As a head coach, you can’t be the entire program. You need assistants and you need captains that can help you lead the program towards success.
Great team captains make your job easier as a coach. Everyone knows this, but having strong team leadership is not as simple as a well-meaning wish and a snap of the fingers. Most coaches know what kind of captain and leadership they want, but oftentimes it doesn’t play out that way.
Here are four mistakes many coaches make when it comes to the topic of team captains:
- Lack of training
- Unrealistic expectations
- Underestimating the selection process
- Providing a poor example of leadership
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been doing this — every team and every season is different. Just because you’ve had great captains in the past doesn’t assure that for this year.
LACK OF TRAINING
If you want your captains to deal with issues in the locker room, then teach them how to do it. If you want them to feel free to speak up during a training session, then show them when and how to best do it. If you want them to be a liaison between your coaching staff and their teammates, provide a blueprint for how to make it happen. Help them understand what they need to handle on their own, what needs to be communicated with a coach, and how to balance all of this with their friendships.
If you want your captains to act, speak, think, and respond in a certain way, then you’ll need to train them. Never assume they know what it takes to be a good leader. Just because they’re a “good kid”, are polite, go to class, and stay out of trouble, doesn’t mean that they make a good captain.
Whatever responsibilities or roles you have for your captains needs to be identified, addressed, and trained. Equip, empower, and encourage them to be good leaders. Whatever is important to you as a coach, you should be teaching.
It would be nice if the captain was a coach on the field. Things would be a lot easier if they were an extension of you on the floor. However, the reality is that they’re not. They’re young adults. They don’t have the same life experiences, maturity levels, or perspective you have as a coach. They don’t think the way you do. In fact, your athletes will never think, act, or respond in a way that is similar to you as a coach.
This doesn’t mean you can’t expect certain things out of your captains, but be weary of putting too much pressure on their shoulders. Captains like Sue Bird, Derek Jeter, Megan Rapinoe, or Tim Tebow are more the exception than the rule. No matter how mature your athlete is, they’ll never be perfect. They’ll never be as quick to make a good decision as you are. They won’t automatically know how to handle the various situations that arise with their friends.
Natural-born leaders don’t exist. Unrealistic expectations can lead to a great deal of frustration when they disappoint you. This disappointment can sometimes cause a rift between captain and coach.
UNDERESTIMATING THE SELECTION PROCESS
The position of team captain is a critical role. Yet, many coaches make their selections without much thought or strategy involved. Having the right captain can make all the difference on a team. Conversely, selecting the wrong captain can have long-lasting consequences for a program.
This is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Selecting captains the way you’ve always done it or the way others want it to be done isn’t the best way. There’s many questions you and your staff should consider before deciding:
- What does your program need this year?
- How will the decision you make this year affect future years?
- What do you do with the athletes who aren’t selected?
- How do you make sure you assemble the best leadership possible?
- Are there creative selection methods available?
- Do you need to select captains at a certain time? Do they have to be selected at once?
- What kind of administrative and/or parent support do you have?
- How much will you promote and spotlight your captains during the year?
- How do you plan on utilizing your captains this year?
- How would your athletes feel about the various options being selected?
- For those not selected, what kind of influence will they have on the rest of the team afterwards?
- Are you concerned about only this year or will you plan ahead for future years (e.g. having a future captains or emerging captains program)?
Most coaches take the easy way out or do what’s always been done when it comes to selecting captains. The best coaches approach leadership with an open mind.
You need captains that not only represent the team well, but also help team members take ownership in the program. They help their teammates become better. They complement what you’re doing as a coach.
PROVIDING A POOR EXAMPLE
It’s commonplace for coaches to set the standard. You’ve probably given your team some rules or guidelines to uphold. Maybe you’ve even cast a vision for the team to believe in or some goals to achieve. Regardless, there’s a standard that you’ve established as a coach.
You’ve set the standard, but are you living out that standard? Are you modeling what you expect from a position of leadership? You want them to be positive in how they interact with other team members. Are you? You want them to stay focused, poised, and calm during adversity. Are you? If you want them to be trusted by others, are you also doing things that earn team member’s respect?
Yes, you need to train and teach your captains how to act, but it can’t be a “do as I say, not as I do” situation if you want to maximize the leadership potential in your program. Don’t just set the standard — be the standard so that your captains have a clear example to follow.
LEADERSHIP STARTS WITH YOU
The reality is that your team’s culture is made up of the decisions and actions of each team member. Every athlete you have should be a good leader and positive influence regardless of what their position, status, age, or talent level.
However, wearing the captain’s arm band, having a “C” on your jersey, or the title of captain carries a lot of weight. It means something. Rarely do strong programs have bad captains. A positional leader can make or break a team.
As a coach, you hold the top leadership position in your program, but you aren’t always in the locker room, hallways, or back of the bus. Your captains matter. How they lead their teammates matters. Their ability to lead their teammates and invest in the process of developing a strong culture starts with you.
Jamy Bechler is the author of four books including The Captain and The Bus Trip. He is also the host of the Success is a Choice Podcast, a professional speaker, and trains organizations on creating championship cultures. Bechler spent 20 years as a college basketball coach and administrator and now works with high-level businesses and teams, including the NBA. He started TheLeadershipPlaybook.com membership community and resource center to help athletes become better teammates and more positive leaders while strengthening the culture of teams and athletic departments. Follow him on twitter at @CoachBechler or contact him at speaking@CoachBechler.com.