What makes a good leader?

Ellie Brush and Sarah Walsh are two footballers who’ve taken vastly different paths to their current positions as captain.

There’s no single definitive leadership style. There are those who lead by example, setting the benchmark and lifting their team with their performances. Then there are the motivators, marshalling their troops with a few choice words at crucial moments. But it’s hard to define exactly what makes a good leader.

Leadership in sport, as in all walks of life, requires a fine balance of intangible qualities. Successful leaders must be authoritative yet approachable. Passionate and competitive, yet calm under pressure. Humble in victory and hopeful in defeat.

Leaders on the football pitch must command respect without seeking it.

Ellie Brush and Sarah Walsh are two footballers who’ve taken vastly different paths to their current positions as the Westfield W-League captains of Canberra United and Western Sydney Wanderers FC, respectively.

Brush is the only player in the Westfield W-League to have been captain for all five seasons of the competition, providing the foundation of Canberra’s proven winning formula, culminating in their championship triumph last season. Walsh, on the other hand, despite holding several leadership roles off the field, is a relative newcomer to on field captaincy. The 67-cap former Matilda admits it’s a role she’s still adjusting to.

“It has its good aspects and its bad aspects. It’s not a role that I put my hand up for – it’s a role that was player-voted – so I guess that makes it a bit easier. I didn’t ask for the role but was more than happy and privileged to take it on,” she says.

According to Brush, an ongoing challenge of the job is being an intermediary between coach and players, having to please both camps without alienating anyone.

“At times it’s hard if there are issues within the team to try and resolve those – to be the mediator, you sometimes can’t please both parties and you don’t like to be the bad guy,” she says.

It’s interesting to note that Westfield W-League captains are voted by the players. In many cases this would overlap with that of the coach anyway, but the system has no shortage of merit and fits with Walsh’s blueprint for what makes a good leader: “Someone that’s approachable, I’d say more so a player’s captain than a coach’s captain.”

Brush adds, “I think it is the commitment, both to training and trying to be a professional, as well as on the field.”

This commitment will be called upon as Canberra look to recover from an exhausting Club Championship campaign and get their title defence back on track.

Meanwhile, Wanderers FC are looking to make a strong finish in a crowded mid-table race to the finals.