Each season, at least one player comes up to me – asks “I want to be team captain, what do I have to do to be captain?” Interesting question. When I am coaching high school ice hockey, every season, we have to pick the team leadership, team captain and two alternates. When you look at the NHL teams and their captains, many folks think that the “C” is for the superstar. But, in most cases that is not true. It is given to the person on the team that demonstrates true leadership characteristics.
Back to that player. I usually start out by asking them, “why do you want to be captain?” Answers range from the I have waited my turn, I can do a better job than last year’s leadership team, I believe that I have the respect of my team mates to I am the best player and being captain is my role. Since the players are in high school, they are starting to understand leadership and how it applies to a team. Not sure that they fully understand the responsibilities that come with the job, but they are willing to learn. So, we move onto the responsibilities. Below are a list of items that I generally use:
- They need to set the example for their teammates on and off the ice. During practice or in games. At school and at the rink. Being the team captain is a 24/7 job.
- Helping their teammates become better players by working on their skills, encouraging them, supporting their efforts to get better, but never criticizing them or giving them a hard time.
- Being there! Must be at almost all (I would say 100%, but that is just too unrealistic) activities.
- Stepping in and helping a player with a situation with a coach. Acting as a go between if necessary.
- The locker room is the captain’s and his alternates domain, they need to keep the players on schedule till the coaches are ready. For high school sports – this one is a tough one, some players just don’t come ready to play. The captain has to keep them on task.
After we have gone through the responsibilities and the player feels that they can handle them. The next question comes as to “what do I have to do to make it happen?” For me, the process has already started before we have taken the ice. I have been watching the players during the sign-up process, their helping out of recruiting their classmates and just the overall level of involvement with the program. Once we take the ice, I can watch them in my action with their teammates. Seeing if they really want the job and if their teammates will respond in a positive manner. That part is the easiest part of the older players, as they have to help out the new players. Really where the rubber meets the road is after practice. Interaction in the locker room is key. Listening to the discussions among the players tells a coach a lot. They usually are talking about how things went, how someone was very helpful and who was a pain in the butt. I also look at how willing is that player to offer suggestions to the coaches.
The selection process is something that I have done differently over the years. Sometimes the team has voted on their top three that should be the team leadership. Most of the time, the coaches do the selection. I am not a big fan of the voting process for a number of reasons. First, the players usually select the best skater or their friend. The popular vote is usually not the best choice. When I have tried that a couple of times, the captain was not the best choice. I have since decided that the coaches will do the selection. Based on our overall evaluation of what was mentioned above. 90% of the time this has worked out the best.
Time to inform those that are the leaders. I sit down with each individual and tell them which position that they are going to fill, we talk about what helped them get that position and remind them of the expectations for them. Then we get all three of them together to once more go over the expectations with the group of them. Reminding them all that this is the leadership team of the team. After that, during our very next practice – we start off on the ice, announcing the captain and alternates to the complete team! Lastly, we talk to the parents after practice to inform them also! Like to keep the complete team informed of the happenings.
During the season, we like to spend some time with the leadership team (coaches and player leaders), every 1/3 of the season. We want to assess how things are going. The teams progress to date, where some improvements need to come from and how the captains and alternates are doing. We don’t wait to correct situations with the captains or alternates, we usually address them after they have happened or within a day or two. Feedback to those young players is important if it is immediate. Waiting too long, they usually don’t remember. Sometimes, if everything is going well, I have skipped this step and later regretted it. There is so much going on, that team self reflection is key to keeping the season from slipping away. A positive experience for all – is all that matters.
I truly believe that those that have had the experience in sports can easily apply those leadership experiences in the business world. I hope that many of the team captains or alternates that I have had, have kept up with wanting to continue their leadership journey. It truly is rewarding and satisfying for me.