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Coaching captains to be leaders

Sep 3, 2015 | Uncategorized

Story by Stephanie Schleuder, from The Art of Coaching


To be successful, teams must have at least one player who can bring out the best in others, but it doesn’t happen by accident. Coaches play a big role in creating good captains by mentoring them along the way.

Almost every coach I have ever known has lamented over the need for more or better leadership on their team. The mystery is why we think it will magically happen. My experience is that it does not happen without a meaningful and thoughtful investment by the coach. Start at the beginning by evaluating the way you organize the process of selecting your captains. Taking some time to lead a discussion with your team related to leadership will give them a better foundation for having a meaningful part in the process of selecting captains. A quick caution — don’t underestimate the importance of this first step.

Definition of leadership

  • A leader assumes responsibility for the performance of others and the outcome of the quest.

Principles of leadership

  • Leaders should move toward influential acts of encouragement, empowerment, support, facilitation and service, avoiding the desire to direct, control and manipulate.
  • Leaders help the team define the vision, help plan the strategy and give effort to create victories. We are all in this together.
  • Leaders assist in communicating the expectation message, mental preparation, delegation of responsibility, and group and personal ethics (integrity). Learning what the team needs is critical.
  • Leaders strive to create a team environment of shared responsibility and accountability.

Selecting captains

There are myriad ways captains can be selected: nomination by the players, election by players, selection by the coach or a combination of methods.


It seems important to have players input so they will feel an investment in the results. Once the players have a better understanding of leadership, they will likely give more valuable input to the process. I personally believe it is an advantage to have more than one captain. If you have a strong core of returning players, it can be a good thing to select captains in the spring or summer. That gives you time to begin coaching them to be effective leaders.

10 keys to training captains

  1. Your players are inexperienced young adults who have little or no training in communication and public speaking. Don’t expect miracles without engaging captains in extensive training and discussion.
  2. Captains will have natural fears about taking on a role where they are expected to communicate individually with a teammate or with a group of teammates. Let them know this is OK.
  3. One of the first sessions should deal with communication. Be sure to emphasize the importance of listening and observing teammates.
  4. Emphasize the role of the captain as one of honor and responsibility.
  5. Captains should form a “team within a team.” Each captain can have different responsibilities that match their individual personality and leadership skills.
  6. The coach should lead extensive discussion of leadership principles such as communicating the expectation message, mental preparation, delegation of responsibility and group and personal ethics (integrity). All of this leads to the overriding principle that a leader assumes responsibility for the performance of others and the outcome of the quest. Learning what the team needs is critical.
  7. Do not impose coaching responsibilities on the captains. Coaches should retain responsibility for personnel or playing time choices, game strategy and training regimens.
  8. There will always be players who are defiant, resentful, distracted or unmotivated. Coaches may or may not be successful in dealing with these players. Captains have a unique capacity to deal with these individuals on a peer-to-peer basis. The principles of duty to the team and the integrity of the captain’s position are critical to being able to deal with these individuals.
  9. A team is a social organization. It has a complex social structure, a chain of command and a variety of skill sets distributed among its participants. There are mood swings from euphoria to bitter deflation. The captains must understand that they should rally the team in times of despair, creating a culture of resilience. With the ability to be resilient comes growing confidence in the ability to succeed.
  10. Before the season, the coach must determine what the team’s biggest obstacles will be and shape the priorities for the captains. For example, will it be overcoming previous lack of success and lack of confidence, or will it be living up to expectations of previous success?


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