of leadership opportunities in the arts. If your teen loves to perform, they can grow other talents in helping bring a creative vision to life. 

14. Cultural and language-oriented organizations

Connecting with other cultures is a wonderful way to broaden teens’ perspectives. This can be done through food, language, the arts, travel and many other avenues. Involvement in cultural organization can be indicative of a young person’s ability to step outside of their comfort zone, a key quality in a great leader.

15. Speech, debate, and mock trial

If your child dreams of a career in a courtroom or from behind a podium, these types of extracurricular activities might be a great fit. Not only can public speaking, debate, and mock trial be a team-based competition, success in any of these activities requires a high level of planning and teamwork. 

Leadership means lifelong learning

Good leaders are very knowledgeable. Great leaders never stop learning. That’s half the fun of getting involved with enrichment activities! 

As your high school student grows as a leader, there are endless opportunities to learn from others, about the world around them, and even about themselves. And as they prepare for college , careers, and more, that mindset can be even more valuable than impressive additions to their resume! 

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains. 

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Athletic Leadership for Students

Athletic departments succeed when there is a culture of discipline, resilience, and leadership both on and off the field. Learn how you can develop this form of culture through our student athlete leadership program centered on our time-tested two-step plan: events and process.


How to Build a Culture of Athletic Leaders

Every athletic department and team is different. That’s why we work with our partners to customize a student athlete leadership training program to their department’s values, goals, and culture.

Athletes as Leaders: Our Two-Step Plan

Using the latest research, training system and sports leadership speakers, Growing Leaders partners with you to help coaches and staff better engage today’s athletes and provides you with a proven plan to develop real-life leadership skills in the emerging generation. Through our events and process model, you will foster the leadership qualities of your athletes that will take your team culture to the next level.

Help your coaches and staff understand and connect with today’s new athletes or inspire your athletes to own their development, by bringing one of our speakers to your team or department.

Customize our leadership tool, Habitudes for Athletes , to bring your team’s values to life and help your student athletes become resilient leaders who set the tone for others.


Habitudes for Athletes is creating unity between our coaches, our players and our front office staff to develop championship-caliber players, capable of making good decisions both on and off the field.

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Tim Elmore has incredible insights into the unique challenges of Generation iY and we’ve benefited from them tremendously.

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I am extremely thankful to the Growing Leaders team for helping players see the world through pictures.  Access to these images and principles are incredibly valuable in the mental development of our teams. Our brains can now put a picture to real life situations and provide answers to be more successful. i highly recommend Habitudes and Growing Leaders to anyone interested in reaching maximum potential and success.

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I really appreciated the time we spent together last week when you visited us during spring training. We have already implemented some changes in the batting cage with the way we are presenting things to the players and have seen positive results in just two days!

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Minor league manager – san francisco giants.

Habitudes for Athletes has been a breath of fresh air for our staff and student athletes. The images have sparked great conversations and experiences and given us a language for leadership.

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In recent years the institutions of higher education I’ve served have greatly benefited from the inclusion of Habitudes leadership materials as part of our leadership development initiatives for coaches and student-athletes alike. Indeed, engaging the predominant demographic of today’s college student is significantly enhanced through the use of images to teach leadership development. And, Growing Leaders comes alongside you to “coach” the coach providing a wealth of teaching tools and personal attention.

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As an NCAA III college who believes in the importance of both the academic and athletic experience for our student-athletes, Habitudes for Athletes has been the perfect fit to strengthen our efforts both inside and outside the athletic arena to develop student leaders. It has given coaches and players common language to use in holding one another accountable and developing the type of student-athletes who embrace the process of leadership development through the classroom of athletics. As our athletic program has grown, Habitudes has been a key tool in helping our student-athletes utilize the platform they have been given through sports to wield a positive impact on our campus and in our community.

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Read and watch how the New York Giants, University of Alabama, University of Tennessee, University of Oklahoma, and more are using our student athlete leadership training system to help their teams create a leadership culture that resonates with today’s athlete.

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Team Leadership in High School Sports

March 21, 2021 by smh6849

Team leadership is something that is relevant in several different aspects of life. However, when I think of team leadership, sports immediately come to mind. Sports teams are often lead by the captains. Having a good team leader is essential to have a good dynamic among everyone involved, which ultimately leads to successful outcomes. In particular, high schools sports teams especially need a good team leader to offset immaturity and tension among team members. Team leaders are needed in high school sports to help work through group stages, meet the teams needs, and improve team performance.

Group stages are something I have seen and experienced first hand when I played on my high schools volleyball team. According to Tuckman, there are four distinct stages that groups go through including, forming, storming, norming, and performing (Hamel, 2021). In my opinion, forming is one of the most critical parts of high school sports. In this stage, team members basically introduce themselves so that everyone can get to know each other a little bit. A good team leader will be able to facilitate this sometimes awkward time by making things run smoother. The storming stage deals with conflicts. In order to resolve conflicts peacefully and effectively, the team leader must be able to be a voice of reason and find common ground among the other members so that everyone is able to come to a consensus. The third stage is norming. This stage includes the emergence of the definitive leader. This leader will now work towards defining a common goal for the team and how they should work to achieve it. Finally, the four stage, performing, is when each individual member is able to play their own role in achieving the goal. An effective team leader will motivate and push each member of the team to perform to their best ability in this stage. Overall, a team leader plays a vital role in group stages by providing peace and support for the rest of the team.

Any effective leader will actively try to meet their followers needs at all times. In high school sports, a good team leader must do the same. Ginnett’s Team Effectiveness Leadership Model states that the team leader must identify and meet the needs of the team in order to perform more effectively (Hamel, 2021). This model highlights the inputs, processes, and outputs of the team which leaders must help work through. Team needs are such an important part of high school sports. High school sports can often include a lot of drama due to riff’s among team members or jealousy. A team leader must be able to help resolve these issues in a way that avoids feelings being hurt or discouragement. If the teams needs are not met, it may hinder performance and cause issues among the members.

Maintaining good team performance is especially relevant in high school sports. For many students in high school, sports are an extracurricular activity that they need to balance with workload and social needs. Team leaders need to be able to provide motivation to the team by keeping them on track and optimistic. One of the critical functions of team leadership is task performance. This function includes making decisions for the team, achieving goals, and solving problems (Hamel, 2021). Team performance would most likely go downhill if there were not a good team leader to help the rest of the members. There needs to be someone to make important decisions for the rest of the team and to motivate members to stay focused on achieving the goal. Therefore, team performance heavily relies on an effective team leader to keep the rest of the team on track.

Team leaders serve many different purposes in high school sports. Working through group stages is something that undeniably need assistance from leaders in high school due to awkward moments and possible conflicts among different students. Meeting the needs of the team is essential for teams to perform to the best of their ability. Lastly, maintaining team performance is a big responsibility of high school sports leaders by motivating team members to continue hard work. Team leadership in high school sports can be hard to break down at first, but after looking through different theories and models, we now know what each leader must possess in order to be effective.


Hamel, R. (n.d.).  Lesson 9: Team Leadership, 2021

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March 21, 2021 at 10:15 pm

Thank you for sharing this personal tribute to the importance of leadership in teams, specifically within the realm of high school sports. Many individuals decide to take up a sport during high school or several years before in order to build that sense of sportsmanship, team comradery, and cooperation to an overall captain in order to acquire a team goal. In many ways, it is logical to think of a high school sports team in relation to a workplace team. There is usually a captain, and in the workplace this would be a supervisor, manager, or boss of a group or organization. The team has a common goal, such as training their skills in order to gain a competitive edge and ultimately win their games against competitors. In the workplace, supervisors and managers often instill workplace diligence and set team goals in order for them to maintain approval ratings and ultimately help a company, corporation, or business of any type to succeed.

I think your description of the distinct stages groups encounter when they know they must work together is relatable to both high school sports and the workplace. For example, a team of soccer players share a common love for the game of soccer. They usually have high agility and enjoy running, otherwise they would not choose to play soccer. Members of a sales team also share common characteristics, such as being outgoing and being money-motivated. These shared characteristics are only the beginning of team formation, whereas the “storming” stage of dealing with conflicts (deciphering a game plan during a soccer game or deciding how to effectively close a deal in sales) could bring team members together as well. Norming and performing are respectively the stages of deciding on that game plan and accentuating each individual’s skills (members of a team) in order to bring about that reward or end goal. Overall, I think your example of team leadership in sports is very comparable to leadership in the workplace, where a supervisor must bring out the best skills of their team and recognize what each member brings to the table after sorting all of the problems or potential conflicts from the initial problem and why the team was originally formed in the first place.

Hamel, R. (n.d.). Lesson 9: Team Leadership, 2021

March 21, 2021 at 10:14 pm

I think your description of the distinct stages groups encounter when they know they must work together is relatable to both high school sports and the workplace. For example, a team of soccer players share a common love for the game of soccer. They usually have high agility and enjoy running, otherwise they would not choose to play soccer. Members of a sales team also share common characteristics, such as being outgoing and being money-motivated. These shared characteristics are only the beginning of team formation, whereas the “storming” stage of dealing with conflicts (deciphering a game plan during a soccer game or deciding how to effectively close a deal in sales) could bring team members together as well. Norming and performing are respectively the stages of deciding on that game plan and accentuating each individual’s skills (members of a team) in order to bring about that reward or end goal. Overall, I think your example of team leadership in sports is very comparable to leadership in the workplace, where a supervisor must bring out the best skills of their team and recognize what each member brings to the table after sorting all of the problems or potential conflicts from the initial problem and why the team was originally formed in the first place.

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Five Strategies for Coaching the High School Athlete

Millions of teenagers participate in sport each year in the United States. Last year, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported that almost 8 million high school students participated in a sport at their school. This is good news as sport participation has the potential to benefit youth both psychologically and physically. However, the positive outcomes related to sport participation do not happen automatically. The coach must create an environment and structure where teenagers can thrive in their high school sport and experience the benefits that sport offers.

Coaching Strategies for Creating Positive Experiences

As a coach, there are several factors you can think about and include in your coaching to make sure the kids your working with have a positive experience and learn skills they can transfer outside of sport. With club sports winning and performance is usually the focus of the team, however high school sports are meant to focus on the personal development of the athletes. In this article, we will share five key coaching strategies that all scholastic coaches should know in order to provide a positive experience for high school athletes and help them use their sport skills in the real world.

1. Have a philosophy that reflects your core values as a coach.

A coaching philosophy is made of the beliefs, principles, and values that guide one’s coaching practice. Having a well-developed coaching philosophy is critical to a coach’s success as it helps guide their coaching actions and enables them be more consistent in their interactions with athletes. As a scholastic coach, important values should focus on personal development of the athletes and should match the mission of the school. The goals of many scholastic sports are to maximize participation, teach positive life skills, and have success both on and off the field. It is important to take the time to reflect and determine which values and beliefs are most important for you as a coach and whether this matches the mission of your athletic department.

2. Build strong relationships with the athletes on your team.

The key to any effective coach is the strength of the relationship he or she builds with the athletes they are coaching. Through a strong relationship, the coach can empower athletes, improve communication, and find what motivates each individual. To build strong relationship with your athletes, take the time to get to know them on and off the field. When you’re at practice, try to check-in with the athletes to learn more about their lives outside of sport. Try to center your discussions on the needs and goals of each individual and make sure they feel they have a voice and role in their training and development path. This can be done off the field as well at team dinners or team activities. If you hold a team event outside of practice or training, include some organized opportunities for the athletes to share more about themselves outside of sport

3. Ask open-ended questions frequently.

Asking numerous open-ended questions can make a difference with your athletes in multiple ways. Asking questions can empower athletes to discuss their opinions and shows them they have role in the team decisions. Asking questions also allows coaches to get to know more about the athlete and how they think. Last, open-ended questions puts ownership and responsibility on the athlete to provide solutions and answers on their own. By not giving the athlete the answer, a coach can challenge them to engage in problem-solving and discover the solution on their own, providing a learning experience for the athlete.

4. Purposefully and systematically teach life skills.

In scholastic sport, the hope is that athletes are learning skills they can transfer outside of sport to help them succeed throughout life. There are many ways a coach can teach life skills. First, be a positive role model for your athletes. Model the life skills that you are trying to teach such as good sportsmanship or discipline. Second, systematically include life skills as part of training and practice. For example, you can include a goal-setting session at the end of a practice to teach the athletes how to set effective goals. Third, include discussions with the athletes throughout the season about how the skills they are learning in their sport can transfer to other domains of life. Finally, ensure the athletes you are coaching are practicing the life skills they are learning both in and out of sport. For example, give them the opportunity to organize a practice on their own. This will give them the opportunity to practice their communication, teamwork, and leadership skills.

5. Understand this generation of high school athletes.

Today’s high school athletes are part of Generation Z. Similar to all other generations, Gen Z’ers have strengths and weaknesses. It is your job as a scholastic coach to help them improve their weaknesses and capitalize of their strengths. While we cannot change youth culture, we can adapt to their characteristics and not fall prey to a negative opinion of them. Gen Z athletes are very good at using technology to find information and tend to be visual learners. As a coach, you can take advantage of this and use technology when teaching skills and providing feedback. Such as using a cellphone to record a short video of the athlete performing a skill to give them visual feedback. However, Gen Z athletes are also known to lack the ability to cope with adversity and often have a short attention span. As a coach, you may have to adapt some of your strategies to match their needs, such as keeping discussions short and to the point before they lose focus. However, make sure to include opportunities in practice and games for them to improve on such weaknesses

Written by Dr. Jennifer Nalepa , Assistant Professor in the Sport Coaching and Leadership Online Programs

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4 Best Leadership Activities for High School Students

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September 8th, 2022 | 7 min. read

4 Best Leadership Activities for High School Students

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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There's no question that leadership is one of the most sought-after career skills. But among high school students, it’s often hard to find. Your students need guidance and the right projects and activities to help them become the leaders they want to be.

As business and career readiness curriculum providers, we often from hear from teachers who want quality leadership activities for their learners.

To help you inspire your students, we’ve brought together four of the best leadership activities for high school students:

  • Leadership Activity Ideas from Let’s Cultivate Greatness
  • Student Leadership Activity and Discussion from Counseling Leadership
  • Leadership Activities from Teaching and Motivating Teens
  • Engaging and Effective Leadership Resources

After reviewing these activities, you’ll have a better picture of your options to determine what will work best for your students.

1. Leadership Activity Ideas from Let's Cultivate Greatness

Let's Cultivate Greatness high school leadership activities

Erin is a high school social studies teacher based in the state of Washington. She writes about developing leadership skills in high school students on her website, Let’s Cultivate Greatness .

On her website, Erin offers suggestions for five fun activities you can use to engage students in your leadership lessons:

  • Build Team Work by Hosting a Scavenger Hunt Swap
  • Strengthen Public Speaking by Practicing Microphone Skills
  • Nurture Gratitude with Writing Out-of-the-Blue Thank You Cards
  • Challenge Creative Thinking with an “Oops” Masterpiece
  • Encourage Goal Setting with a Word of the Year

Using these topic ideas, an enterprising teacher can quickly turn Erin’s ideas into easy leadership activities to boost student engagement.

One should note, however, that these activities don’t come with premade lesson plans or resources. You’ll need to create these materials on your own to have the most success with these activity ideas.

How Much Do These Leadership Activities Cost and Who Are They For?

Erin openly publishes these leadership activities on her Let’s Cultivate Greatness site so you can use them with your students for free.

If you like these exercises but want a few more resources, you can also purchase a leadership bundle from Let’s Cultivate Greatness on Teachers Pay Teachers.

The Student Council Leadership bundle includes enough activities to use over an entire year and costs $30.

Overall, Let’s Cultivate Greatness offers solid ideas for the teacher who just needs a little inspiration to create better leadership activities in the classroom. While the free resources aren’t for every teacher, you can purchase more complete exercises that you can easily use in many high school classes.

2. Student Leadership Activity and Discussion from Counseling Leadership


If you’re looking for a more reflective activity to use with your students, consider the Student Leadership Activity & Discussion from Counseling Leadership . Counseling Leadership is a Teachers Pay Teachers curriculum creator focusing on preparing students to be strong and successful leaders.

The activity consists of a simple survey and class discussion. Students rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 based on questions in three overarching categories:

  • The little things

After students fill out the survey, you can use the suggested questions to start a class discussion about each leadership trait. This discussion could take up to an entire class period, depending on student participation.

Because it requires students to think critically about themselves and their own capacities for leadership, this activity could be a great way to kick start professionalism lessons in your business or career classes.

How Much Does This Leadership Activity Cost and Who Is It For?

This resource is available for $2.99 . However, the engaging conversations you have with your students could be well worth the price.

Having your high school students analyze their own strengths, weaknesses, and capacity to lead can be a worthwhile exercise to frame your conversations on leadership. This makes this activity a solid choice for a teacher looking for an engaging way to start a leadership unit.

Nevertheless, you’ll likely need additional activities to build out your leadership and 21st century skills curriculum.

3. Leadership Activities from Teaching and Motivating Teens


The Leadership Activities & TED Talk Lesson on Everyday Leadership bundle is designed for students in grades 8-12. It uses TED talk videos (short but engaging speeches from notable individuals) to instruct high schoolers in the fundamentals of leadership.

This leadership exercise includes 12 pages of content between these resources:

  • A teacher’s guide
  • A synopsis of the TED Talk
  • A leadership survey
  • A note-taking graphic organizer
  • An analysis of the TED Talk
  • Small-group think tank activity
  • Class display
  • Afterthought documents

These activities were created specifically for a high school audience. In addition, the publisher states that the materials are designed to provide differentiated instruction opportunities to help students no matter how they learn best.

These TED talk activities from Teaching and Motivating Teens cost $4.25.

Overall, this activity is a great way to tie leadership qualities together with other important concepts like collaboration. You can use the TED talk to help students identify and analyze leadership skills and then build upon these conversations through the remainder of your lessons.

4. Engaging and Effective Leadership Resources


Similarly to other resources on this list, Engaging and Effective’s leadership activity also uses TED Talks to communicate the importance of being a competent leader and communicator.

With this activity, you’ll receive 12 pages of materials, including worksheets for students to respond to and critique six different TED talks:

  • "Everyday leadership"
  • "A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter"
  • "Try something new for 30 days"
  • "How to start a movement"
  • "What I learned from 2,000 obituaries"
  • "Weird or just different"

Since the resources are digital, you can use them when working in person or as a distance learning tool.

You’ll pay $3.50 on Teachers Pay Teachers for just this activity, or you can purchase it as part of the Engaging and Effective Ultimate Ted Talk Bundle for $13.20.

This leadership activity could be a solid choice if you want to use more than just one TED talk in your leadership lesson. With this package, you’ll have the resources to complete the exercise up to six times.

However, since these resources focus on only one type of teaching activity, you may want to consider a broader set of leadership resources to differentiate your instruction further.

Provide Leadership Activities As Part of a Comprehensive High School Business Curriculum

Depending on the type of leadership activities you think would benefit your students the most, any of these resources could help you cultivate leadership qualities in your classroom.

However, we’ve found that for many business teachers, leadership is only one of the topics you may be expected to cover in a course. If that’s the case for you, you may want to consider other curriculum resources to meet your needs.

To help you better understand your options for enhancing your business curriculum, we’ve put together a list of the Top 4 High School Business Education Curriculum Resources .

In this article, you’ll discover some of the best resources you can use to teach leadership and other business subjects:

Discover 4 Popular Business Education Curriculum Resources

Leadership Activities for High School, Middle School, and Elementary Students

Sabrina stapleton.

Teachers can help students to improve their leadership skills while in high school.

Part of a young person's education should involve learning how to be a strong and confident leader. This is especially true for high school students who will soon go off to college or a job, and who need to be comfortable with taking initiative. Though many students already have a role in a high school leadership position, not all students are comfortable taking that kind of responsibility upon themselves.

Therefore, one way in which high school students can plan to learn such leadership skills is by having a teacher who is willing to teach them the way. Effective teachers can introduce students to these important leadership skills, such as being capable of making responsible decisions, thinking critically and acting as a positive role model, by playing classroom leadership games at school, all of which can prepare students for future challenges. Whether you are in high school, middle school or elementary school, engaging in leadership activities is always a good idea.

Explore this article

  • Brainstorming For Change
  • Leadership Characteristics
  • Blind Fold Leader Game
  • Silence Classroom Leadership Game

1 Brainstorming For Change

In this activity, the teacher divides the classroom into groups of four or five people. The aim is to find solutions to political, economic or social problems. The students work together and brainstorm large and small scale solutions to the given problem topic. After each group has completed a list of detailed solutions, take part in a discussion involving the rest of the class and talk about which of the solutions they see as viable options and why. His could lead them to realizing they enjoy team building and problem solving, and might push them to join the student council at their middle school or high school.

2 Leadership Characteristics

This classroom leadership game helps students identify the characteristics of a good leader. The teacher divides the students into groups of two or three people. Each person in the group must recount a story of someone she feels is an influential leader. After each story, students should point out what characteristics they feel made the person in the story a good leader. At the end of the activity, the students draw up a list of all the characteristics of a good leader and stick them up on the walls around the classroom. Student leadership is important at any grade level and having their leadership qualities recognized by peers may push them to be more involved.

3 Blind Fold Leader Game

To start the game, the teacher can position all students in a single line, then create a starting point and a finishing point. The teacher must then blindfold all the students apart from the student at the front of the line. Next, the teacher should instruct each student to place their left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front of them. The teacher must say “Go” and the leader without the blindfold must walk towards the finish line and instruct the students that are blindfolded behind. To add an extra challenge to this activity, the teacher can position obstacles along the path so that the leader will have to give instructions to the followers in terms of how to get around the obstacles. Once the finish line is reached successfully, another student can take the turn to lead.

4 Silence Classroom Leadership Game

A classroom leadership game such as this can force one or more people to reveal their leadership skills. The teacher starts by dividing the group into two teams and positioning them on either side of the room. Next, the teacher will give the students instructions such as “Line up according to birth dates,” or “Arrange yourselves into alphabetical order according to last names.” The students must then complete the activity without speaking. and those already with high school leadership skills may automatically take the initiative, and other students can join. They can make hand motions or write instructions down on paper, however, the teacher's only instruction to them is that they cannot speak. The first team to complete the task wins the game. Working with their team members like this on team building activities can create friendships and encourage students to step out of their comfort zone.

5 Conclusion

All of these games can be incorporated into lesson plans as leadership activities for middle school or high school students alike and incorporate important lessons like goal setting, mentoring others, teaching leadership and even improving self-esteem. Cultivating student leaders really begins in the classroom and through a simple activity like playing a game in class, students can grow to be an effective leader and utilize creative thinking during their decision making. Next time you’re looking for leadership activity ideas, consider these activities to apply during the school year and create better communication skills and critical thinking skills that your students can apply to real-life!

  • 1 Workshop Exercises: Leadership Activities
  • 2 Education World: Strategies for Teaching Students Leadership Skills

About the Author

Sabrina Stapleton has been writing since 2001 with her work focusing on academic writing in the field of health and fitness. Stapleton holds a Master of Arts in physiotherapy as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in sports rehabilitation and physiotherapy from Kings College University.

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How To Develop Leadership Skills In High School: 5 Great Examples Of Leadership Activities

How To Develop Leadership Skills In High School: 5 Great Examples Of Leadership Activities

Pursuing and excelling at activities demonstrating your leadership skills can help your college application stand out to admission officers. Now, how exactly do you do that? This post will take you through how to develop your leadership skills and provide examples of leadership activities done by successful college admits.

If you are in the middle of your college application process, or even a few years out, it is likely, that you already know that extracurriculars are an integral part of your college application . But why? The fact is that extracurriculars bring your application to life . They demonstrate to admissions officers what kind of person you are and what kind of contribution you would make to their college community. At Crimson Education , we know that admissions officers are looking for hard-working, creative leaders that will contribute to their community: students that will apply themselves and work toward making their college community a better place. So, what does this mean for your application?

Interested in learning more? Attend one of our free events

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Friday, October 13, 2023 12:00 AM CUT

Your extracurriculars reflect leadership skills, dedication to your interests, ambition and personal qualities that admissions officers look for. Discover 5 different ways to strategically build your extracurriculars and boost your applications for competitive schools!


How to Build Leadership Skills in High School?

First, what does it mean to be a leader? A common misconception is that leaders are always extroverted, loud, and direct. While this is certainly one type of leader, leadership styles are much more nuanced than that. In fact, there are as many types of leaders as there are types of people in this world. Being a successful leader means locating the issues in your community (this could be in your family, at your school, in your neighborhood, city, or country) and applying creative methods to solve that problem.

Another way to look at leadership skills is to think of the skills you already have (coding, sewing, reading etc.) and figure out where or how you can apply them to causes you care about. For example, say you love to draw, and you are interested in supporting a homeless shelter in your neighborhood. Well, you could illustrate a poster or postcard related to the cause of that shelter, then sell them, and all the proceeds could go to the shelter. You just conducted a full-blown fundraiser! Or say you are an avid coder and gamer and you are interested in supporting a restaurant in your town that is struggling due to the effects of COVID-19. You could offer to revamp their website (or create their website if they don’t already have one), which could boost their sales and/or give them a platform for delivery.

Both of these projects are wonderful examples of leadership extracurriculars because they demonstrate initiative and creative thinking. To be a leader means to be a problem solver - whatever that means to you and your community!

Developing Leadership in High School with Anjali Bhatia | Crimson Experts Interview Series Ep. 1

Examples of Leadership Activities for High School Students

Let’s look at more examples. Here is a list of leadership activities that Crimson’s successful college admits have pursued. Hopefully, this list will give you a jumping-off point when considering what leadership activities you would like to pursue.

1. Developing an App

Crimson student Miles created an app called FoodForThought, where restaurants and cafes across Auckland could post the leftover food from the day on the platform at a discount, allowing cost-conscious consumers to purchase high-quality food and beverages that would have been otherwise thrown away at the end of the day. Miles coded the entire project by himself and, with the help of his Crimson ECL Mentor, secured further funding for his company from an NZ-based angel investor.

Why is this a good leadership activity?

Miles noticed a problem in his community - food waste - and found a way to solve it using his skills (coding and app development). Additionally, Miles created this project outside a pre-established institution (his school or another volunteer organization). This tells admissions officers that Miles is not only able to solve problems in his community, but he is also a self-starter: someone who can develop projects from scratch. This project would therefore stand out on a college application.

2. Art and Health

Crimson student Annie created Art for Therapy, a project designed to improve the patient environment in therapy clinics. Often, people that go to therapy feel isolated by the sterile, hospital-like environment and the lack of inviting decor. Annie aimed to make patients more comfortable by donating student art to local clinics to improve attitudes and receptivity to therapy and recovery rates.

This project is unique, another quality that admissions officers look for in extracurricular activities. Annie clearly cares about health care and found a way to improve inpatients’ experiences without being a qualified nurse or doctor: she provided them with art! This project shows that Annie is an innovative thinker, persistent, and empathetic, all of which are great qualities to showcase on a college application.

3. Inclusive Journalism

Crimson student Adhithi is passionate about all-inclusive journalism. So, she and students from seven countries (that she met through Crimson Community) began working together to develop a news website that serves as an outlet to inform and highlight the impact of domestic disasters on an international scale. This website was dedicated to international and domestic politics. The target of this website was primarily students, but once the website started developing a solid reader base, Adhithi and her teammates worked to expand their writing by publishing their work in local newspapers.

This project is particularly strong due to its impact. Adhithi took advantage of the international community here at Crimson and expanded this project’s impact across continents. We can also see that Adhithi zeroed in on a problem in her community and sought a way to solve it. This project demonstrates Adhithi’s skills as an organized, driven, hard-working leader and illustrates her specific passion for inclusive journalism.

4. Athletics and Social Work

Crimson student Yuo is an enthusiastic tennis player who wants to solve a problem in his community. He saw that many perfectly usable tennis balls were discarded after games because they were not the standard needed for professional players, yet they were great for use by beginners. Yuo, therefore, started a project where he connected tennis clubs in his town with disadvantaged youth programs to help younger students learn the sport.

Once again, we have a great example of a student noticing a specific issue in their community and finding a way to be a part of the solution. This activity is strong because we see that Yuo was able to build upon another one of his extracurriculars: tennis. When writing out your list of extracurricular activities in your application, a good rule of thumb is that the more connections between your activities, the better. Not all your activities need to be related, but when 4-6 of them have something in common, it can help readers better understand who you are as a student and person.

5. Indigenous Awareness and Education

Crimson student Janela started a project to raise the consciousness of indigeneity in high schoolers called iSPARK. In early high school, Janela noticed that her textbooks barely included any material on indigenous history. She was shocked by this erasure, and it motivated her to fill in this gap in education by hosting a webinar series that provides a platform for indigenous people and scholars to share their experiences with high schoolers worldwide. In its final stages, iSPARK included over two hundred students around the US, two nonprofits, and school clubs who collaborated on collaborative projects to become allies with indigenous communities and initiate institutional reform.

This project demonstrates an ability to think critically; Janela has noticed a country-wide issue, and rather than be discouraged by its size, she has decided to channel her energy into correcting it, even if just in one small way. This is evidence of a persistent leader who can see beyond the here and now and conceptualize a brighter future. Additionally, we can see that this project has gained in size and impact over time, which is a quality that application readers look for.

Final Thoughts

Remember to start small and scale up, be honest and pursue what you are actually passionate about, and keep uniqueness, impact, problem-solving, and community in mind

If you would like more support building your leadership profile, enquiry with one of Crimson’s excellent Extracurricular Mentors below!

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7 Fun High School Activities For Encouraging Leadership Skills

Leadership is one of the most sought-after traits in a workplace or any other social setting. The National Association of Colleges and Employers gives a figure of 68.6% of employers who are looking for graduates with quality leadership skills. While on the other hand, most employers think only 33% of employees demonstrate leadership qualities. This statistic gives us all the more reason to ensure that high school students pick up this trait in their early years. 

The art of leading others can encourage students to be better communicators, increase creativity, improve their network and become more efficient individuals. Teens can easily incorporate leadership activities into their schedules in many forms. Whether you choose to engage in team-building activities or volunteer at a local shelter home, we’ve got you covered with seven things to do that will boost your leadership skills.

Why Is Leadership Important For High Schoolers?

Young adults can develop many important qualities by engaging in leadership-related activities. It is essential that they put time and effort into these tasks as this will leave a strong impact on them for the future.

  • Discipline: Discipline is a skill that can often be misunderstood and implied in a way that can have a negative impact on your productivity. Discipline in its best form aids you to become more efficient and acknowledge the tasks at hand. It also helps build good habits and break ineffective patterns.
  • Mutual Respect: Students learn yet another important quality that will encourage them to develop better relationships. To respect another person’s opinions and views is of utmost priority to foster a healthy classroom, family, or work environment.
  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills:  When students engage in leadership activities, they are often forced to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions to solve the problem at hand. Putting effort into finding solutions can be helpful even when their academics are brought into the picture.

So if you are wondering how to introduce leadership and team-building activities to your high-school students, check out some great activities and projects that your students can undertake to inculcate these values.

List Of Leadership Activities

1. genie’s carpet.

This is a simple classroom or home activity that you can make your students do without the help of many resources. All you will need is a large carpet to get started. Divide your students into four or five teams and ask them to stand on the carpet. The students may fold the carpet in half during each round while ensuring that all their team members still have their feet on the carpet. This is an excellent activity to develop communication and problem-solving skills.

2. Join a Volunteering Service

Students can organise a community clean-up drive, put together supplies for an elderly care home, volunteer at a pet adoption centre, or gauge attention towards a cause through social media or other online forums. With plenty of online as well as offline volunteering opportunities available, high school students can choose to engage in any one of these activities using their skills. Students can learn responsibility and the importance of collaboration and inclusivity to make a difference.

3. Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles have always been something that sparked joy in us as kids. As there is no lack of jigsaw puzzles curated for a young adult demographic in the market, it doesn’t hurt to use this fun game to aid in building our leadership skills. Puzzles are the way to go if you want to introduce your students to activities that will stimulate their minds, improve their critical thinking, and boost their social skills.

4. Think Like Your Role Model

This is an activity that can be conducted in class that will prompt students to research and compile facts and information on their role models. Students can be asked to find out what kind of approach had been taken by their role models for leadership and discuss their findings with the other students in class. This will help them analyse patterns and methods used by some of these people and help them improve their listening and communication skills with their peers.

5. Engage in School Student Council and Sports Activities

One of the best ways to learn leadership would be to actively get involved in school activities such as those held by the student council or a sports team. There are many roles that students can fulfil in these areas, each helping them learn important lessons of work ethic passion, conflict resolution, risk-taking, and so on. Students can also choose to join or start clubs of their interest, such as a literature club or an outdoor activities club.

6. Apply for an Internship

Although applying for an internship may not be the first thing on your mind, internships can teach you volumes about leadership, time management, and productive routines that you can incorporate into your personal values. Students can learn how to work with a team of people and observe people who take up leadership roles in such institutions. These opportunities will also be a great addition to your future college applications.

7. War Zone

Separate your students into groups and gather them in an open space( like a park or a school playground). The students should be tasked to cross a designated area where an opponent team will prepare to catch them from within that zone. Students will learn how to collaborate and brainstorm ideas to deceive/capture their rivals. This activity will provide an important premise to teach students the benefits of group effort and improve decision-making.

As said by Rosalynn Carter, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” 

Successful and effective leaderships skills take patience to cultivate in oneself. Regularly participating in activities such as the ones mentioned above or more within your school or community will create a drastic difference in your communication, listening, and understanding methods and help you become a good leader. A leader can be both authoritative as well as collaborative, and discovering what kind of a leader you want to be is crucial to facing your future endeavours.

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10 Leadership Activities for High School Students

As many universities go test-optional, the way that selective universities choose students has become increasingly qualitative. Leadership has become an ever-important metric for evaluating an applicant’s candidacy for admission.

Here’s why.

Leadership is often viewed by students as something reserved for adults, but positively taking charge of an activity, a group, or even a project is a step very few teens take. Admissions officers are looking for students who take the initiative to work on new projects, or band people together and learn new skills.

Note that your application should include a good mix of leadership activities, research, extracurricular activities, and a strong passion for the subject you’re applying for!

In this blog, we present different ways that students in high school can develop leadership skills both inside and outside of the classroom.

If you are interested in showcasing leadership through university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program , a selective online high school program for high school students. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Here are 10 different leadership activities for high school students to get involved in!

1. Run for Student Government / Class Council

Also referred to as student government or governing council, high school class councils are front-facing, amazing ways to become involved as a leader within your school environment. Planning activities and managing budgets are some of the many responsibilities that come with being an officer …plus it can be a lot of fun! It is also an impressive commitment to demonstrate in your college application.

Personally, my time as treasurer for my class council, and my later role as Class President taught me a great deal about the type of leader I am and how I operate in the face of pressure. Managing a large team to plan school-wide events like Homecoming and graduation were impressive components to my applications and ultimately played a significant role in getting me to Princeton. Even the experience of running for elected office demonstrates a commitment to leadership and a passion for serving your local community.

2. Join the board of a student organization

Most schools offer a wide variety of extracurricular clubs for their students to get involved in. They can be service-oriented, related to hobbies, or academic in nature. Whether it's your school’s National Honor Society or Rocketry Club, finding an organization that you are interested in and joining their executive board is one of the simplest and most effective ways to enhance your leadership skills in high school. Or, if there isn’t one you are particularly interested in, start your own club!

3. Start a Club

If there is a subject area or hobby that you are particularly fond of, start a student organization for it at your school! Taking the initiative to start a club and encouraging other students to join is a sure way to stand out on your college applications. Typically, the Activities Office of your school should be a helpful guide towards navigating the process of beginning a club. Involving a teacher of yours as an advisor is simultaneously a great way to exhibit leadership externally to faculty at school who could serve as recommenders for applications and scholarships. Potential examples for clubs to start include “ Girls Who Code ,” a chapter of an Honor Society, or Key Club . Alternatively, if there is a club that has long been inactive at your school, restarting it is another great idea!

4. Get a job or an internship

Many high school students take on jobs after school or on weekends, and these are excellent ways to demonstrate an ability for leadership! Acquiring a job that requires responsibility and strategic commitment is especially impressive and can teach you a lot about yourself and your career priorities. You can consider internships that allow you to work on a personal project under expert mentorship, or offer you the position of an assistant to a research project. These demonstrate initiative, skill, and professional maturity - skills admissions officers are looking for. Taking up babysitting jobs once and a while or a weekly shift at your local library are valuable ways to create an impact on your community in a novel way. Internships for high school students are offered across the country, and across multiple subjects and fields. It is a good idea to read up about the opportunities available for each subject, and then shortlist opportunities that you’d like to apply for! To assist you, we’ve written a few great blogs on internships that you can check out -

22 Internships for High School Students

10 Engineering Internships for High School Students

10 Business Internships for High School Students

12 Summer Internships For High School Students

10 Online Internships for High School Students

5. Serve as a volunteer

Community service has increasingly become a very important metric by which colleges evaluate applicants. Beyond being personally fulfilling, volunteering is so important for practicing commitment, problem-solving, and for learning more about your community - all skills critical to being a good leader. Volunteering can come in a myriad of forms, both unstructured and structured, to adapt to your schedule and individual needs as a student. Popular forms of volunteering for high school students occur at hospitals, museums, animal shelters, and parks, among others.

If you are interested in volunteering opportunities, you can look at our blog here !

6. Join a sports team

Joining an athletic team in high school can do wonders for your physical health and for your development as a leader. Students who are athletes in high school are regarded to demonstrate important qualities such as teamwork, initiative and exercising a goal-based mentality. Most high schools offer sports teams via their athletics department, or you can get involved in a rec team outside of school extracurricularly! This is an especially noteworthy form of demonstrating leadership if the team performs well at competitions or perhaps if the sport is a more unique one. Not only participating as a member for a team at your school, but assuming a role of leadership within the team is a way to demonstrate leadership skills outside of the classroom.

7. Pursue a Passion Project

As a break from the academic pressures of school, pursuing a passion project is a great way to gain leadership experience in your high school years. During my sophomore year, for example, I began a podcast that I used to share my experiences with identity and culture. Had it not been for the podcast, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for public speaking and for podcasting as a whole! The great thing about passion projects is that they truly can be anything– it’s a great way to stand out in your college application! Some other examples can include an art project, a fashion show, or writing a book!

8. Participate in Competitions

Involvement in competitions is a fun and exciting way to make friends and showcase your skills as a leader. They help cultivate one’s ability to communicate and strategize with a team, as well as grow skills in problem-solving . Competitions range widely in both subject and in scale, with many existing on a local, national, and even international level. See what competition teams exist at your high school and if there is one that doesn’t, you can start it! Popular ones include Olympiads for different subjects, FBA, and HOSA. Other programs that we have covered include National Student Leadership Conference , Boys State & Boys Nation , and Girls State & Girls Nation !

9. Start a small business or join business programs

Love jewelry making? Seem to always be crocheting in your free time? Transforming your ideas into a small business is a great way to take your passions one step further. You don’t need a business degree or a fancy title to get started! Online platforms like Etsy and Redbubble offer ways for individual entrepreneurs to market their products to a wide audience at a low cost (or for free!) Owning a business, however small, demonstrates to colleges that you possess: responsibility, creativity, and flexibility in the face of change. Additionally, you can participate in leadership/business programs and internships such as Bank of America Student Leaders , Ladder Internships , or Brown University’s Leadership Institute , and competitions such as The Blue Ocean Competition , Diamond Challenge , or Genius Olympiad .

10. Get involved with research

Participating in a research project in high school is a great opportunity for many reasons. You can find opportunities for research virtually or through connections with local universities in your area. Research comes in a variety of forms, from qualitative to quantitative, there’s something for everyone! Whether you’re passionate about biology or the social sciences, research demonstrates discipline, self-driven initiative, and commitment– all of which are important attributes in a rising young professional. Many universities offer research programs for high school students which you can apply for. Research programs such as Lumiere Research Scholar and Veritas AI offer flexible, mentored, and fully remote research programs. Here’s a little more information -

1. Lumiere Research Scholar Program

Founded by Harvard and Oxford researchers, Lumiere offers its own structured research programs in which ambitious high school students work 1-1 with top PhDs and develop an independent research paper.

Student researchers have had the opportunity to work on customized research projects across STEM, social sciences, AI and business. Lumiere’s growing network of mentors currently has over 700, carefully selected PhDs from top universities. You can find the application form here .

Also check out the Lumiere Research inclusion Foundation , a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

2. Veritas AI’s Summer Fellowship Program

Veritas AI has a range of AI programs for ambitious high school students , starting from close-group, collaborative learning to customized project pathways with 1:1 mentorship .

The programs have been designed and run by Harvard graduate students & alumni.

In the AI Fellowship, you will create a novel AI project independently with the support of a mentor over 12-15 weeks. Examples of past projects can be found here .

Apply now !

Additionally, here are a few blogs that can guide you on your research journey as a high school student!

How to do Research in High School: Everything You Need to Know

The Complete Guide To Publishing Your Research In High School

How to Write About Research in Your College Application

How College Admission Officers Evaluate Research in Applications

Aisha is a student at Princeton University, studying Anthropology and Global Health. On campus, she is involved with student groups centered around health equity and cultural affinity. In her free time, she enjoys podcasting, learning languages, and trying new recipes.

Image Source: Veritas AI logo

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Student ACES is teaching young athletes the essence of leadership and teamwork, extending beyond sports fields.

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Founded a decade ago, Student ACES focuses on molding young men and women into leaders on and off the field. Thursday, 70 student-athletes from 13 South Florida schools gathered to explore teamwork and leadership in real-world scenarios.

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Through practical exercises and case studies, including topics like bullying, the program empowers students to apply their skills beyond sports.

Executive Director Krissy Webb notes that more than 50,000 students have been positively impacted over the past decade, with many applying their lessons in college and the workforce.

"So we work really hard the entire program to make these students not defined by sports. Because they are a lot more than sports," she said.

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Expert Commentary

How youth sports influence leadership skills, volunteerism

2015 study from Cornell University and Southern Illinois University that explores how participating in high-school sports may influence a person's job prospects, leadership skills and late-life personality.

leadership activities for high school athletes

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License .

by Rachael Stephens, The Journalist's Resource October 5, 2015

This <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org/economics/high-school-sports-career-selection-personality/">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org">The Journalist's Resource</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="https://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/cropped-jr-favicon-150x150.png" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;">

Athletics are a key feature of the high-school experience for most American youth, whether they are athletes or spectators. As of 2009, 38% of high-school seniors were involved in team sports, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The National Federation of State High School Associations announced in late 2014 that sports participation reached a record high of 7.8 million high-school students for the 2013-14 academic year.

While high-school athletics continue to be one of the most popular extracurricular activities for today’s teens, public school districts sometimes struggle to fund such programs. In School Board meetings and government gathering spaces across the country, educators, community leaders and others have debated the benefits and consequences of school-sponsored sports, which often must compete against academic programs for at least a portion of their funding. In recent years, some school districts wrestling with budget constraints have cut back on their sports programs or considered eliminating them completely . Meanwhile, numerous academic studies have explored the issue of student physical activity more broadly, including its effect on children’s mental health and academic outcomes. A 2012 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics offers a review of 14 studies related to student physical activity and concludes that there is a positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

A 2015 report published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, “Sports at Work: Anticipated and Persistent Correlates of Participation in High School Athletics,” adds new insights into this issue. Authors Kevin M. Kniffin and Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Mitsuru Shimizu of Southern Illinois University completed two complementary studies to try to gauge whether former student-athletes make better employees. For the first study, 66 adults were asked questions about how they perceive people who participated in different extracurricular activities while in high school. The second study used data from the 2000 University of Illinois Veterans Survey, which collected a variety of information from 931 World War II veterans, to determine how participation in youth sports may have influenced these veterans’ career paths, leadership skills and the likelihood that they volunteer and donate to charity.

Key findings of the first study include:

  • People tend to expect former student-athletes to display higher levels of leadership, self-confidence and self-respect than former students who participated in the school band or school yearbook club during high school.
  • People tend to expect former student-athletes to be less generous in terms of doing volunteer work and donating to charity when compared to former students who had been involved with the school band or the school yearbook.
  • There were no significant differences in how study participants perceived the time management skills of former students who had been involved in sports, the school band or school yearbook.

Key findings of the second study include:

  • Of the veterans who were surveyed, those who played at least one varsity sport in high school tended to rate higher scores in categories related to leadership, self-confidence and self-respect than those who did not.
  • Former student-athletes were more likely to report that they do volunteer work and donate money to various organizations more than 55 years after graduating high school.
  • A larger proportion of former student-athletes reported having had careers in “upper management.”

This report builds on prior research and suggests that participating in youth sports might influence the development of certain desirable skills and values. The authors recommend that questions about participation in youth sports be included in job interviews — even for candidates who are relatively far removed from high school — as such participation might have important implications for a person’s leadership capacity and other personality traits. The authors caution, however, that former athletes might be preferred for these reasons even though such qualities might not be necessary for the job in question. The study highlights the need for closer attention to the relevance of sports in the workplace and the activities of older populations. “Our studies address a surprising dearth of systematic study on the relevance of participation in youth sports for early-career selection preferences as well as late-in-life leadership, personality, and behavior,” the authors state. “Given the popular importance of sports in many people’s lives, closer attention is overdue for understanding sports’ roles in the workplace and beyond — including late-in-life charitable giving and voluntarism.”

Related research: A July 2015 report in the Journal of Adolescent Health , “High School Sports Involvement Diminishes the Association Between Childhood Conduct Disorder and Adult Antisocial Behavior,” indicates that participating in high school sports may help disrupt antisocial behavior that begins in childhood and adolescence. An April 2015 report in Global Pediatric Health , “Reported Sports Participation, Race, Sex, Ethnicity, and Obesity in U.S. Adolescents From NHANES Physical Activity,” explores the relationship between participation in different types of athletic activities and adolescent obesity. A 2013 report in the Journal of Pediatrics , “Incidence of Sports-Related Concussion among Youth Football Players Aged 8-12 Years,” looks at the prevalence and causes of medically-diagnosed concussions among male football players in western Pennsylvania during the 2011 youth football season.

Keywords: sports, athletics, education, achievement, sports and academics, youth sports, youth athletics, student athletes, obesity, competitive sports, football

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The Case for High School Activities

Some description


The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and its member state associations champion interscholastic sports and performing arts activities because they promote citizenship and sportsmanship in the 11 million students who participate nationwide. Activity programs instill a sense of pride in school and community, teach lifelong lessons and skills of teamwork and self-discipline and facilitate the physical and emotional development of the nation’s youth. 

There is no better time than now to assert "The Case for High School Activities." Education and community leaders across America need the facts contained in this material documenting the benefits of participation in interscholastic sports, music, theatre, debate, and other activities, to provide support needed for these programs. These activities provide important developmental experiences that enrich a student's high school experience and entire life, and these programs must be protected and sustained.


At a cost of only one to three percent (or less in many cases) of an overall school's budget, high school activity programs are one of today’s best bargains. It is in these vital programs – sports, music, speech, theatre, debate – where young people learn lifelong lessons that complement the academic lessons taught in the classroom. From a cost standpoint, activity programs are an exceptional bargain when matched against the overall school district’s education budget.

Examinations of various school districts’ budget information across the country reveal that activity programs make up very small percentages of school budgets. In the 2014-15 school year, the city of Chicago’s Public School Board of Education’s budget was $4.93 billion. The activity programs portion was  $17.6 million. In the Los Angeles Unified school district, activity programs received $6.33 million of the overall $7.27 billion budget for 2014-15. Finally, in the Miami – Dade, Florida school district, its Board of Education had a 2014-15 overall budget of $3.7 billion dollars, while setting aside $17.2 million for activity programs. In all of these examples, the budget for school activity programs is less than one percent of the overall district’s budget. Considering the benefits, which are outlined below, at such small proportions of overall school district budgets, school activity programs are one of the most effective investments being made in secondary school education programs today.

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The NFHS supports co-curricular endeavors through many avenues, including:

  • Rules-writing Process – The NFHS produces more than eight million copies of publications and support materials annually for 14 rules books covering 16 sports. The NFHS publishes case books, officials’ manuals, handbooks, and simplified and illustrated books in many sports. 
  • The NFHS Learning Center – The NFHS Fundamentals of Coaching Course provides a unique student-centered curriculum for interscholastic coaches that assists coaches in creating a healthy and age-appropriate sport experience. The course can be taken either online or in a face-to-face blended delivery option. With over than one million courses viewed and taken, this tool enhances the education for the adults who have committed to the betterment of their young people.   More information can be accessed by going to www.nfhslearn.com.
  • National High School Activities Month – The nation's high schools are encouraged to promote the values inherent in high school athletics, speech, music, theatre, debate and spirit squads during this celebration in the month of October.
  • Public Service Announcements – Various sportsmanship messages are created and distributed in electronic and radio formats, as well as healthy lifestyle messages that tackle difficult but current topics such as steroid usage and hazing education.
  • High School Activities: A Community Investment in America – This presentation is an NFHS educational product. It documents the value of high school athletic and fine arts activities through an excellent PowerPoint presentation with videos on a CD-ROM. You can order this CD-ROM by calling NFHS customer service at 800-776-3462.
  • SPORTSMANSHIP. IT’S UP TO YOU.™ TOOLKIT – This initiative is designed to improve sportsmanship in schools and the community. Sportsmanship is an issue that affects everyone. The "Sportsmanship, It's Up To You" campaign is based on respect and involves personal responsibility. It starts with a mindset and ends with behavioral choices. In this kit you will find the necessary information and media resources to implement a successful sportsmanship awareness and improvement program in your school. The campaign comes on 2 DVD's. The resource DVD contains the implementation guide (pdf), overview video, motivational video to share with your school and community, various customizable posters, live-read scripts for school announcements and radio spots, Student pledge cards, a logo/photo library, and guidelines. The presentation DVD is for a large audience. The disc houses a full-screen, full resolution videos. Videos included are the campaign overview, motivational video, and 3 broadcast PSA's.   You can order this toolkit by calling NFHS Customer Service at 800-776-3462.

Benefits of Co-curricular or Education-based Activities

  • Activities Support the Academic Mission of Schools. They are not a diversion, but rather an extension of a good educational program. Students who participate in activity programs tend to have higher grade-point averages, better attendance records, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems than students generally.
  • Activities are Inherently Educational. Activity programs provide valuable lessons and skills for practical situations – like teamwork, fair play, and hard work. Through participation in activity programs, students learn self-discipline, build self-confidence and develop skills to handle competitive situations. These are qualities students need if they are to become responsible adults, productive citizens and skilled professionals.
  • Activities Promote Health and Well-being. Mental and physical health are improved by through activities. Self-concept, self-image, physical activity, and weight management are a few of these health benefits realized through activity participation.
  • Activities Foster Success in Later Life. Participation in high school activities is often a predictor of later success – in college, a career and becoming a contributing healthy member of society.

Following are some of these benefits identified more specifically and documented. These benefits are described in several categories that are listed immediately below. This version of the Case for High School Activities compared to past versions presents additional and more recent study results and includes additional categories of benefits. Several of the studies below have findings that fit into more than one category. In most cases the study was listed in the category that fit best for most of its findings, and in some cases the other findings for the study (that may have fit better in another category) were also mentioned alongside the major findings. Only a couple of studies were listed in two categories because the study had major findings in both categories. While many of the studies below refer to “extracurricular activities,” the NFHS prefers the use of the terms “education-based” or “co-curricular” activities to indicate that activities support the academic mission of schools, are inherently educational, and are a significant part of the school or education system.









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  Students who compete in high school activity programs have better educational outcomes, including higher grades, higher achievement test scores, and higher educational expectations beyond high school.

  • Students in school-sponsored activities had higher math achievement test scores and expectations for attending college according to a report that examined data from two national longitudinal education cohort studies (from the National Center for Education Statistics). The results also showed that the relationship between these outcomes and extracurricular activities held for students in the 1990s (Generation X) and the early 2000s (Millennial Generation).  The author comments that these outcomes may be because school activities involvement increases school engagement in the schools’ academic culture and also that students in the 2000s were participating more in these “academically beneficial” school-sponsored activities. (Dumais, 2009).
  • A study of nearly 140,000 Kansas high school students, examining data from the Kansas High School Athletic Association and the Kansas State Department of Education, revealed that “athletes earned higher grades, graduated at a higher rate, dropped out of school less frequently, and scored higher on state assessments than did non-athletes.” Student-athletes of color contributed to these overall results having much higher grade point averages much higher graduation rates, and much lower dropout rates than non-athlete students of color. This led authors to say that although pay-to-play “may seem like a reasonable alternative to eliminating sport programs altogether, it discriminates against students who do not have the financial means to pay for membership on a high school sports team.” (Lumpkin & Favor, 2012). Thus, eliminating sports programs, and likely other extracurricular activities, or implementing pay-to-play (or increasing the cost) is likely to have a more negative impact on students who come from families that are poorer, and generally students of color are over-represented among poorer families.
  • When looking at the relationship of physical activity and sports team participation with grade point average (GPA), sports team participation was independently associated with a higher GPA for high school girls and boys. The effect of sports team participation had an independent effect on GPA beyond physical activity. This suggests that other factors involved in sports team participation beyond physical activity play a role in academic outcomes. Possible explanations from the authors included: sports participation promotes identification with school and school related values, such as doing well academically; pro-educational social norms among teammates and coaches; and academic requirements for participation. They also note, “For adolescent students, in particular, sports team participation may be the major route by which they are physically active, and multiple studies suggest that participation on sports teams is also associated with better academic outcomes.” (Fox et al., 2010).
  • An earlier study looking at physical activity and academic performance in younger students found that those who participated in vigorous physical activity did approximately 10% better in math, science, English, and social studies than students who did no or little vigorous activities. Yet, the study noted that many of the students reporting higher levels of vigorous activities were involved in organized sports, like soccer, football, or basketball. (Coe et al., 2006).
  • Participation in school-sponsored athletics “is associated with a 2 percent increase in math and science test scores”, school-sponsored “club participation is associated with a 1 percent increase in math test scores,” and “involvement in either in sports or clubs is associated with a 5 percent increase in Bachelor’s degree attainment expectations,” according to an investigation of National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) data. The author notes that such outcomes, high school test scores and degree attainment expectations, are “strongly related to educational attainment and future wages,” and that “society ought to have a better understanding of the benefits these activities [school-sponsored clubs and sports] afford.” (Lipscomb, 2007).
  • Other research analyzing NELS data shows that high school participation in extracurricular school activities (ESAs) are more strongly related to positive school outcomes than out-of-school extracurricular activities. These school outcomes were higher grades in 12 th grade and higher rates of college attendance two years after high school, even when controlling for earlier grades. The study did find “diminishing returns for extremely high levels of ESA.” The authors also noted that extracurricular school activities “benefited socioeconomically disadvantaged students as much or more than advantaged students.” (Marsh & Kleitman, 2002).
  • A Minnesota State High School League survey of 300 Minnesota high schools showed that the average GPA of a student-athlete was 2.84, compared with 2.68 for the non-participating student, and that student-athletes missed an average of only 7.4 days of school each year, compared with 8.8 for the non-participating student. (Born, 2007). This supports previous results from a study done in collaboration with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association that found significant differences between North Carolina high school students who were athletes and those who were not athletes in GPA (2.98 for athletes vs. 2.17 for non-athletes), missed days of school per school year (6.3 for athletes vs. 11.9 for non-athletes), disciple referrals (33.3% of athletes vs. 41.8% of non-athletes), dropout rate (0.6% for athletes vs. 10.32% for non-athletes), and graduation rate (99.4% for athletes vs. 93.5% for non-athletes). (Overton, 2001).
  • A report for the College Entrance Examination Board on the study of the relationship of extracurricular activity involvement in high school and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores concluded that “participation in extracurricular activities provides all students – including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, minorities and those with less-than-distinguished academic achievements in high school – a measurable and meaningful gain in their college admissions test scores. The important reasoning abilities measured by tests like the SAT, evidently, are indeed developed both in and out of the classroom.”  This conclusion was reached by analyzing the SAT verbal and mathematics scores of more than 480,000 high school students after controlling for a number of socioeconomic background and academic achievement factors. Also the impact of extracurricular activity participation was larger than the family socioeconomic factors and academic achievement levels used in this study. (Everson & Millsap, 2005).
  • An examination of 2001 SAT scores revealed that music students scored about 11 percent higher than non-music students. Students with coursework/experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT than students with no arts participation, about 60 points higher in verbal area of the SAT and over 40 points higher in math. (CEEB, 2001).

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Participation in high school activities is a valuable part of the overall high school experience, enhancing students’ school engagement and sense of belonging.

  • Examination of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health showed strong evidence that school extracurricular activities were positively associated with adolescents’ friendships, both supporting existing friendships and developing new ones. Friendship ties were more likely to exist among activity coparticipants while controlling for other friendship processes. The authors noted that extracurricular activities provide settings “within schools that are uniquely poised to promote friendships, as they are typically voluntary, safe settings that allow adolescents space to interact and engage with their friends.” (Schaefer et al., 2011).
  • A study looking at social adjustment in making the transition from middle school (8 th grade) to high school (9 th grade) found involvement in sports helped students with friendships during the transition. The authors wrote, “Continuous involvement in sports and initiation of academic activities was associated with having more friendships.” (Bohnert et al., 2013).
  • School arts participation and engagement are associated with enhanced academic motivation and engagement measures as well as [non-academic] measures of well-being, including a sense of meaning and purpose according to a longitudinal study of students in 15 Australian schools. It also showed that in-school arts participation and engagement measures were more strongly correlated with academic motivation and engagement outcomes and some measures of well-being than non-school related participation measures. (Martin et al., 2013).
  • Involvement in a moderate number of activity domains, among academic/leadership groups, arts activities, clubs, and sports, promotes a greater sense of belonging at school, increased academic engagement, and higher academic performance as measured by grade point average according to a study of urban, ethnically diverse students (40.7% Latino; 16.8% African-American, 12.7% Asian-American, 11.2% Caucasian, and 18.5% other ethnicity or two or more ethnic groups). The study authors suggest that it is necessary for schools “retain ample extracurricular opportunities in order to foster adolescents’ sense of belonging at school and higher academic performance.” They conclude that, “it is essential that schools offer a number of extracurricular activities that capture the diverse interests of the entire student body. Schools can maximize the impact of these activities by encouraging disconnected, low achieving students to join a couple of activities. At a time when school budgets face reductions, this type of research argues for the importance of maintaining a breadth of extracurricular opportunities for students attending urban high schools.” (Knifsend & Graham, 2012).
  • Contributors to Organized Activities as Contexts of Development: Extracurricular Activities, After-School and Community Programs , noted that making diverse clubs and activities available to a wide range of students is important. The opportunity to embed one’s identity in multiple extracurricular contexts and to experience multiple competencies facilitates attachment to school and adjustment. Activity participation is also linked to affiliation with peers who are academically focused. Adolescents can benefit from this synergistic system when they have opportunities to participate in diverse activities. (Barber et al., 2005).

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Co-curricular activity programs promote positive youth development and provide opportunities for learning a number of life skills and values not typically taught in classroom education.

  • In a study looking at learning life skills through high school sports, a very diverse group of students participating in high school soccer reported learning skills related to initiative, respect, and teamwork/leadership, despite the authors noting they “did not find evidence that the student-athletes were directly taught about the life skills that were reported.” (Holt et al., 2008).
  • A study of life skills developed through football by award-winning high school coaches found that these coaches saw that the process of participation and striving to win taught life skills such as discipline, work ethic, and emotional control.  In addition, “these coaches did not view the coaching of life skills as separate from their general coaching strategies for performance enhancement and while highly motivated to win, personal development of their players was a top priority.” (Gould et al., 2007).
  • A study of model high school coaches and their athletes found that these coaches taught life skills, their student athletes learned the skills and were able transfer them to other areas of their lives. The study found that these coaches “had specific strategies to coach life skills”, which in addition to modeling behavior included “peer evaluations, taking advantage of teachable moments, and volunteer work,” as well as teaching “student-athletes how to transfer life skills.” (Camiré et al., 2012). 
  • Extracurricular activities stand out from other aspects of adolescents’ lives at school because they provide opportunities to “develop initiative and allow youth to learn emotional competencies and develop new social skills.” These activities allow “youth to form new connections with peers and acquire social capital.” The authors of this work further stated that activity programs are one of the few contexts, outside of the classroom, where adolescents regularly come in contact with adults to whom they are not related. (Darling et al., 2005).
  • In a study commissioned by the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association, corporate and political leaders surveyed in Alberta cited the following benefits or life skills associated with their involvement in high school athletics: teamwork, discipline, goal-setting, leadership, independence, self-confidence, stress relief, character development and personal growth, fair play, and acceptance of others. (Berrett, 2006).
  • A survey study of Life Skill Development in Ontario High School Sport concluded that parents, coaches, and student-athletes all perceive high school sport as positive and is a context where life skills are developed, that student-athletes score higher on most developmental assets than students who are not in high school sports, and that student-athletes appear to be more engaged and enjoy school more as a result of participating in high school sport. (Williamson et al., 2013).
  • A study of students drawn from 26 selected Western Australia high schools found that “in general, participation in any type of extracurricular activity was associated with a higher social and academic self-concept, and general self-worth, compared to no participation.” Also participating in both sport and non-sport extracurricular activities was associated with higher social self-concept and general self-worth, compared to participating in only sports or in just non-sport extracurricular activities. (Blomfield & Barber, 2009)
  • Examination of different adolescent activity patterns (sports-focused, sports plus other activities, primarily school-based activities, primarily religious youth groups, and low activity involvement,) “with five categories of youth development outcomes, including competence (e.g., academic ability), confidence (e.g., self-concept of ability), connections (e.g., talking with friends), character (e.g., externalizing behavior problems), and caring (e.g., pro-social behavior),” showed that participation in only sports or primarily only in other school activities was associated with more positive outcomes than little or no participation in activities, but less positive outcomes than participation in sports plus other activities. (Linver et al., 2009).

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Students involved in educational activities often have many healthier behaviors leading to better physical and mental health.

  • Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) administered every 2 years showed that regardless of year, age, gender or race/ethnicity, compared to non-athletes, athletes were more likely to report engaging in vigorous activity and using a condom and less likely to report carrying a weapon. This data showed additional health benefits associated with sports participation that varied by gender and race/ethnicity. These health behaviors included dietary habits, weight loss, sexual activity, Interpersonal violence and suicidality, and substance abuse.  Of the 25 health behaviors, White female athletes had the most, 19, associations with positive healthful behaviors. There were fewer associations between sports participation and positive health behaviors for African-American, Hispanic, and the “Other” racial or ethnic category of female athletes, but there were no associations between any racial/ethnic group of female athletes and negative health behaviors. There were some associations for male athletes with negative health behaviors. Minority male athletes showed more associations with healthy behaviors than did minority female athletes. The study’s authors state: “school officials and public health planners can use these findings as a tool to evaluate health costs associated with eliminating sport activities, especially as programs face cuts during economic difficulties.” (Taliaferro et al., 2010).
  • Earlier findings from YRBS data also showed multiple positive health benefits associated with sports participation. There were some variations between the specific health behaviors associated with sports participation in these two examinations of YRBS data and both studies showed variations by race and ethnicity. However, both studies showed many positive associations with health behaviors for athletes, only a few negative associations, and the significant role sports participation play in the health of young people. Authors of this earlier study wrote, “sports programs may promote positive health behaviors and deter negative health behaviors by placing a premium on personal health and fitness as prerequisites to optimal sports performance.” (Pate et al., 2000).
  • Further corroboration of the health benefits of sports and other school activities comes from 50,168 Minnesota ninth grade public school students voluntarily completing a statewide survey. The data revealed that students involved in sports had significantly higher rates of exercise, milk consumption, and a healthy self-image and had significantly lower odds for emotional distress, suicidal behavior, family substance abuse and physical and sexual victimization than students not involved in sports. Students participating in other activities were significantly more involved in doing homework and significantly less involved with alcohol and marijuana use as well as vandalism. Students involved in both sports and other activities had significantly higher odds ratios than those for “ the other groups for all healthy behaviors and measures of connectedness, and significantly lower [odds ratios] for all but one of the unhealthy behaviors. (Harrison & Narayan, 2003).
  • Examination of cross-sectional data from a nationally representative sample of high school students enrolled in public high schools in the United States showed that students participating in organized sports were 25 percent less likely to be current cigarette smokers. (Castrucci et al., 2004)
  • A study using the Arizona Youth Survey data showed that Native American students who reported a high level of availability in their school to be involved inextracurricular activities “were less likely to use substances, to be drunk or high at school, to ride/drive when the driver was under the influence, and to sell drugs.” Also the greater their participation in the extracurricular activities at school, the less likely Native American students in this study were to be involved in any of these substance use and drug related behaviors. (Moilanen et al., 2014).
  • In a specific examination of high school youth and suicide risk using national data from the CDC’s YRBS, sports participation was significantly associated with reduced risk of feeling hopeless and suicide behaviors. This was true for both male and female athletes while controlling for levels of physical activity.  “These findings indicate that involvement in sport confers unique psychosocial benefits that protect adolescents against suicidality… and suggest that mechanisms other than physical activity contribute to the protective association between sport and reduced suicidality. Social support and integration may account for some of the differences found in suicidality between athletes and nonathletes.” (Taliaferro et al., 2008).
  • Similar health results have been reported in other parts of the world as well. A study of school-based extracurricular activities (SBEAs) of Chinese students found that those who were engaged in school-based extracurricular activities had a healthier self-concept, were healthier psychologically, showed more emotionally stability, better social adaption and had better career development skills than other students. The authors commented: “Based on the results of our study, we suggest that it might be a good strategy to encourage students to participate in SBEAs to promote positive personality characteristics, good psychological health and adjustment, a healthy self-concept and good career development skills. Schools should create an environment that encourages positive SBEA experiences.” They further stated: “School administrators should recognise that most SBEAs have a positive impact on personality, the self-concept and career development skills in adolescents. In particular, SBEAs provide the social support and promote the interpersonal interaction skills that are important to adolescents’ and young adults’ development.” (Shiah et al., 2013).
  • In a study asking students how they would like to become more physically active, about 75% selected doing more physical activity and sports during and after school, and about 50% selected team sports. (Corder et al., 2013). This corresponds with other studies showing that school sports are areas where many students can get more physical activity. 
  • A research investigation found that the dramatic increase in high school sports participation among girls in the aftermath of the passage of Title IX “was associated with an increase in physical activity and an improvement in weight and body mass among adolescent girls.”  The study authors wrote that their “results strongly suggest that Title IX and the increase in athletic opportunities among adolescent females it engendered had a beneficial effect on the health of adolescent girls.” (Kaestner & Xu, 2006).

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Participation in activity programs yields positive results after high school as well.

  • A survey of Alberta’s top corporate CEOs and members of the Legislative Assembly revealed that 78.3 percent had participated in interschool sports. Nearly 80 percent indicated that being involved in school sports significantly, extensively or moderately complemented their career development and/or academic pursuits. This same study, commissioned by the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association, pointed out that a normal participation rate for students in high school sports is around 30 to 35 percent. (Berrett, 2006).
  • Examination of National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) data showed that participation in school athletics was correlated with many positive educational achievements, behaviors and aspirations in the end of Grade 12 as well as two years later. The positive outcomes included “school grades, coursework selection, homework, educational and occupational aspirations, self-esteem, university applications, subsequent college enrollment, and eventual educational attainment.” These results were consistent across different subgroups for students (e.g., socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, ability levels, educational aspirations), and were evident when controlling for these factors along with parallel outcome variables in grades 8 and 10. Participation in interscholastic sport “was significantly more beneficial than participation in intramural sport, particularly for more narrowly defined academic outcomes.” (Marsh & Kleitman, 2003).
  • A more recent study of the NELS data showed that participation in organized activities during high school is positively associated with post secondary educational attainment, voting, volunteering, and occupational factors 2 and 8 years after high school (while controlling for several demographic, achievement, individual and family factors). More positive associations with outcomes were found for those who participated in organized activities two or more years during high school vs. those who participated only one year. More associations between school-sponsored vs. community-sponsored activities were found 8 years after high school, in particular these were the occupational outcomes of full-time employment and income. One possible explanation put forth by the authors was “that school-sponsored activities, relative to community-sponsored activities, offer developmental supports and opportunities that are more relevant for later occupational success.” (Gardner et al., 2008).
  • High school leaders, according to self-report responses about being in some typical high school leadership positions used in the NELS, are more likely to attend college and complete a four-year degree according to another examination of NELS data. School extracurricular activities provide many of the leadership opportunities for high school students. The author of this study states, “Since the availability of leadership positions depends upon the existence of school activities that provide such leadership opportunities, the evidence presented in this article indicates that decisions regarding financial cutbacks for extracurricular activities should not be taken lightly.” (Rouse, 2012).
  • Educationally vulnerable youth, characterized by significant personal and social risks and an absence of assets for achieving educational success, involved in extracurricular activities during high school, particularly sports, were more likely to attend college three years post high school than the average overall college attendance of educationally vulnerable youth. Other high school club involvement also contributed to higher college attendance. The authors wrote: “Our results suggest that when vulnerable youth are exposed to a broad distribution of extracurricular activity settings that afford them constructive, developmentally appropriate opportunities (e.g., to befriend healthy peers, develop competencies and skills, exercise some autonomy, develop long-term mentoring relationships, and explore their commitment to education more generally) then their chances of being educationally resilient are enhanced.” (Peck et al., 2008).
  • When seeking a job, many students believe highlighting their involvement in extracurricular activities (ECAs) “could be a way to inform employers about soft currencies they possess (e.g. soft skills, teamwork) in addition to hard currencies (e.g. education credentials), but also about their self (e.g. their personality or their values), that is, the full package of personal capital.” They can also see involvement in ECAs as a way to distinguish themselves from other applicants. The authors also noted that these students “believe that their degree is not sufficient to ensure them a job after graduation” and see “the need for distinction.” The authors also noted that employers see ECA participation positively “because they believe ECAs are signals of individuals’ competencies or personality.” (Roulin & Bangerter, 2013).
  • Participation in high school sports appears to be not only associated with being more physically active now, but well into the future. In examining the physical activity and health of a sample of male World War II veterans over 50 years later “the single strongest predictor of later-life physical activity was whether he played a varsity sport in high school, and this was also related to fewer self-reported visits to the doctor.” The authors of the study further stated, “This is relevant at a time when funding for many sports programs is being eliminated and play time is being replaced by screen time.” (Dohle & Wansink, 2013).
  • A survey of Iowans who graduated 10 to 20 years prior revealed that those who participated in sports during high school experienced a number of positive benefits or behaviors, including “engaging in vigorous physical activity during the week; reporting very good or excellent emotional health; having higher self-esteem; not experiencing long- or short- term depression; feeling satisfied with progress made toward goals in the domains of family, career, and general life; making active use of discretionary time outside the home; volunteering in the community; voting in state and national elections; knowing the names of U.S. Senators from Iowa; assessing news outlets every day; completing a four year degree; having an annual household income greater than $50,000; not having trouble paying bills.” Those who participated in non-sport extracurricular activities during high school also experienced a number of these benefits and behaviors, including engaging in vigorous physical activity in early adulthood more days per week, higher self-esteem, more active use of discretionary time, more volunteering, and completing a four-year degree. (Lutz et al., 2009).

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Co-curricular activities teach lessons that lead to better citizens.

  • Examination of data from the National Survey of Civic Engagement found that 18- to 25-year-olds who participate in sports activities while in high school were more likely than nonparticipants to be engaged in volunteering, voting, feeling comfortable speaking in public settings, and watching news (especially sport news). (Lopez & Moore, 2006).
  • A study looking at data from both the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS) and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found participation in a number of high school extracurricular activities positively related to early adulthood voting, even after controlling for many self-selection factors, and those not participating in any high school extracurriculars had a lower voting rate. Performing arts participation in high school had one of the biggest effects. The authors noted that many of the extracurricular activities that had an impact, like music, had seemingly no political content or taught specific voting-relevant skills. Instead, their theory for these associations lies mainly in the creation of the habit of participation and engagement as noted in the following statements. “Those who get in the habit of participating and engaging in their high school community tend to continue those behaviors and kind of associations into adulthood. Those that find themselves on the track of uninvolvement and detachment tend to remain detached.” (Thomas & McFarland, 2010).
  • Other analyses of NELS data examining the effects of participation in high school extracurricular activities on political engagement among young Black adults showed that participation in individual varsity sports and nonsport extracurricular activities were significantly related to political engagement, as measured by registering to vote and voting in a presidential election.(Braddock et al., 2007).  
  • Adolescent participation in extracurricular activities was associated with a greater likelihood of college attendance, voting in national and regional elections, and volunteering for community and religious groups according to another examination of NELS data.  Consistent extracurricular activity participation in 8 th , 10 th , and 12 th grades showed effects greater than participation in just one of these grades. These results held “after accounting for control and individual, parent, peer, and school process variables.” (Zaff et al., 2003).
  • A study of behaviors in a sample World War II veterans found that men who were varsity athletes in high school volunteered time more frequently and donated more to charity than those who were not athletes in high school. In addition, those veterans “who participated in varsity-level high school sports an average of 60 years earlier appeared to demonstrate higher levels of leadership and enjoyed higher-status careers.” (Kniffin et al., 2014).

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Not only do individual students benefit from education-based activities, schools and communities benefit when more students are involved in co-curricular activities.

  • An examination of information on North Carolina school characteristics, the numbers and types of extracurricular activities available, participation rates, and academic outcomes found that schools that offer more extracurricular activities usually have higher extracurricular participation rates and “opportunities to participate are associated with positive academic outcomes for the school, even when controlling for school resources.”(Stearns & Glennie, 2010).
  • Schools that have music programs have significantly higher attendance rates (93.3%) and graduation rates (90.2%) compared to schools that do not have music programs (84.9% and 72.9%, respectively) according to a study done in collaboration with a national and an international music association and with Harris Interactive. (MENC & NAMM, 2006).
  • A study of Minnesota Department of Education school fiscal and demographic data combined with self-report information from educators found “that increased allocation of a greater proportion of a school’s total annual expenditure (i.e., increased resources) to student activities and athletics programming is associated with a decreased risk of physical assault [PA] for the educators working in” the school. Compared to other resource allocations, such as regular instruction, special education, and district administration, “associations between increased resource allocations to student activities expenditures and decreased risks of PA were the strongest.” The authors suggest that increased funding provides the opportunity for more students to participate in extracurricular activities, which increases exposure to an adult-supervised environment and consistent with other research, are associated “with prosocial behaviors and other positive educational outcomes.” The authors further suggest that “cuts to sports and extracurricular program budgets may have unintended consequences, such as increased violence in the schools.” (Sage et al., 2010.)
  • A study using a nationally representative sample of roughly 1,200 public high schools found “that schools with higher proportions of sports participants report significantly fewer serious crimes (i.e., violent crimes) and suspensions occurring on school grounds.” (Veliz & Shakib, 2012).

As documented here, there are many benefits to participation in education-based co-curricular activities. Among those studies documenting these benefits, several are from countries other than the United States and Canada, such as Australia, China, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. It appears that many of these countries are discovering and studying some of the benefits of education-based co-curricular activities in addition to considering or actually implementing these activities. Other parts of the world also appear to be recognizing the value of sports, performing arts, and other activities in conjunction with academics and within schools. This seems to add further support that schools offering education-based activities can contribute additional benefits to those that can be gained through sports and performing arts activities.

Additionally, although many benefits are cited, several of the studies reviewed for making the Case for High School Activities noted the importance of being intentional about teaching the values, life skills, and other characteristics or behaviors it is hoped young people will obtain from participation in co-curricular activities to assure and strengthen the acquiring of these skills. Although, one or two of the studies above mention student activity participants learning life skills which may not seem to be directly taught, authors of some of the studies caution against assuming too much, particularly around values, life skills, and other positive youth development attributes. More will be accomplished for more students if coaches and other activity leaders are intentional and deliberately, directly, and diligently teach the values, life skills, and positive youth development characteristics they want their student athletes and activity participants to learn and acquire.

Alcohol and cigarette use serve as a notable examples in this regard. Studies are much more consistent in showing that high school students who participate in sports are less likely to smoke cigarettes than those who do not participate in sports. (Castrucci et al., 2004).  However, there is less consistency among studies in finding results with alcohol use. In fact, some studies show that students who participate in athletics may be more likely to use alcohol than those who do not participate in athletics. One study finding a positive relationship between sports participation and alcohol use provided a possible rationale suggesting a sports subculture may exist that not only values academic success, but also “partying,” which included alcohol use.  The authors noted that such findings “draw attention to the relative importance that coaches could have in preventing a culture of alcohol use from forming among members of their teams.” (Denault et al., 2009).

Schools are unique settings to provide athletic and performing arts activities, and education-based activities can maximize the benefits that can be gained through sports and performing arts activities. Since students spend much of their time at school, education-based activities may offer easier access to athletic and performing arts activities. This may be particularly true for students who have lesser resources to access, and afford to participate in, such activities. Education-based activities promote more positive attitudes toward school and increase school engagement, which can increase academic motivation and performance. Co-curricular activities are generally designed to support and work in concert with the academic goals of the schools. Education-based activities staff are trained to not only to teach students athletic or performing arts skills, but skills that help students do well in school and in life. Schools are centers of learning where teaching and learning are intentionally designed and implemented. If communities and societies want to be intentional about what students learn, make the most of athletic and performing arts activity participation as well as help promote academic learning in school, they need education-based co-curricular activities.

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Transformational coaching and leadership: athletic administrators' novel application of social and emotional competencies in high school sports

Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning

ISSN : 2397-7604

Article publication date: 25 June 2021

Issue publication date: 26 November 2021

The coach−athlete relationship mediates the relationship between sports participation and student-athlete character, health and well-being outcomes. High school athletic administrators (AAs) can provide critical leadership, mentorship and direction for coaches to optimize student-athlete performance and human development. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an evidence-based approach to developing adult and student competencies for holistic development across the lifespan that has been primarily performed and researched in the classroom. The purpose of this research is to capture the lived experiences of AAs applying a novel SEL-based curriculum (InSideOut Initiative, ISOI) with coaches and student-athletes in high school sports.


Interviews of 10 AAs captured their lived experiences of applying SEL-based leadership and coaching and their perception of its impact on coaches and student-athletes in high school athletics.

AAs described leadership and coaching that are characterized by (1) safety, support and mentorship; (2) skill and support-based behavior modeling; (3) trusting, loving and supportive relationships; (4) self-reflection of values/beliefs and behaviors that impact self, student-athlete and culture; (5) the influence of emotions on the aforementioned; (6) the ability to have a long-term, sustainable impact on student-athletes and (7) alignment with their immediate environmental context.

Research limitations/implications

The data captured in this study suggest that ISOI-trained AAs practice SEL-competent leadership and coaching. Evaluation of the novel application of SEL-based interventions in athletics will be useful to understanding their effects on participant social and emotional competencies and outcomes traditionally associated with classroom-based SEL applications.

Practical implications

Athletic administrator interviews describe an approach to high school sports that requires a reconceptualization of the purpose of athletics. When the high school sport operates as a curriculum, integrated opportunity for its student-athletes and athletic administrator and coach leadership aligns with this overarching philosophy, there may be increased potential for positive youth development.


The results of this research are valuable in demonstrating preliminary evidence of how SEL-based leadership and coaching is applied and impacts adult and student-athletes in a unique sport context.

  • Social emotional and learning
  • School-based intervention
  • Adolescent development
  • High school athletics

Hebard, S.P. , Oakes, L.R. , Davoren, A.K. , Milroy, J.J. , Redman, J. , Ehrmann, J. and Wyrick, D.L. (2021), "Transformational coaching and leadership: athletic administrators' novel application of social and emotional competencies in high school sports", Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning , Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 345-364. https://doi.org/10.1108/JRIT-01-2021-0006

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Stephen P. Hebard, Lindsey R. Oakes, Ann Kearns Davoren, Jeffrey J. Milroy, Jody Redman, Joe Ehrmann and David L. Wyrick

Published in Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning . Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode

Nearly 9 million high school students or 50% of the total US high school student population participated in school-sponsored athletics during the 2018–2019 academic year. The high school sport is typically perceived as an extracurricular opportunity for positive personal student physical (e.g. strength and flexibility) and character (e.g. grit and discipline) development ( Danish et al. , 1992 ). However, sports participation is also linked to adverse physiological effects and psychological risk factors associated with an athlete's unique experience and environmental context ( Mahoney and Stattin, 2000 ). Athletes experience unique time and performance stress that, if inadequately managed, can manifest as unhealthy coping behaviors. Broadly, sports culture exposes athletes to a culture where harassment, discrimination and interpersonal violence have been widely normalized ( Brown et al. , 2014 ). Positive and negative effects of a sport are mediated by several unique factors attributed to the sport context ( Papacharisis et al. , 2005 ), including the coach−athlete relationship. The quality of this relationship can be directly responsible for the beneficial or potentially deleterious developmental effects of a student-athlete's participation in sports ( Jowett, 2007 ). AAs’ beliefs, attitudes and subsequent behaviors reflect their behavioral expectations for coaches and have a significant influence on perceptions of an athletics program's climate ( Schein, 1995 ; Hebard et al. , 2021 ). As such, AA endorsement of positive coaching behaviors is necessary for coach adoption, implementation and sustainability of these approaches. One well-researched and effective approach to positive youth development is social and emotional learning (SEL), which is a framework for promoting personal development, social relationships, ethical behavior and productive work ( Boncu et al. , 2017 ; Elias et al. , 2014 ; Greenberg et al. , 2003 ; Weissberg and O'Brien, 2004 ). In this paper, we describe the lived experiences of AAs’ participating and applying the InSideOut Initiative (ISO), a systems-level, a SEL-based intervention that aligns AA and coach behavior and promotes a positive sport climate through “transformational coaching ( Hebard et al. , 2021 ).” As such, AAs' perception that transformational coaching embodies the primary tenets of SEL is critical to arguing for its potential impact on student-athletes.

School environment and youth development

Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory supports the view that environmental and contextual factors are necessary for understanding human development ( Bronfenbrenner, 1995 ) Neuroscience and education research aligns with this theory, as it points to the importance of holistic education in which the interrelationships of all levels of the educational ecosystem (i.e. community, school, teacher, parent and student) prioritize human development alongside a traditional education ( Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey, 2018 ). When the school environment is contextualized by practices, policies and school−parent−student relationships that promote holistic development in school-age children, those students are more likely to demonstrate improved student learning and well-being ( Garibaldi et al. , 2015 ; Osher and Berg, 2017 ). Positive school climates empower students to reach their adaptive potential ( Haranin et al. , 2007 ). Students are more likely to feel efficacious ( Årdal et al. , 2017 ) and experience individual well-being ( Benson et al. , 2011 ) in an environment of high engagement, personal safety and environmental support for learning and well-being ( National Center for Education Statistics, 2015 ). However, American youths are rarely afforded high-quality classrooms and school experiences where relationships, fairness and autonomy are prioritized ( Pianta et al. , 2007 ). Nationally, high school students have historically demonstrated risky behaviors and social problems indicative of struggling school climates. In 2019, nearly 20% of students reported being bullied on school property within the last year, and 9 percent did not attend school because they felt unsafe attending ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019 ). LGBTQ+ students report significant school victimization and discrimination in their school communities ( Kosciw et al. , 2020 ). In one national survey, high school students most often described feeling “tired”, “stressed” and “bored,” while only 20% and 33% described themselves as “happy” in two subsequent studies ( Moeller et al. , 2020 ).

Community-level change toward a school climate that reflects engagement, safety and support requires leaders and mentors to positively influence their community through the promotion of healthy beliefs, attitudes and behaviors ( Schein, 1995 ). From an SEL perspective, the modeling of prosocial, student-centered behaviors by supportive mentors and the establishment of prosocial school policies and practices are necessary to achieve positive, lasting student outcomes ( Osher and Berg, 2017 ).

Social and emotional learning

SEL is “the process through which all young people…develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions ( Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2020 ),” the origins of which are tied to youth prevention and resilience research ( Zins et al. , 2004 ). Among school-based interventions, SEL programs are among the most utilized in promoting positive educational, health and wellbeing outcomes later in life ( Hawkins et al. , 2008 ; Jones et al. , 2015 ) and for preventing student emotional and behavioral problems ( Taylor et al. , 2017 ; Benson, 2006 ; Guerra and Bradshaw, 2008 ). SEL has become a staple of positive youth development approaches in schools ( Elias et al. , 2014 ). School-based SEL prepares students to move successfully through school and college and is an equitable approach to supporting students of diverse backgrounds, including those of minority race or from economically disadvantaged families ( Bridgeland et al. , 2013 ; Taylor et al. , 2017 ).

Student and adult competency development through SEL is dependent on meeting two specific contextual requirements. Social and emotional competency development in children and adolescents is dependent on adults' ability to model nurturing, supportive, positive attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a community that is safe, healthy and equitable ( CASEL, 2020 ). Additionally, SEL is dependent on a community's ability to establish a safe, caring and supportive environment for school and community initiatives and practices ( Cook et al. , 1999 ; Hawkins et al. , 2004 ). School-based SEL programs help leaders institute practices and policies that assist both students and adults in obtaining and applying the competencies required to enhance personal development, social relationships, ethical behavior and productive work ( Elias et al. , 2014 ; Greenberg et al. , 2003 ; Weissberg and O'Brien, 2004 ). Programs and initiatives that are grounded in SEL can establish communities and resources that encourage individuals to become knowledgeable, responsible and caring individuals who can achieve positive academic, health and citizenship outcomes ( Graczyk et al. , 2000 ). Despite extensive research on the impact of school-based SEL on student outcomes, researchers and innovators alike have only begun to conceptualize school-based sports as an appropriate venue for the intentional development of AAs, coaches, and student-athletes’ social and emotional competencies.

Youth sports participation and coaching

The positive impact of youth sports participation on adolescent physical, physiological and social development is well-documented. Youth sports fulfill a critical need for children and adolescents to be engaged in physical activity to combat diabetes, obesity, cancer ( Staurowsky et al. , 2009 ) and other chronic illnesses ( Hales et al. , 2017 ; Troiano et al. , 2008 ). Youth participation in sports has been linked to positive health behaviors that include healthier eating habits, lower smoking and illicit drug use and less interest in taking health risks when compared with non-athlete youth counterparts ( Pate et al. , 2000 ). Researchers suggest that participation on a sports team is responsible for providing social support and acceptance, two critical indicators of suicide prevention ( Taliaferro et al. , 2008 ). Noticeably, there is limited knowledge on the features of youth sports programs that contribute to this positive youth development ( Larson, 2006 ). Preliminary evidence suggests that the coach−athlete relationship is a critical moderator of the relationship between sports participation and critical student-athlete outcomes ( Bissett et al. , 2020 ; Rhind and Jowett, 2010 ; Gould et al. , 2007 ; Kish and Woodward, 2005 ; Jowett and Cockerill, 2003 ). Student-athlete behaviors and psychosocial factors related to sportsmanship ( Bolter and Weiss, 2013 ), self-esteem and performance anxiety ( O'Rourke et al. , 2014 ), intrinsic motivation ( Price and Weiss, 2013 ) and concussion disclosure ( Milroy et al. , 2019 ) are associated with the quality of a coach−athlete relationship. Certainly, further understanding of this relationship can lend insight into a coach's potential impact on a student-athlete’s health and well-being.

Prioritizing student development in sports coaching

Whereas SEL is commonly applied in the classroom and broader school community, innovators have only begun to apply social and emotional developmental competencies to the unique intrateam and athletics program contexts ( Hebard et al. , 2021 ). Like teachers and their classroom students, coaches are vital to a student-athlete's psychosocial and life skill development ( Cote and Fraser-Thomas, 2007 ). Coaches of adolescent athletes have been described as the greatest influence on one's experience of sports ( Trottier and Robitaille, 2014 ), a key agent for socialization ( Cote and Hay, 2002 ) and prominent in shaping athlete values and life skills ( Danish et al. , 2002 ). The role of the coach in a student-athlete's life has been described as parental ( Becker, 2009 ) and critical to an athlete's optimal functioning ( Jowett, 2007 ). In fact, the coach is described as an important context-specific attachment figure for athletes, who can fulfill critical functions associated with one's ability to regulate their emotions ( Mikulincer and Shaver, 2008 ) and develop self-esteem and general well-being ( Côté and Fraser-Thomas, 2007 ). In these views, nurturing and supportive coaching behaviors directed at youth athletes foster positive youth development and associated behaviors.

Just as a school administration's policies and a teacher's modeling of social and emotional competencies influence student perceptions of school climate, an athletic administrator's practices and coach's demonstration of prosocial and emotional behaviors reflect student-athletes' experiences of the climate within their immediate environment. Sports environments characterized by sportsmanship, the morally and socially relevant behaviors concerning respect and well-being ( Kavussanu, 2008 ), correspond to positive, prosocial athlete behaviors ( Bolter and Kipp, 2018 ). Reciprocity of a coach and an athlete’s respect, trust and communication are characteristic of healthy and successful coach−athlete relationships ( Gillet et al. , 2009 ), whereas mistrust, dominance and lack of respect are detrimental to the coach’s and athlete’s effectiveness and well-being ( Blanchard et al. , 2009 ). Negative personal rapport behaviors like using fear, intimidation or angry yelling have been linked to a student-athlete’s reports of somatic anxiety, poor concentration and worry ( Baker et al. , 2000 ). Coaches who direct negativity at their team in relation to their perception of poor performance are linked to student-athlete dissatisfaction with their sport and their likelihood of quitting ( Holt et al. , 2006 ). Given this great responsibility to their student-athletes, athletics programs and their coaches must become aligned in their approach to curating a positive school climate.

Positive student outcomes associated with sports participation are mediated by the behaviors normalized in the sport context ( Fraser-Thomas et al. , 2005 ). Coaching leadership is important to supporting a team culture that prioritizes help-seeking ( Coyle et al. , 2017 ), challenges hypermasculine norms and discourages playing through pain and injury ( Kroshus et al. , 2017 ). Furthermore, contemporary research describes implications of the coach−athlete relationship that include well-being and needs satisfaction ( Felton et al. , 2021 ), team efficacy ( Cho and Baek, 2020 ), sport satisfaction ( Li et al. , 2021 ), athlete burnout ( Choi et al. , 2020 ) and quality of life outside of sports ( Burns, 2020 ). Findings from a recent narrative review and Delphi study of coaches, athletes, health educators and licensed mental health professionals describe consensus agreement on how coaches must foster team cultures to support athletes’ mental health ( Bissett et al. , 2020 ). Specifically, AAs and coaches can contribute to a sport and team culture by demonstrating leadership via behaviors that support destigmatization and normalization of mental health, competence and follow through with referral and support of mental health treatment. However, non-performance-related behaviors are rarely addressed by coaches ( Kokko et al. , 2015 ) despite their view that the development of healthy athletes is important and worth their investment ( Kokko and Kannas, 2004 ). Coaches also report that they are unsure of how to address these issues ( Kokko and Kannas, 2004 ). However, few, if any, evidence-based pieces of trainings are required that support a coach's competence related to optimal positive student-athlete development ( Sebbens et al. , 2016 ; Breslin et al. , 2017 ).

Though SEL has been established as a promising intervention for school-based social and emotional competency development, its application in sports had been missing until recently. Coaches play an important role in the lives of athletes and can focus on the social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs of the whole child during a significant developmental juncture ( Kim et al. , 2016 ). In response to this need, the InSideOut Initiative (ISO), an SEL-informed, high school sport-based intervention, was created and implemented.

The InSideOut Initiative

ISO is a systems-level intervention that engages school leaders, AAs and sports coaches in the development of social and emotional competencies and cultivation of positive school and sport climates that foster student social, emotional and character development. Behavior change of adult ISO participants is explained by the theory of planned behavior ( Ajzen, 1985 , 1991 , 2002 ). More specifically, the motivation of adult AAs and coaches to participate in behaviors that promote student SEL and positive youth development is explained by the alignment of beliefs, attitudes and intentions impacted by the ISO curriculum.

ISO views the coach−athlete relationship as a developmental asset and characterizes leadership-driven, positive school climates as the foundation for positive youth development. The initiative applies a social-ecological framework ( McLeroy et al. , 1988 ) to the implementation of an SEL-informed curriculum and creates a culture of support that aligns with the quality of the coach−athlete relationship. High school athletics programs that have committed to ISO accomplish three main tasks across levels of the school system: (1) engaging state policy makers, governing bodies in athletics and school community stakeholders in the shared purpose of promoting positive youth development; (2) positioning the AA as the champion of an ongoing effort to support the acquisition of social and emotional competence and skills among adults and student-athletes alike and (3) connecting student-athletes to caring coaches who validate their human potential beyond their contribution to winning. To make this future a reality, school communities and their athletics programs must be founded on a supportive and caring, positive school climate that sustains sports as an educational, social and emotional development experience. ISO suggests that a shared focus on positive youth development throughout the entire educational and sports ecosystem will result in sustained educational, social and emotional competence for student-athletes.

ISO acknowledges the importance of the coach−athlete relationship and the broader contextual, environmental variables that influence the success of that relationship. To that end, AAs, who are traditionally responsible for the administrative, logistical and financial decisions of the high school athletics program, are asked to consider the champion of the initiative in their school. AAs must become skilled at understanding the specific social, emotional and climate-related challenges that exist within their respective programs. As a leader and mentor, AAs facilitate experiences for coaches and student-athletes that promote positive youth development. Further, the athletic administrator acts as the athletics program's liaison to school leadership and aims to align this leadership and their policies (i.e. coach job descriptions and expectations, and definition of success in sports) with the new developmental objectives of their athletics program. As such, the AA’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviors are critical to the success of transitioning an athletics program and its stakeholders away from a traditional win-at-all-costs culture to one that prioritizes socially and emotionally competent behaviors across the ecosystem.

The purpose of the study

Understanding the experiences of AAs as high school leaders of coaches at schools that have participated in ISO training is essential to demonstrating the influence of SEL on coaching behaviors and culture settings that impact positive youth development. As of September 2020, ISO training has impacted AAs, coaches and student-athletes at 3,745 schools in 15 different states. ISO's wide reach and potential for future adoption highlights the importance of understanding how lived experiences of transformational AAs and coaches align with the tenets of SEL. Therefore, consistent with the CASEL framework of SEL competencies, we interviewed AAs about their knowledge, skills and attitudes that reflect positive youth social, emotional and character development in youth sports. Our primary objectives were to (1) understand how transformational coaching is consistent with the primary tenets of SEL and (2) describe the experiences of AAs who witness and enact SEL-related coaching behaviors in high school sports.

A constructivist qualitative phenomenological design was used within this study ( Groenewald, 2004 ). This design was specifically selected for this study because it allowed for the development of an accurate and reliable description of the lived experiences of transformational AAs. Additionally, this design facilitated understanding of social and psychological phenomena from the perspective of AAs who have been involved in the ISO. The philosophical worldview for this study was constructivist due to the foundational belief that each AA seeks an understanding of the world in which they live and work, as well as the fact that each AA develops subjective meanings of their experiences that are varied and multiple ( Creswell, 2014 ).

A stratified purposeful sample was drawn, first, selecting 6 NFL markets. Diversity in market type (e.g. size, location, etc.) was considered in market selection. Next, seven AAs from each market were purposefully sampled. To be eligible for inclusion in the AA sample, the AAs' school must have fully implemented the ISO five-step pathway. The 10 AAs who ultimately participated in this study were former coaches and ISO participants working in high schools within Indiana (Colts), Minnesota (Vikings), Fort Worth (Cowboys), Ohio (Bengals/Browns), Southern California (Chargers) and Tennessee (Titans) NFL markets. A gatekeeper from the ISO not involved in the research performed in this study assisted with the email recruitment of the AAs.

Data collection and instrumentation

Semi-structured, individual interviews captured AAs' perceptions and lived experiences. Each interview occurred online via GoToMeeting technology, and each interview lasted approximately 45–60 min (see Table 1 for interview questions). Each interview was audio- recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Data analysis was conducted using an inductive, iterative, and comparative process (see Figure 1 ). The following activities were completed: data preparation and transcription, data immersion, memoing, mining memos, and categorizing. An overall process of vertical and horizontal analysis was utilized ( Hesse-Biber and Leavy, 2010 ). Vertical analysis included a separate analysis process for each transcript. After each transcript was vertically analyzed, horizontal analysis was completed across the transcripts. A visual diagram was created to organize the most prominent thematic ideas and make visual connections between thematic ideas. Lastly, a memo was created that described the flow of these thematic findings. Two co-researchers worked together to interpret data, capture varying interpretations, and reduce bias within thematic findings.

Throughout the process of data analysis, analytic questions were utilized to assist with the development and description of categories and themes. These specific questions were asked of the data; each question was based on the theoretical framework of social emotional learning (see Table 2 ).

The thematic findings from AA interviews are presented below in visual (see Figure 2 ) and in narrative format. The intersectionality and relationships between each AA interview were used to develop each thematic finding.

Coaches need self-reflection and self-management

The AAs revealed self-reflection is critical to a coach becoming the “best” version of their self as a coach and caring adult. According to AAs, supporting student-athlete development requires self-reflection of personal values and beliefs, their behaviors, the team climate they are structuring, how they are influencing the broader culture of the team and/or athletics program, their strengths and weaknesses, their emotions, their motivations and intentions, and how they are perceived by student-athletes. One AA explained, “You can just kind of tell what's guiding them [as a coach], and those are the ones that know when they need to do a better job of handling situations in the heat of the moment.” Another AA explained, “The coaches know that they want to structure a positive, competitive and fun environment with a culture where the kids want to be involved.” The AAs also report that a coach needs to be able to accomplish high levels of self-management in order to become the “best” version of their self as a coach and caring adult, which is something that the AAs were modeling for the coaches. According to AAs, the “best” coaches are able to self-manage their behaviors in ways that they are influencing climate and culture, their emotions, their acknowledgment of mistakes, their growth mindset, their motivations and intentions, their ego, and how they are carrying themselves and communicating. One AA explained, “After losing a game, the superintendent came to me and said, 'I know your coach is going to be upset, but the coach had already expressed to me that he was not going to be a transactional coach like the coach on the other team tonight, and I was like, 'Holy cow, he got it! '” Another AA explained, “Rather than just thinking that a kid screws up and pulling them off the field and never seeing that kid in the game again, a good coach knows to coach the kid up.”

The AAs explained that coaches play the important role of a teacher, and this teaching extends well beyond sport performance skills. The AAs revealed the importance of ensuring that coaches were guided in their abilities to fulfill this important role of teaching. According to AAs, the “best” coaches use modeling strategies to teach their student-athletes how to support and help one another prepare to be the best person they can be, set expectations for themselves with a growth mindset, communicate effectively with other people, important lessons about character and monitor and understand themselves and others. For example, one AA explained, “Our coaches teach their student-athletes how to set the expectation for themselves as human beings, and as peers, brothers, sons and all of the other things.” Another AA explained, “Our coaches teach their players that the job and the purpose of the players are to love each other.”

The AAs also explained that this valuable teaching extends beyond just coaches teaching student-athletes. During interviews, AAs discussed scenarios where coaches teach parents, AAs teach coaches, coaches teach coaches, and AAs teach AAs. For example, one AA explained, “Not only are the coaches teaching the student-athletes how to win a game with class, but these coaches are also teaching the student-athletes' parents,” and another AA explained, “I have taught my coaches that the next time they are challenged, just pause and remember who they are and who they aspire to be as a coach.”

Coaches provide

If coaches try to set expectations and measure the success of each student-athlete the same, one of them would look like a total loser and others would always be winners, and that is not how it is. So, coaches have to put a bar up that is true and that they can each aspire to and know whether they are successful. It is not just based on whether the student has beat somebody else or not. It is about what each student accomplishes.

AAs also explained that coaches prioritizing student-athlete development are involved in the lives of student-athletes outside of the context of sports. For example, one AA explained, “You can tell the kids that know their coaches and that learn from their coaches; their coaches care for them and teach them outside of the sport.”


The AAs explained that the relationship-building that occurs between coaches and student-athletes is critical to the success of a coach. According to AAs, the strongest and most valuable relationship between a coach and a student-athlete has specific and foundation characteristics, which the AAs model and instill in their relationships with the coaches. These relationships are trusting, supportive, caring, helpful, honest, intentional, reciprocal, respectful, valued, committed, impactful, rewarding, vulnerable, lifelong and sustained, welcoming, authentic, transparent, passionate and filled with love. One AA explained, “Coaches provide their student-athletes with opportunities to build a deeper trust in their relationship as a coach and student-athlete, and there is a caring and understanding relationship that is built.” The best and most successful relationships between a coach and student-athlete include a coach that plays the role of another parent to the student-athlete. These relationships exist within and outside of the context of sport; perspectives are consistently considered, expectations are set with a growth mindset and a feeling of being a family is established. One AA explained, “Our coaches are really fulfilling a parental role with our student-athletes, without having that official parent title. They are motivating growth and setting expectations for growth with each student-athlete.”

I think how I interact with the coach builds that relationship, and that level of trust supports them, trying to get to know them outside of the sport, and their job as a coach is important. Again, it is building trust that builds the relationship, but how does a great coach behave on the sideline? Or how does a great coach behave when they are upset or whatever? I just think modeling that is important for the coach. So, those are things that I try to do with my coaches.

Another AA explained, “Our coaches also know the importance of being able to build a relationship with the parents and being able to build relationships with the administrators, too. It is not only about building relationships with the kids.”

Long-term sustainable impacts

Through talking with all of the AAs, it was evident that there are long-term sustainable impacts of teaching, providing and relationship-building. The AAs explained that when great coaches teach, provide and build relationships with their student-athletes, the student-athletes gain the perspective of the broader meaning and purpose of life. One AA explained, “Our coaches want to really challenge them [student-athletes] to think bigger than themselves, to see the bigger picture of life and to put that into action.” The AAs also explained that teaching, providing and relationship-building from great coaches can change student-athletes' values and expectations about life, and the student-athlete carries what they learned from and experienced with their coaches throughout their life. One AA explained, “Our coaches are focused on impacting their [student-athletes'] lives over the course of their lives and not just their athletic life here in school.”

The AAs revealed that various emotions are influential and an important part of the ways in which great coaches self-reflect and self-manage, teach, provide and build relationships. The AAs explained that self-reflection and self-management, teaching, providing and relationship-building can be a roller coaster that is charged with emotions. The coaches revealed the importance of their own ability to model to coaches and facilitate the skills among coaches of being able to recognize and manage all of these important emotions. One AA explained, “It can be like an emotional roller coaster for coaches. There can be one moment of great joy and then another moment of deepest despair.” AAs also explained that some of the most prominent emotions that surface for great coaches are joy and pride, with the most prominent and most meaningful emotion being love. One AA explained, “Our coaches hope that their student-athletes remember them as someone who loved them,” and another AA explained, “Our coaches want our student-athletes to have a memory of a positive experience. They [student-athletes] go through ups and downs, but at the end of the day, the coaches want them [student-athletes] to know that they are loved and cared for by the coaches.”

Environmental context

There was really no purpose at our school before. I can just honestly say that it was kind of chaotic at best. The culture of the school has dramatically changed. Fast forward 10 years later, and the culture of the school has dramatically changed. We have worked to develop our culture so that our administration and everyone understands that it is not just a uniform that student-athletes wear. It is what student-athletes do with the information and what these kids learn in the long run that is the benefit that we are looking for.
Like it or not, there is always going to be a challenge. You are always going to have parents. You know, you are going to have a few parents. I would say a school board member, which is normally a parent to somebody that is going to try to break the chain and not try to follow what we are trying to accomplish. And when push comes to shove, are there enough people that are going to override this parent and be able to support what we are trying to accomplish?

Thematic findings from this study revealed that the interviewed ISO-trained AAs were describing coaching practices aligned with social and emotional competence. Researchers have identified the following five social and emotional competencies: (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management and emotion regulation, (3) social awareness, (4) relationship-building and (5) responsible decision-making ( Yoder, 2014 ; CASEL, 2020 ). Notably, AAs revealed the importance of coaching with self-reflection . AAs described how coaching behaviors are a direct reflection of the thoughts and values of each coach. A coach's self-awareness of those behaviors and a growth mindset are critical to successful teaching, modeling, mentorship and relationship-building in the sport contexts. Most notably, recognition and management of emotions in the pursuit of both performance and personal/developmental aspirations were reported broadly across AAs. AAs describing coaching with a positive influence on student-athletes shared the presence and challenges that come with personal and student-athlete emotional reactions to sports participation. The identification and management of emotions were described across the various ways that coaches interact with student-athletes, especially within the context of their specific roles and responsibilities (i.e. providing ). These thematic findings from AAs directly align with the social and emotional competencies of self-awareness, self-management and emotion regulation ( Yoder, 2014 ; CASEL, 2020 ).

AAs described the adoption of leadership and coaching styles that accounted for their responsibility to promote the development of student-athletes and coaches beyond maximizing athletic performance. AAs described their awareness of having long-term sustainable impacts on the student-athletes they coached. AAs who had participated in ISO training described themselves as teachers who educate peers and coaches on ways to support their student-athletes and their parents. For these AAs, their teaching for long-term impact was performed by intentionally modeling behaviors that they expected their coaches to perform with their student-athletes and parents, with a specific focus on self-reflection and self-management of emotions. AAs noted the role of coaches in providing performance (i.e. strategy and motivation) and social-emotional (e.g. safety, empathy, encouragement and connection) assets that, in part, drive long-term, sustainable impacts on their student-athletes. AAs viewed themselves and their coaches as mentors with the opportunity to promote coach and student-athlete adoption of positive values, and high, realistic life expectations that would meaningfully contribute to their lifespan development. These thematic findings from AAs directly align with the social and emotional competencies of self-awareness, self-management, emotion regulation and relationship-building ( Yoder, 2014 ; CASEL, 2020 ).

Encouragingly, AAs described the importance of building relationships that reflected social and emotional competence. Representative themes reflecting the parent-coach role were widely discussed across AA interviews ( Mikulincer and Shaver, 2008 ; Jowett, 2007 ). AAs clearly described coaches who performed the roles of an attachment figure, in which trust, nurturance and love are critical to the developmental process. In addition, AAs acknowledged how the relationships that were built within the sport context had the potential for a lifelong and sustained impact. AAs supported coaches and student-athletes to consider how their emotions, thoughts and values would carry on with them beyond the sport and had an impact on the world around them. AAs identified various ways that social and emotional competencies are important for positive development in relationships within the sport. These thematic findings from AAs directly align with the social and emotional competencies of social awareness and relationship-building ( Yoder, 2014 ; CASEL, 2020 ). AAs noted how nurturing, supportive and positive coaching interactions with student-athletes were necessary for encouraging social and emotional competency development ( CASEL, 2020 ). Notably, the success of SEL is dependent on the ability of the mentor and system to contribute to a community that is experienced as safe, supportive and engaging ( Cook et al. , 1999 ; Hawkins et al. , 2004 ). The interactions described by AAs in this study contribute to building a community that is safe, healthy and equitable ( CASEL, 2020 ).

Thematic findings from this study support the notion that SEL and a school's environmental context are interactive and co-influential regarding successful change among youths and adults alike. The beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of leaders directly impact community members' perceptions of the quality of their immediate environment ( Schein, 1995 ). Thematic findings from the study's interviews demonstrate AAs' awareness of how their personal attitudes and behaviors influence the team and athletics climate and directly impact their student-athletes. This study also provides preliminary data in support of the idea that AAs with social and emotional competencies are fostering positive environments for student-athlete development ( Hebard et al. , 2021 ). These data suggest that ISO-trained leaders are applying and modeling social and emotional competencies to create an environment in which coaches and their student-athletes feel empowered. As these sport environments are intentionally curated to reflect a prosocial and character-driven climate, the behaviors of its members are likely to align ( Bolter and Kipp, 2018 ). Similarly, AAs that foster environments where coaches provide support, trust and encouragement are likely to experience these behaviors reciprocated by their student-athletes ( Gillet et al. , 2009 ). AAs are also tailoring a coaching environment where coaches are accountable for their communication, emotions and mistakes, which may combat the presence of negative rapport behaviors and corresponding student-athlete experiences of anxiety ( Baker et al. , 2000 ) and dissatisfaction ( Holt et al. , 2006 ). AAs also acknowledged how coaching attitudes and behaviors were essential to preserving and extending the positive legacy of their athletics programs beyond performance. AAs beliefs and commitment to lifelong learning and lifespan development are representative of efforts that align with core tenets of positive youth development and social and emotional competencies ( Taylor et al. , 2017 ). The data suggest that coaches aspire to the roles of teacher, mentor and coach beyond the athletic space to help their student-athletes grow and gain perspective that will help them throughout their lives.

Implications for research and practice

This study of ISO-trained AAs described the potential impact of socially and emotionally aligned coaching behaviors. A next positive step for this line of research is to understand the specific experiences of coaches with SEL training. This future research will further demonstrate how coaches are influenced by SEL, how aligned behaviors directly impact student-athletes and how those coaches contribute to the perception of a culture of safety, support and engagement. Additionally, it would be ideal for future studies to demonstrate generalizability and transferability to make definitive statements about the positive impact of SEL on AAs, coaches, student-athletes and their environment. Thus, it would be effective to employ a mixed- methods design that collects and analyzes both qualitative and quantitative data. Longitudinal research that utilizes quantitative data to make conclusions about how SEL training impacts AAs, coaches, and student-athletes is imperative. Further exploration of the ISO logic model described in Hebard et al. (2021) work could result in more definitive conclusions regarding the application of an SEL framework in high school sports. Finally, researchers should consider the implications of a broader school environment's alignment with the culture of athletics and behaviors of leadership in sports.

Despite the study's methodological limitations to the generalizability of its data, the findings can be used to tentatively guide decision-making among high school administrators, athletics administrators, coaches and related stakeholders. ISO-trained AAs interviewed for this study described a novel, SEL-based approach to coaching and leadership largely associated with social and emotional learning competencies and positive youth development. ISO and this study provide preliminary context for the conceptualization of high school athletics as a co-curricular or integrated aspect of a student-athlete's education. Though an application of SEL in high school sports has yet to have been thoroughly researched, other applications in similar, school-based contexts have demonstrated a positive impact on academic performance, school engagement, social and emotional competencies, and development. We suggest that school administrators and athletics leadership thoughtfully consider the integration of an SEL framework to their athletics programs that align with their greater school philosophies to learning and child development. An additional step toward this reconceptualization of high school sports requires alignment of purpose across high school sports and the overall curricular experience. Though participation in high school sports is generally acknowledged as a positive experience for high school student-athletes, it is typical for sports and its leadership to prioritize the demonstration of ability (i.e. winning) over a commitment to positive development. Shared beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors that communicate a commitment to positive youth development over winning may have positive developmental outcomes uncommonly associated with the sport. Finally, leadership decisions at the administrator level, including policy development and hiring, should align with this reconceptualization to ensure an aligned approach to prioritizing student-athlete development.

leadership activities for high school athletes

Data analysis process

leadership activities for high school athletes

Thematic findings from AAs

Interview questions

Analytic questions

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    One major aspect of demonstrating leadership as a sports captain is being a leader on the field, on the court, or in the gym. This means taking responsibility for tasks delegated to you by your coach—these tasks will vary a lot from team to team, so be sure to ask your coach if you're not sure what is required of you or what will be helpful.

  3. 83 Leadership Activities, Building Games, and Exercises

    6 Leadership Activities and Games for High School Students. By high school, students are more sophisticated. Here are some interesting activities for high school students to develop leadership. 1. Brainstorming for change (Stapleton, 2018) The teacher puts students into groups of 4 or 5.

  4. 10 Leadership Activities for High School Students

    Create & Learn Team Sep 12, 2022 9 min read Today we'll share some leadership activities for high school students. High school is the perfect time for students to gain leadership skills and life skills that will support them on their academic and professional journeys.

  5. 15 Leadership Activities for High School Students

    2. National Honor Society & National Merit Scholars These organizations challenge high-achieving scholars to engage with their communities in meaningful ways. Both National Honor Society and National Merit Scholars combine leadership with academics in ways teens won't find in the classroom alone. 3. FIRST Robotics

  6. Athletic Leaders: Student Athlete Leadership Development

    Athletes as Leaders: Our Two-Step Plan Using the latest research, training system and sports leadership speakers, Growing Leaders partners with you to help coaches and staff better engage today's athletes and provides you with a proven plan to develop real-life leadership skills in the emerging generation.

  7. Student-Athletes Develop Leadership Skills Through Book Study

    Since the Team Captain's Leadership Manual by Jeff Janssen was broken into a 10- week program, this was an ideal choice. Also, Pat Summitt wrote the foreword to the book. More than winning, Coach Summitt believed the job was to develop her players into responsible leaders. And this was the exact goal for the seniors at Taylor High School.

  8. Team Leadership in High School Sports

    According to Tuckman, there are four distinct stages that groups go through including, forming, storming, norming, and performing (Hamel, 2021). In my opinion, forming is one of the most critical parts of high school sports. In this stage, team members basically introduce themselves so that everyone can get to know each other a little bit.

  9. Five Strategies for Coaching the High School Athlete

    2. Build strong relationships with the athletes on your team. The key to any effective coach is the strength of the relationship he or she builds with the athletes they are coaching. Through a strong relationship, the coach can empower athletes, improve communication, and find what motivates each individual.

  10. Empowering Leaders in Competitive High School Sports Programs

    Doug Phillips has been coaching girls soccer at Colts Neck (New Jersey) High School since 1999. He took over as head coach in 2009. His team has won divisional, conference, sectional and state titles, as well as having been ranked as high as No. 5 in national high school polls.

  11. Student Athlete Program

    Sample Week To view this program as an athlete would, follow the instructions to download the Moodle app further down the page. Here's a sample of a week of the program: [/text_output] Monday: Life Lesson Powerful 2-minute video-based life lessons delivered by coaches and athletes. Watch Video Tuesday: Sports Blog

  12. Leveraging Athletics to Strengthen Service Leadership

    High school athletics and activities programs are transformative experiences that can be leveraged to give students an opportunity to participate in service leadership. When school leaders empower students to lead communities, they provide an opportunity for students to not only learn more about themselves, but set foundations for being our ...

  13. 4 Best Leadership Activities for High School Students

    On her website, Erin offers suggestions for five fun activities you can use to engage students in your leadership lessons: Build Team Work by Hosting a Scavenger Hunt Swap. Strengthen Public Speaking by Practicing Microphone Skills. Nurture Gratitude with Writing Out-of-the-Blue Thank You Cards.

  14. Leadership Activities for High School, Middle School, and ...

    Students at any age can learn valuable leadership skills that can help them as they grow. But, for some children, especially high school students, leadership skills are crucial or in order for them to be successful in society. Teachers can teach these skills by playing classroom leadership games.

  15. How To Build Leadership Skills In High School With Examples

    Examples of Leadership Activities for High School Students. Let's look at more examples. Here is a list of leadership activities that Crimson's successful college admits have pursued. Hopefully, this list will give you a jumping-off point when considering what leadership activities you would like to pursue. 1. Developing an App

  16. 7 Fun High School Activities For Encouraging Leadership Skills

    1. Genie's Carpet This is a simple classroom or home activity that you can make your students do without the help of many resources. All you will need is a large carpet to get started. Divide your students into four or five teams and ask them to stand on the carpet.


    sports, leadership is something that coaches view as an integral part of a team's success. Although leadership is a crucial component to a team's success, many high schools do not provide a leadership development program for their athletes. This project was developed to be an introductory leadership course for high school athletes. The

  18. 10 Leadership Activities for High School Students

    1. Run for Student Government / Class Council Also referred to as student government or governing council, high school class councils are front-facing, amazing ways to become involved as a leader within your school environment.

  19. Student ACES prepares students for life after high school

    Student ACES is teaching young athletes the essence of leadership and teamwork, extending beyond sports fields. Founded a decade ago, Student ACES focuses on molding young men and women into ...

  20. How youth sports influence leadership skills, volunteerism

    How youth sports influence leadership skills, volunteerism 2015 study from Cornell University and Southern Illinois University that explores how participating in high-school sports may influence a person's job prospects, leadership skills and late-life personality. by Rachael Stephens | October 5, 2015 | children, sports (Pixabay)

  21. High school student-athletes' perceptions and experiences of leadership

    Objectives The purpose of this study was to gain student-athlete perceptions of: (1) the definition of leadership for high school student-athletes; (2) the process of leadership development in ...

  22. High school student-athletes' perceptions and experiences of leadership

    1. Introduction. High school sport represents one of the most prevalent extra-curricular contexts for young people in the United States (U.S.). In 2018, the 7.98 million student-athletes participating in high school sport in (National Federation of High Schools, 2019), represented approximately 47% of the 17.1 million high school students in the US (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018).

  23. The Case for High School Activities

    High School Activities: A Community Investment in America - This presentation is an NFHS educational product. It documents the value of high school athletic and fine arts activities through an excellent PowerPoint presentation with videos on a CD-ROM. You can order this CD-ROM by calling NFHS customer service at 800-776-3462. SPORTSMANSHIP.

  24. Transformational coaching and leadership: athletic administrators

    High school athletic administrators (AAs) can provide critical leadership, mentorship and direction for coaches to optimize student-athlete performance and human development. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an evidence-based approach to developing adult and student competencies for holistic development across the lifespan that has been ...