Head, Heart & Spirit: What Sled Dogs Teach Us About Leadership (2 minute read and PUPPY VIDEO!)

Last week I had the privilege of visiting Alaska to work with the Great Northwest Athletic Conference SAAC representatives on communication in leadership. I took advantage of an opportunity to visit Denali National Park, home to the only working sled dog kennel in the national park service. And, there were PUPPIES!!

The kennel ranger explained that the dogs “remain more reliable than most machines when it comes to starting up at 50 below zero. Additionally, the dogs can go where snowmobiles legally cannot” in the pristine wilderness of Denali.
 
“Wilderness” as defined as by the Wilderness Act of 1964 is, “a place where the land is untouched, and where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”.
 
I sat enthralled by puppy bliss thinking about how of all this relates to sport…
 
As a coach, our players come to us as "puppies" and grow into essential members of our team. Our programs are much like the wilderness; each player spends a brief time with us but does not remain, transitioning out after they’ve exhausted their eligibility.

A ranger showed me what they look for in their sled leaders, and we look for the same essential qualities of head, heart and spirit in our team leaders.

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Head: “The ability to learn, follow verbal commands, and concentrate on the job at hand are essential qualities of a [leader]”.  
 
Heart: “Works in harmony with the [coach]. Each must trust the judgment and skill of the other. The heart of a [leader] is the desire for the team to succeed and the will to make it happen”.
 
Spirit: “The [leader] is the spirit of the team, providing experience and enthusiasm to the rest of the [team]. A great [leader] thrives on the responsibility to break a snowy trail, to plunge first across an icy stream, or to push through a blinding ground blizzard”.
 
Sure, our team leaders may not be responsible for breaking snowy trails or diving into icy streams, but they tackle the athletic equivalent when they offer a supportive word to teammates breaking down, by being first back to the line in conditioning, and by pushing through adversity during challenging times.  

Best wishes to each of you on developing a team of great leaders who are prepared to weather any conditions.

"Mush!" (Let's go!)