Coaching 101: Picking Great Team Captains
One of the biggest and most important jobs for a coach is getting it right when it comes to selecting team captains. Coaches who take the time to evaluate student athletes and their likelihood for becoming strong team captains benefit in a number of ways, including better team responsibility, sportsmanship, academic excellence, school/community leadership, and overall team camaraderie (a big factor associated with on-field success). The reality is that coaches can’t be everywhere, all the time — and even if they were able to pull off those super-human feats, there still isn’t a substitute for student athletes “policing themselves” through the guidance and leadership from fellow players, including team captains.
Examining the team captain selection process
As we explore ideas around selecting a team captain, it’s important to discuss things to avoid if the goal is to develop the best team chemistry possible.
- Don’t fly through the process with little effort or vision. Coaches who expedite the team captain process by quickly assigning a student athlete team captain status because of either on-field success and/or grade level (seniority) may result in expecting things from a youngster that he or she simply isn’t equipped to do. Instead, take time out to evaluate whether the student athlete even wants to be captain, and if he or she is equipped with the people skills to get fellow teammates to make smart off-field decisions, commit to academics, and give 100% effort every time out.
- Be careful giving the team 100% ownership of the process. Some coaches pull back and instead allow the team to decide on who will be the captain, a practice that can work – but also runs the risk of the selection process simply being a popularity contest. A slightly different approach might include team feedback through an anonymous information gathering method, coupled by what the coaches think would be the best decision.
- Be realistic with expectations. Remember, if you’re coaching at the youth or interscholastic level you are still dealing with kids, and very few kids have developed outstanding leadership skills to that point in their lives (it’s a work in progress for most kids). What this means is it might be a lofty goal to expect the team captain to police all the kids on the team, always have the team ready to compete, and getting teammates to take academics as serious as they should. Rather than expecting captains to have it all figured out, try to think about age-appropriate expectations, and lend support and guidance whenever you can help.
Ideas to help get it right
Selecting team captains can be a challenging and complex proposition, but there are some ideas and guidelines you can rely on in order to decide on the right kids for the job.
- Talk about the importance of being a team captain. Remember, while most student athletes realize they are expected to be role models and leaders, few actually know exactly what this means. Consequently, it’s important for coaches to spell out the duties of a team captain, and to determine what kids are actually interested in becoming a team captain.
- Define the role explicitly. Rather than simply allowing it up to the team captain to lead the team, provide examples of what strong leadership looks like. Also, be sure to provide specifics around off-field goals, including grades and ways in which the team can positively interact with the community (i.e. volunteering).
- Provide 24/7 support. Once team captains are chosen, it’s important to make sure they know that coaches are there for them when problems arise (as they undoubtedly will over the course of a season). It’s also important for captains to feel as though they can report issues on the team without breaking confidentiality, and that they can solicit advice and mentoring when issues go beyond what captains feel they are capable of handling.
The role of being a team captain is an important, and coaches are encouraged to think through the captain selection process so that responsible decisions are made. Student athletes who display responsibility, integrity, and sportsmanship should garner the most attention, especially if your goal is to have them model these same behaviors to the rest of the team.