May 21, 2018

MSA Featured: Lead ‘Em Up, the emerging leadership program

Leadership is often talked about in all levels of sports. Any athlete, coach, or parent will tell you that it’s essential to a teams growth and success.

But how many of those involved in sports can act upon, and provide leadership qualities in the heat of the moment? Probably a select handful, with a few extra bonus points for those that have a natural gift for leading the way.

Like programs that enhance an athlete’s on-field ability and performance, there is now one for leadership called Lead ‘Em Up.

“People, especially coaches, talk a lot about players needs to get bigger, stronger, faster,” said Adam Bradley, the founder and president of Lead ‘Em Up. “And they have programs to do that. But if we need (kids) to be developed into better leaders, and understand the dynamics of holding your teammate accountable, how can you go through that conversation? Kids aren’t equipped.”

Bradley, who resides in Frederick (Md.) and is known across the country for co-hosting the basketball podcast Hardwood Hustle, was prompted to start the Lead ‘Em Up program from experiences he thought that lacked stable leadership, or needed to be valued more at the high school level.

“I’ve heard this a lot at coaching clinics,” Bradley said. “And people are telling me the need (for a leadership program) and why they love Lead ‘Em Up so much.”

The lauded leadership program was launched on August 10, 2015, and ever since, has exploded across not only Maryland, but the East Coast and beyond.

Lead ‘Em Up provides coaches, mainly at the high school level, a 12-week long curriculum that teaches their team the core dynamics of leadership through a series of motivating games, stories, and exercises.

Bradley’s program has teamed up with game on Nation, a nationally known leadership and communication firm that works with professional and elite collegiate level organizations, such as the Dallas Mavericks, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kentucky Wildcats basketball. game on Nation conducts game based training techniques used to teach the pillars of leadership and communication, matching the vision that Bradley has with Lead ‘Em Up at the high school level.

“(game on Nation) is incredible,” Bradley said. “They’ve always wanted to get into high school, but they didn’t know the right way to do it.”

Each week, Lead ‘Em Up provides a filmed game from game on Nation for each team to perform with a printable coaches rule guide. 

Along with the game, Lead ‘Em Up supplies week-long exercises incorporated with the theme and stories for the rest of the week that not only make an impact on the court, but off it as well.

One of the themes talks about the use of foul language.

Adam Bradley teaches a Lead 'Em Up session. Courtesy photo.
Adam Bradley teaches a Lead ‘Em Up session at Walt Whitman High School. Courtesy photo.

“I believe all leaders share this common desire that we want to do more of what’s good and less of what’s bad, and if foul language was good, it wouldn’t be foul,” Bradley said. “I’ll ask the kids, ‘Who here is afraid they can’t go the week without cursing?’ and 90 percent of them will raise their hands. And that’s after we talked for 10 minutes about a curse word. It’s a little scary.”

“If you don’t know if you have the self-control to not be doing something as small as cursing, how can I trust you as a coach to have the self-control when an opponent gets in your face? How do I know you have the self control that you’re going to be able to go to bed at a good time, and say no to that party, say no to those those drinks? How do I know you have the self-control when you can’t even master as something as simple as controlling your tongue in a non-stressful environment?” – Adam Bradley

Five printable social graphics/wallpapers are also given to coaches where kids can hang in the locker room to support the theme.

The program sets up so there’s four years worth of content, eliminating the chance of a repeat curriculum for a high school athlete.

From a teaching perspective, each Lead ‘Em Up session is once a week for 30 minutes, and can be taught by either the head coach or an assistant, whomever fills the role the best.

“We’ve taught it in a very simple way so the coaches get it,” Bradley said. “They know the game, and know how to teach in a correct way.”

Currently, 90 schools and teams across the United States have implemented the Lead ‘Em Up program as it approaches its 9 month mark.

Some notable teams from around the Maryland area like Seneca Valley boys basketball, Walt Whitman basketball, and Watkins Mill football, have all found success with the leadership program.

Seneca Valley boys basketball rode a 12 game win-streak to capture the 3A West region championship and a state tournament appearance, Watkins Mill football was a playoff qualifier for the first time since 1999, and Walt Whitman basketball emerged out of nowhere with a  to take the 4A West region championship.

“What Lead ‘Em Up did for our program this year is it taught the kids how to be comfortable,” said Chris Lun, the head coach for Walt Whitman boys basketball. “Not calling each other out, but demanding things from your teammates and just getting more comfortable speaking up and holding guys accountable without feeling weird. That helped build our chemistry and team dynamic even more.”

The Walt Whitman boys basketball team poses for a selfie with Lead 'Em Up founder Adam Bradley. Courtesy photo.
The Walt Whitman boys basketball team poses for a selfie with Lead ‘Em Up founder Adam Bradley. Courtesy photo.

Walt Whitman basketball held a 13-9 record heading into the playoffs as a No. 2 seed in the competitive 4A West. They rattled off an 18 point victory against Walter Johnson in the first round, upset top-seeded Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the second round on a buzzer-beater layup, defeated Blair by 14, and upended Clarksburg in double overtime to earn a state tournament berth.

“It’s not something that’s just thrown together,” Lun said. “There’s so many different aspects to it. Our guys loved it and benefited from it tremendously. Every team can find something valuable for them.”

There are over 20,000 high schools across the country. Down the road, Bradley envisions more than 5,000 schools piloting with Lead ‘Em Up. For the 2016-2017 school year, Bradley hopes to retain most of the teams that used the leadership program from 2015-2016, while adding 500 more.

He also sees a market at the recreational, club, and youth levels. Lead ‘Em Up recently latched on with LaxFactory, a premier lacrosse club team, and will launch a youth program over the summer. But for now, impacting high schools continue to be the main focal point.

“Our focus is on high school right now,” Bradley said. “In a perfect world, I would love every high school athlete to go through Lead ‘Em Up throughout their four years.”

Volume 2 will be released this summer.

Lead ‘Em Up is currently priced at $329 for a team and $799 for an athletic director to disperse throughout the whole school.

About Kyle McFadden 416 Articles
Kyle McFadden is a graduate from Linganore High School's Class of 2014, a sports junkie and general news-hound. He got his start as a sports writer in January 2014 for Linganore's student-run newspaper The Lance, where he wrote 13 articles. McFadden then launched his own blog in October 2014 called The Beltway Dispatch covering collegiate, local high school and professional sports. Formally known as The Beltway Dispatch, McFadden and Evan Engelhard merged respective platforms in June 2015 to make what is now Maryland Sports Access. With baseball, basketball and golf experience, McFadden brings ample knowledge to the helm of MSA. McFadden covers a wide variety of sports in football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and specializes in the collegiate and high school levels. McFadden volunteers his time at Damascus Road Community Church -- serving as a mentor to the youth, basketball coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, and leads a small group of high school sophomores every Wednesday night. Although he's only been around journalism since January 2014, he's a high school sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun and freelancer for The Frederick News-Post. McFadden's work has also appeared in DMV newspapers The Aegis, The Capital Gazette, The Daily Times (Delmarva Now), The Hometown Observer, Howard County Times, Germantown Pulse and The Towson Times. He's also won two Mike Powell Excellence in Journalism awards and has appeared on The Best of SNO, which showcases top student work of high school and college journalists. McFadden currently studies at Frederick Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2018 to work on a bachelor's degree in journalism with aspirations to be a national college basketball writer.
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