Huddle Up!

On a sports team, when the coach says huddle up, players gather around to hear the action plan for the game. Coach will lead them step by step through a play. They will strategize how to get past an opponent’s defense. Team captains identify key areas of improvement for the team. But what does “huddle up” mean in a leadership development program?

Although pop culture has led many to believe that leadership is a talent or a set of innate skills possessed by few, leadership skills are practicable. By breaking down what it means to be a leader and what specific skills and capacities it takes to lead, we can encourage leaders from all backgrounds, experiences, and personality types. Creating intentional spaces for youth to develop and practice leadership skills can create leaders that break the stereotypes of leadership.

In Urban Initiatives’ leadership development program, 5th-8th grade participants are given the opportunity to learn, practice, and achieve leadership competencies. Participants act as Team Captains for the Urban Initiatives soccer team at their school. They assist coaches at practice by leading warm ups, engaging with younger students and helping with set up and clean up. Team Captains are responsible for encouraging players to attend practices and game days. Practices and soccer games are critical times to practice the leadership skills they are developing in Huddles.

Huddles are monthly discussions sessions that include a cohort of Team Captains from a school and an Urban Initiatives staff member. Staff fill the role of a positive adult role model, which are said to increase adolescents’ self-esteem, help them adapt more easily to changing environments, and help support positive academic outcomes. Huddles are dynamic learning environments that combine the support of a positive adult role model with personal reflection, group discussion, play and physical activity, and real world applications centered around a theme for a robust leadership lesson. Themes include stress management, attitude and effort, time management and positive self-talk.

Huddles are unique learning experiences because they don’t simply ask youth to be leaders. They ask youth to consider what it means to be a leader, what core competencies are required, what challenges they face as leaders, and how to implement leadership in a specific setting. Captains take the lessons they learn in Huddles to soccer practice, where they are responsible for sharing their learning with younger peers on the soccer team. Coaches cultivate space for this sharing, but it is up to the Team Captains to pass down these lessons.

Huddle up means come together, diagnose a place for improvement, and strategize how to implement a change with your team. Urban Initiatives Team Captains are huddling up all over the city of Chicago to strategize how to become effective leaders and make positive impacts on their communities, soccer teams, and schools.