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Selecting the Right Captain

Having players you trust to lead your team can have a huge effect on your season. Captains are the link between the coaching staff and the rest of the team, and can play an essential role carrying out the game plan, executing strategy, and instilling a philosophy. That’s why it’s worth taking some time to think about how you should select athletes for this important position.

Jeff Janssen, of the Janssen Sports Leadership Center, provides three different methods for choosing team captains, as well as the pros and cons of each.

1. Team Votes

This is a common approach that a lot of coaches take. You simply hand out ballots, ask the team to list their top choices, and then count the votes and announce the winner(s).

The main advantage of using this selection method is that you allow input from the entire team and give them a stake in choosing a leader, rather than imposing a leader on them. This shows your athletes that you respect them and value their opinion. It can also help ensure that the captain is someone that the team is willing to follow.

The potential downside, however, is that the team might vote for someone that you and your coaching staff doesn’t think is fit to be a captain. This could turn into a popularity contest rather than a determination of who is the best leader. It’s important that your team likes and respects their captain, but he or she also needs to be someone who has proven leadership skills.

Before deciding to go with this selection method, gauge the maturity of the team and decide whether you think they can handle the responsibility of choosing their own captain. One thing that can help is talking to your athletes about leadership skills and what to look for in a captain before voting. This can serve as a reminder that they shouldn’t just vote for their friend but for the person who is best equipped to lead the team.

2. Coaches Select

With this method, the coaching staff will make a collective decision about who should be the captain(s)

This has the obvious advantage of eliminating a popularity contest. Coaches can ensure that the captain is a proven leader and someone they respect, trust, and have confidence in. With this approach, there isn’t the possibility of the team selecting someone who isn’t going to be an effective leader.

On the other hand, it’s possible for coaches to choose someone that the majority of the team doesn’t respect or listen to. That can cause major problems. Your favorite athlete might not be connected to the rest of the team the way a captain needs to be. In addition, your athletes might resent the fact that they didn’t have any say in the process, and this can cause distrust right from the start.

To avoid some of these problems, it’s important that you still allow your athletes at least some input. Even if it’s an informal conversation, talk to them and try to gauge who they would like to be their captain(s) and why. This can let you know if your first choice might not be the best choice.

3. Team Nominates, Coach Endorses

This is essentially a hybrid of the other two methods. The athletes are allowed to nominate the teammates they look to for leadership, but the coach can scrutinize these choices and have the final say.

This can be a great way to make everybody happy while identifying the best leaders on your team. Athletes will feel they’ve provided meaningful input, while the coaching staff can still provide a check on any popularity contests.

Problems arise only if the athletes and coaches are not on the same page. If the players adamantly want a certain captain but the coaches are wholly against it, this can cause a rift and create a difficult situation.

Janssen suggests using what he calls the “Top Three Leaders List” to combat any issues. This involves asking athletes questions such as who they trust thy most on the team, who has the best relationships with their teammates, and who is willing to confront and hold their teammates accountable. These questions can provide a useful guide for athletes when choosing captains. 

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