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Leading from the “Middle”

All throughout sports culture we see the media glorify the captain of the team, the leader of the group, or the star player, on how they can rally their teams, be the floor-general directing their squad, or deliver that key motivational speech in the locker room. These individuals are people who willingly embrace this formal role to influence the team and help them all reach a common goal or shared objective. Sounds like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Well, over the course of my ongoing basketball career I have learned what it truly means to be a leader versus what the world has conditioned us to believe “leadership” is.


I’ve been a basketball player for 18 years now and have always been the type of player to do my own thing and maintain a quiet focus before games rather than your standard “u-rah-rah” excitement. I was more comfortable stepping aside and letting someone else give that huddle speech or direct the team on what to do for warmups. . I thought it was the captain’s job to stand on a pedestal and, more or less, boss people around...and that just wasn’t me. In my mind, the captain was the figurehead of the group and the rest of the team members were inferior. I never wanted to place myself above anyone else on the roster...after all there is no “I” in team! It took me until the middle of my college career at California Baptist University to realize this perception was totally backwards, and that although there are some people that prefer a top-down leadership style, that was not the type of leader that I had to be. Leading from the middle is a phrase that really resonates with me- it gives me permission to humbly be one of 12 and still take on the role of guiding and empowering my teammates to bring out the best in them for the greater good of the team.

“Be Your Teammates Biggest Fan”

When named Captain my junior year of college, there was still some push-back and a minor sense of imposter syndrome- “But coach, I’m not super vocal. I can’t yell at people,” “I don’t think I want that responsibility”. I learned that being named “Captain” was literally just a title and that I had already been through the example of how I carried myself on and off the court. After wrestling with doubts, those around me explained that you could always count on me to show up- leaving all life’s problems outside, to ask how each person was doing that day, or to just crack a joke when the team needed a pick-me-up. Not being an outright vocal leader doesn’t mean you have to be quiet or incapable of hyping up the team. A simple thing you can implement immediately as a leader is ensuring the people you’re leading feel valued. Talk to each teammate personally during practice or in the locker room just to ask how they are really feeling. Let them know specifically what you are counting on them for, whether it be for an upcoming game, or even for the entire season. It’s important to make your teammates feel that you are their biggest fan and are always in their corner. When you’re blessed with the opportunity to be in a leadership role, take into account that someone is always watching. Be aware of your body language at practice and games. When a teammate makes a turnover, do you roll your eyes and drag your feet back to defense, or do you give them a high five and give them a word of encouragement instead?

Consistency in Character

Stemming from my values as a strong believer in Christ, leading from the middle goes hand in hand with the biblical principle of servant leadership. Jesus teaches, “whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.” In practice, this looks like doing the little things like checking in on teammates’ personal lives, rebounding for a girl that will only play 5 minutes, or even sweeping the floor before practice. There is something to be said about being consistent- I don’t mean consistency of how well you shoot the three or your performance, but as a person; knowing you’re going to give championship effort at every practice and a positive, encouraging attitude even in the face of adversity being the anchor during the storm. This is consistency in character.

No matter what team you play for, or what country you are in, you can always control your effort and attitude, two things that when consistent, lead to being that “rock” for everyone to trust and respect. This is the type of leadership style I have molded to fit who I am, opposed to me trying to fit into what leadership is typically expected to look like. If anything, I hope that this article encourages someone to fully embrace whatever role they have been given, and to go about their lives knowing that they have the power to influence others in their own, unique way. And remember, I’ll be in your corner cheering you on.

- Cassidy Mihalko

About the Author

Cassidy grew up in Franklin, WI and then spent her four years in college at California Baptist University. She then spent two season playing in Australia in the NBL1. She then continued her journey in Germany where she played one season in the 2DBBL. She has been soaking up the sunshine and ocean the last two season in Cyprus (with a short stint in Greece as well due to COVID). This season she is playing for Anagennisi Germasogeia in Cyprus!

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