There is a difference between choosing captains and developing captains, even though maybe in the back of our minds we assume that if we pick the right captain, then leadership will take care of itself. The best dudes may get chosen, but they may have no idea what being captain entails and have very little experience taking responsibility for a group of their peers. We may be setting them up for failure and us up for disappointment if we don’t support their efforts to learn how to lead.
Developing Leadership to Mold Captains
We love to recruit players with leadership capacity and experience. Most on our roster have been team captains in high school. We also know that is not enough. We know we need to make an organized effort to allow many of our players to develop leadership capacity. We have grown into a scaffolded leadership team at Hope. Developing leadership skills takes practice, and so we get as many people involved as possible during their careers here.
Leadership roles on our team include: squad leader(s), recruiting liaison, workout captains, and captains. Up to one-third of our team holds a formal leadership position at any one point in time.
Squad leaders lead a team of up to eight other players, and they may be responsible for anyone from freshmen to captains in their squad. Squad leaders make sure that each member of their squad is accountable to our mission and also to the detail-oriented things day-to-day, like what color shorts for the workout or who helps swoop up the locker room after practice. I share a text with the leadership team, including squad leaders, each morning with the practice plan, and the “get done” checklist for the day. Squad leaders are servant leaders, and we have excellent debriefs and discussions about what each squad needs and which individual players need support.
Our recruiting liaison works in the admissions office as a tour guide and has had formal training from the college in supporting prospective student-athletes. He works closely with the other players so that the PSA can meet as many members of our team as possible. He also vets the recruits and talks to the coaching staff about who would be a good fit here. We find this to be a very valuable part of the recruiting process.
Our workout captains monitor and articulate the rest/recovery/workout plans from week-to-week. The coaching staff works closely with them to make sure they are supported with time/equipment/feedback. Typically, the workout captains are also studying kinesiology, and this is a real-world opportunity for them to lead and put theory into practice. I vet any of my ideas, reading, or research through the workout captains and leadership team before we implement them.
Our academic liaison works to support our overall mission to earn a USILA Academic Team Award. This is a student-athlete who excels in the classroom, manages time well, and studies hard. He may also be someone who works in the writing center or the academic success center. He works with our leadership team and squad leaders to support any of our players who may be struggling with a class or with “college.” The academic liaison also knows who is studying what on our team, so older players can mentor/tutor younger ones. Our new players may also be nervous to talk to the head coach about struggling with school – the academic liaison is more approachable.
Our captains are voted on by the team, whereas our other leadership roles are on a volunteer basis. We talk about what we need to get done, and then we fill roles accordingly.
Here are the instructions for the players before they vote:
Suggest leaders who would make great captains for us this spring. Captains must serve as leaders, smooth the path to performance for their teammates, communicate well up and down the organizational chart, excel on the field of play and in the classroom, make each day we are together a fun and enriching experience, and have a fierce desire to compete and help us win every time we step on the field. Please choose 6 of your teammates who you feel best exemplify these qualities.
At the end of fall ball, we use a Google Form to create a spreadsheet, and this allows us to get a picture of the voting patterns. Asking for six choices acknowledges that there are many who could serve as captain. The top vote-getters will serve on the leadership team in some capacity as we prepare for spring. The captains communicate with the team and the coaching staff daily. The captains will closely listen to our squad debriefs and help plan for improvement. The captains bring the energy to the field every day. The captains are great listeners for their teammates. The captains take responsibility for us being together as a team.
Motivated players want to be better – the leadership team shows them how, then shows them how to be helpful to their teammates. “Always have your teammates’ backs” is our first standard. Our captains have to live this every day. We build this by visible work, leadership by example, and by open and direct conversations. We are not afraid to speak up for our standards. This is a continual process, and none of it happens without developing leadership.