Adapting team leadership roles

I place a lot of responsibilities on the shoulders of my team captains as part of a general delegation process. I give them administrative duties. They help me better understand team and player sentiment and dynamics. I solicit advice and feedback from them on a regular basis. And of course I expect them to provide on- and off-court leadership and generally represent the ideals of the team and the program.

My 2013-14 Exeter women’s team captain was about as good as I’ve ever had. Her organizational skills were top notch to begin with. She and I were able to communicate about team and player issues. And her leadership developed very nicely as the season progressed.

Going into the 2014-15 season, though, there were a lot of questions about her role with the team. After the prior season she was very resistant to the idea of carrying on as captain. This was mainly a function of her own increasing workload as a PhD student with teaching duties. She also had a resident hall adviser position. She didn’t feel she could be as hands-on with the team admin side of things as she was previously.

Now, you have to keep in mind that we’re talking about a student-run club here. That puts a greater burden on the player-leaders from an organizational perspective than would be the case at a US university in a varsity program where there’s more of a support structure.

As much as there was that resistance to remaining team captain, I could not see a situation in which she would simply be another squad player. That was what she had in mind. The leadership personality was now too strong. The expectations were too high. She was always going to be a leader of this team. From the try-outs onward she took charge and was clearly viewed by the new players as who they look to for direction. Maybe if we had a highly experienced player with a strong personality coming into the team there would have been a question as to whether another candidate existed for team captain. No such player turned up, though. That being the case, it was a question of how to arrange things to allow her to be that leader, while removing a considerable fraction of the administrative work.

I an idea to create the position of team secretary. The role mainly involved getting information out to the team and collecting anything from them I or the club might need. It wasn’t complicated work. Chasing up 13 other players can pose its fair share of challenges, however.

The captain and I talked about it. We selected a player we thought would be good for the role. It wasn’t a player we identified as being a team leader. She wasn’t really even a potential future leader per se (though that prospect always exists). It was more someone organizationally capable and able to coordinate with both myself and the captain.

Did it work? I think so. We looked at the situation we had and found a solution. No two teams or seasons are the same. You probably won’t have a consistent leadership structure among your players. That means adapting and finding ways to get what you need.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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