Choosing Captains as a Team

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Name of blog Coach Bob
Blog author Bob Walsh
Blog post date 2012/10/20
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I've always felt we put too much emphasis on captains. Coaches always look to captains for leadership, yet if you look at the captains of most teams they are usually two things - the veteran players, and the best players. Being a senior or being a really good player doesn't make you a great leader, it just means you are older and talented. I'm sure there are young players who aren't as talented on every team who might be really good leaders but because of their "status" don't really feel comfortable with leadership.

We've always de-emphasized captains on our team. By nature if you expect certain leadership qualities out of your captains that you don't expect out of everyone you are defining roles where you expect certain players to take a back seat. I don't want anyone on our team taking a back seat when it comes to leadership. We want everyone to make the people around them better. What happens if your captain gets injured, fouls out, or just isn't in the game at a big moment? Do you really expect other players to be able to step up at that point and be leaders if they haven't done it consistently?

I'm just not a big believer in the top-down model of leadership, where one or two people at the top of the organization tell everyone else what to do and how to do it. Your team is that much stronger if it is empowered from the middle, if everyone feels like they have some ownership in how the operation is run. But nonetheless you do need to have captains for technical responsibilities - someone has to meet with the officials before games to go over some basic rules and to establish communication should it be necessary on the floor.

We use an interesting system to choose our captains that I picked up from Jack Clark, the incredibly successful coach of the rugby team at Cal-Berkely. We sit in a classroom and I explain the role our captains will play - technical responsibilities, but that I don't expect any more leadership from them than I expect from anyone else. Once they understand what the role of the captains will be, we say that anyone who wants to be a captain can walk to the front of the room and put their name up on the board. It's very interesting to see who really wants to be captain when they actually have to get up in front of their teammates and write their own name on the board.

After that we allow anyone to get up and write someone else's name on the board. It is also very interesting to see when certain teammates consider someone else who they'd like to be a captain that didn't think that way about themselves. At this point there are usually 3-6 names up on the board and we ask if anyone has anything to say about the names on the board. Generally there isn't a lot of discussion, but if someone wants to talk about their own candidacy or someone else's they are allowed to speak on it. Finally, when that is complete, we allow anyone who wants to to erase their own name off of the board. You cannot erase someone else's name, just your own. This eliminates anyone who doesn't want to be a captain.

The whole excercise only takes a few minutes. At this point we have guys vote for whomever they want to be captains. They can vote for as many or as few as they'd like, but they can only choose from the names on the board. They are allowed to vote for themselves, as long as their name is up.
You get to the same ending point - with teammates voting for who they want to be captain. But it creates a different dynamic throughout the process. You will learn something new about your players, and so will their teammates before they decide who they want to be captains.