Industry Insights

NextUp 2023

7 Lessons About Leadership From Dhani Jones and Brian Scalabrine

By Melissa Wickes
January 25, 2024
3 min

It’s not everyday you see a former NFL player and former NBA player getting together to share their leadership advice to a room of youth sports leaders. One might even think it’s an odd combo. Hear us out.

Dhani Jones has witnessed a multitude of championship leaders in his day. Whether it was on the field in the NFL or through his various entrepreneurial ventures, the guy knows a thing or two about what it takes to lead a team to success. 

Brian Scalabrine is no different. He’s shared the court with the likes of Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett, and has been an analyst for the Boston Celtics for the last few years.

Their combined expertise in leadership in sport (and out of) meant we had to get them together to speak on this topic at NextUp 2023—and the resulting convo was eye-opening. 

Here are 7 takeaways from Dhani Jones and Brian Scalabrine’s panel about leadership in youth sports at NextUp 2023.  You can watch the full panel discussion at the video below:

Setting the Tone

Leaders on your team, especially elite players, play a crucial role in setting the tone for practice and games, Brian shared. Their belief in themselves and their teammates can elevate the entire team’s performance. 

Identify those players and encourage their leadership on the court. 

Focusing on What’s Important

Great players and leaders have a knack for focusing on the critical aspects of the game and blocking out any distractions. This focus and the ability to convey essential information succinctly are vital traits for leaders—so whether you’re electing team captains or working on your own leadership skills, consider having tunnel vision on only the important things. 

“I think those guys just have a way of knowing exactly what we need to do today to win this game or what we need to do in practice to be a championship level team,” he says.

Recognize, Refocus, Regroup

A sports psychologist once shared with Dhani that acknowledging mistakes, regrouping emotionally, and refocusing on the task at hand is a valuable mental tool for athletes, and one you can share with your team. 

Increasing the Floor

One of the pieces of advice that Brian was most passionate about giving during the panel was increasing the floor, or the minimum standard of performance for young athletes. This approach involves working on fundamental skills and resilience to ensure consistent performance, even under pressure. 

Your on-ball defense, your low turnovers, your ball handling, your left hand, your step back—these are all examples of increasing the floor in basketball. The more time kids have practicing these skills the higher level they will perform, especially when it’s in the actual game. Score one for equal playing time? 

Humility and Teaching

As a leader, humility and being open to teaching others (and learning from them) is crucial. Dhani and Brian mentioned that even the most talented athletes they worked with—like Tom Brady and Steph Curry—had a deep sense of humility that allowed them to constantly grow and fostered a supportive team environment. 

Cross-Training and Versatility

Dhani advocates for multi-sport athletes, as does the science. This multidisciplinary approach enhances overall athleticism, provides a broader skill set, sports IQ, and prevents burnout and injury. 

Adapt Communication

Understanding each athlete’s unique learning style and adapting communication accordingly can enhance a leader’s effectiveness. However, if you ask Dhani, some players just don’t listen


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by LeagueApps (@leagueapps)

NextUp is the only youth sports management conference of its kind, where leaders get together to learn and teach one another about propelling the industry forward. Click here to watch last year’s content and to stay updated on the 2024 conference.