Club connection: Lead West

Lead West is a new club designed for student-athletes to develop their leadership skills, mentor underclassmen and motivate their peers.

Everywhere you look there are leaders. 

Teachers, coaches, mentors, upperclassmen. Nearly everyone at West High is a leader in some way, but before they became a leader, they were molded by other students that came before them. The process of growing into a leader and the expectations for students to lead is something guidance counselor and assistant football coach Paul Breitbach has been working on his whole life.

“I always get frustrated when adults and coaches tell students to lead, but never show them how,” Breitbach said.

To combat this problem, Breitbach began recruiting student-athletes last winter to discuss leadership skills and issues within their teams. These roundtable discussions helped students notice structural flaws within their own programs and begin the process of becoming a leader or team captain going forward.

Mukundan Kasturirangan ’21, who will play in one of the top spots for the boys tennis team this spring, recently joined the club and has discovered some new leadership techniques he utilizes in offseason workouts.

“[Lead West] has helped me recognize that there are a lot of aspects to leadership and a good leader needs to have all aspects,” Kasturirangan said. “I also realized that you have to be able to able call out your friends in order to be an effective leader.”

The club picked up again at the beginning of this school year, meeting on Friday mornings to discuss the core values the club would endorse.

After weeks of deliberation, the group eventually settled on five leadership qualities they feel are crucial to developing leadership skills. These skills are hard work, discipline, attitude, respect and motivation.

Posters featuring the club’s core values are posted around the West High weight room, with an informational pamphlet in development for next year’s freshman class.

Joe Goodman
One of five Lead West posters is displayed above the free weights in the West High weight room. Each poster focuses on one of Lead West’s five core values.

The first four qualities focus on leading oneself and being able to hold oneself accountable. Recently, Breitbach has implemented a new Elite Nine system intended to hold each group member accountable to themselves while also staying disciplined to their nine daily objectives.

In order to become a better student, athlete and community member, each student-athlete filled out nine daily commitments they strive for each day. Examples of commitments could be doing 100 push-ups everyday, getting an A in all of one’s classes or simply meeting someone new everyday.

“It’s just a challenge for all of us to just say ‘How do I become my best self?’” Breitbach said. “Until you can lead yourself it’s tough to lead someone else. It’s an opportunity for all of us who want to do that to challenge each other to do our best.”

Over time it would be nice if our athletes recognized each other…and understand the same commitment you’re making to be successful as a student-athlete and in your sport is the same commitment I’m making.

— Paul Breitbach

After one feels they have developed a firm sense of self-accountability, the focus begins to shift to the last leadership quality: motivation. For ambitious high school athletes, it can be tough to get every teammate on the same page when it comes to accomplishing team goals.

A struggle for many of the athletes is the dynamic between being a friend and being a demanding leader among their peers.

“When I’m on the soccer field I am constantly trying to make my teammates better,” said varsity soccer player Anna Verry ’22. “This constructive encouragement can come off differently at times, and sometimes I wonder if what I said was worth it and if my teammates will still like me.”

Kara Wagenknecht
Anna Verry ’22 hustles back on defense during the team’s game against City High on April 9. Verry looks to step into an expanded role this year in her second season with the varsity.

Part of becoming a leader is looking out for others, which is why the group spends time working with freshmen and student-athletes from Northwest. 

The club attempts to seek out promising underclassmen who could develop into team captains by their junior or senior year. In working with kids from Northwest, the club helps student-athletes understand the value of self-accountability and responsibility so that they will be able to help lead others by the time they enter West High.

“With the junior high it’s just making that connection. Just putting some names to faces or getting them excited about coming and being a student-athlete here,” Breitbach said. “When we meet with our ninth graders it’s a little more focused. We give them the opportunity to understand what it is to lead.”

Going forward, the club aspires to continue developing the leadership skills of its members while also inspiring students, teachers and coaches to hold each other accountable.

Anyone interested in joining Lead West should contact Paul Breitbach in the guidance office.