Coaches Sports Philosophy Network
Through the past thirty years of coaching, I have used several different methods for choosing team captains and have found that none of them are perfect and without some risk.
The most popular of these methods have both positive and negative impacts on your players. Having captains voted on by the team has merit in that the players will automatically recognize leadership qualities in their teammates and feel empowered in the decision making process; however, you don’t want the vote to become a popularity contest. Having the coaching staff select captains gives you more control in the selection and the ability to “control” the selection but may result in resentment from players who interpret the captains as the “coaches’ pet.” Picking an upper classman or the most experienced players has merit in that you select those who have demonstrated their abilities, but this can result in someone who is not a leader at all. Regardless of what method you use, the end result of any of these can still be a long season without good leadership on your team.
Recently I attended a coaches’ clinic in Chicago, and one of the presenters made the following remark in reference to obtaining “new” ideas and methods from others: “If you steal materials from one person, it is called plagiarism . . . if you steal from many, it is called research!”
So, in my “research” and experience, I would like to share what I believe is an effect way to determine who should be captains or team leaders. This is a compilation of many strategies, good and bad experiences, and observation of how others have selected and utilized their captains. As there are a variety of ways to select your team leaders, each is unique with their own advantages and disadvantages. Because each program and each season is unique, the real key is to find the best method for you, your team, your sport, and your season. It may even vary a little from year to year based on the personalities of your players in any given season. Certainly, you will also need to adapt these principles to the age of your players. Younger athletes will require more direct contact and mentoring from the coach, but as players mature, they will develop leadership skills that will be evident.
Below are seven character qualities that I look for in leadership:
SEVEN WAYS TO LEAD YOUR TEAM AS A CAPTAIN
How to structure your process for selection of captains is one of the coaches’ most important preseason decisions because the captains, like the coaching staff, help to set the tone and maintain discipline.
The first step is to determine your purpose or philosophy of what you want your captains to be. Are they simply a “figure head” that goes out to the captains’ meeting at the beginning of the game but serve no other purpose? Are they true leaders on the team who will have expectations and responsibilities, and will provide input in decision making? Once you decide what you want your captains to be, it is much easier to decide who your captains should be.
Next, relay your criteria and expectations to your team, explaining to them what are the role and responsibilities of a captain on your team. This will likely reduce the “selection” to a limited number of players.
It is my opinion that captains should have the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process on many issues. Things such as new uniform selection, travel wear, restaurant selections, room assignments, and even the consequences in some cases of team policy violations. In the beginning of each season, I meet with the team captains and we go over these very things. One of the points that I emphasize to them is that they must model what they expect from their teammates. If they determine that the consequences for being late is “VC” (voluntary conditioning), then they too will pay the price if they are late. Then, let them lead. Give them opportunities to lead and responsibilities to fulfill, allowing them to make some decisions.
As captains fulfill their roles, coaches should respect the captains’ delicate position as liaisons between the staff and the other players. Teammates respond best when they perceive the captains as extensions of the coaching staff. The staff should reassure the captains that except in an emergency, they are expected only to alert the staff of situations that would negatively affect the team. It is important to always remember that the captain is a player, not a coach, they are an extension of the coach and his or her philosophy and policies, but they are not expected to be the warden of a prison.
Finally, how to administrate the selection process is most crucial step. I have found it most beneficial when the selection of a captain is a balance between the voting of teammates and the direct selection of the coach.
After a team meeting, in which the expectations and responsibilities are explained, the players and coaches can nominate those who they believe will best meet the requirements. Nominated players can privately remove their name from the list of candidates if they so choose.
From that short list, the final vote is taken, and the captains are announced. It has been my experience that allowing the players to have input into the process gives them a sense of “ownership” and “investment” in the team and the decision-making progress.
Once the captains have been chosen, it is the responsibility of the coach or coaching staff to continue the mentoring process to those individuals. Help them to further develop the essential skills of leadership. I have found it beneficial to meet with the captains on a regular basis. A captains’ lunch has been an effective way to accomplish this task.
Let this process work out over a few days . . . not just fifteen minutes of one training session. Give the players opportunity to think through the process that you have put in place.
Good captains can make or break your season, regardless of the wins and losses. Their input into the overall makeup of your team can be a great source of encouragement and leadership, or it can make you “pull your hair out” and consider making an early exit from the coaching profession.
Leadership is WORK if it is done right.
Leadership is RESPONSIBILITY to set the example.
Leadership is OPPORTUNITY to impact/influence others.
Leadership is MINISTRY if it is done with the right purpose.