Captain, My Captain.

Wow, I just realized how long it has been since I actually posted a blog.  So many things have changed since June 3, 2016.  By now you realized how bad I am at having a blog.  It is not for lack of content, but lack of writing desire.  By the time I have a chance to sit down and write, I am exhausted and opt to go to bed (most times).  I don’t want to waste any time catching up on my life since June of 2016.  The only part I will mention, since it may change how (and what) I write about, is that I have taken over the head coaching position at the Division III college I was an assistant at for the past 4 years.  I feel that may be relative moving forward with the blog.


Writing this post, I want to put my “Athletic Coach” mind in to drive.  I want to talk a little bit about captains.  I have a unique situation this year on the team that has caused some turbulence, but nothing major (yet).  Moving from assistant to head coach has a lot of challenges, but most are easily overcome.  I have a great group of ladies that work hard, respect the team and college, and really buy into the systems I am putting into place.  The issue is that I have no seniors on the team.  That may not seem like a bad thing, considering that 7 of the 9 key returners were either Sophomores or Freshmen.  The would be seniors (4 of them) quit the team after the season and before the spring season.  While I hate seeing players leave the program, this was a decision they felt was best for the path of life.  While there are obvious voids left by them on the court, where it is hitting our program the most is leadership.  Our program traditionally has not had a large dependence of the captains.  The previous captains have all served great and did bring benefits to the program.  We just did not require much of them, other than to gauge the team and help organize some of the off court events.  I was now faced with how we wanted to appoint new captains moving forward.  The issue that concerned me was that no matter who would be in this role, they would be a new captain.  There was not the typical 1 year of grooming that has happened in the past.  We (as coaches) decided we would let the team vote for captains.  We would take the top 2 vote leaders plus one player picked by the coaches.  It really excited me to see it turn out the way I expected.  The coaches pick was the third vote getter, so there would not be any real conflicts there.


So why this blog post then, right?  It turns out that all three ladies had been captains of their high school teams.  Again, I thought “BONUS!”.  Maybe not having that mentorship year wouldn’t be an issue.  Plus, this captain group was now comprised of two juniors and a sophomore.  Since I will have this team for two years, that means I have a captain who as a senior will already have 2 years under her belt.  What I soon found out, however, was that being a captain before really meant little moving forward.  The girls were just captains by name.  They had no real power as high school captains.  I understand that to a degree.  There may be concerns with appointing a high school girl with power.  As a high school coach, I used to control everything in the program.  I would pick fundraisers, social causes, off court activities, ect.  Yet, when things started going south I would turn to the captains to help me correct the ship.  I have given them no power, but now I want (read: need) them to pull a team together that has never seen them in a position of strength or leadership.


This (in a very long winded way) brings me to the point of this post.  How do you train and empower your captains.  I am not talking about how you select them.  I am talking about the “What now?” aspect of captains.


This was the question I asked myself.  How am I going to empower my captains to be leaders?  The answer for me came down to three areas.  Education, Ability, and Empowerment.  I could (and probably will) write a post on each of those three areas, but I will give a brief explanation of my vision today.


Education – I meet with my captains weekly for about 30 minutes.  They were given three books: Zen and the Martial Arts (by Joe Hyams),  The Way of the Wizard
(by Deepak Chopra), and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (by Patrick Lencioni).  We work a chapter or two per week in those books during the season.  These are three of my favorite books for almost any aspect of life.  I find they all have a common element.  They are not only educating, but show ways to use their methods in daily life.


Ability – During our meetings we also talk about how to speak and act with authority.  I find this is where most captains fail.  They have good ideas and good instincts but are never taught how to use them.  How they can guide a team to the best decision. Often times, captain leadership is seen as a complete dictatorship and causes conflict.  When I went back and talked to a few of my previous captains, this was the part they said bothered them the most.  They felt they never learned how to get the team onboard with them on issues or ideas.  Training for this skill varies by personality for me.  We look at a lot of Zig Ziegler, Tony Robbins, and other speakers who can capture a crowd.  We actually do some “salesperson” training.  When you boil it down to the basics, that is all being a captain is.  Selling the team on your idea or plan.


Empowerment – This is really the easiest one to train.  You, as the coach, just need to give your captains power.  One example for me is that I let the captains decide if we practice on Labor Day.  Some years they ask the team.  Some years they ask the coaches.  Some years they ask both.  This past year, they did it on their own.  A captain will never grow if we don’t give them a chance to make decisions that guide the entire program/team.  Deciding what jerseys to wear does not cut it.  Let them have some buy-in to the program, and they work harder at it.  I often have “Captain Practices”.  I tell them what skills/systems, we as a team need to work on, and I let them come up with the actual practice plan for the day.  The coaches step in to offer coaching corrections or fixes, but the captains control the pace and almost all aspects of the practice.


What training are you giving your captains to succeed in the leadership of the team?  How does being a captain help them in life (other than saying “I was captain of my team”)?  I would truly love to see some of you comment how you use your captains and how you train them.


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