There is an article in which Team GB 2012 Olympic volleyball captain Lynne Beattie talks about team captaincy. When I coached at Exeter, I had the misfortune of coaching against Lynne and her Northumbria team during the national semifinals of the 2014 BUCS Final 8s. Well, misfortune in terms of being sorely outclassed on the court. We were just happy to have progressed that far!
Anyway, the article brings up the qualities which make for a good team captain. It talks about how after a certain point it’s just not simply the best player on the team. This isn’t to say that doesn’t often remain the case, as the qualities which produce good captains very often result in good players as well. It’s just that not all great players are captain material.
So what does Lynne think good captains have? Calmness under pressure is at or near the top of the list. Hard to disagree with that. Nobody wants a captain who cracks when the heat is turned up. It needs to be the other way around – the captain helping the rest of the team deal with the stress and strain.
From my own perspective, here’s what else I think makes for an ideal team captain, in no particular order:
They put the team’s performance and objectives ahead of their own. This isn’t to say they don’t worry about their own game, but they are committed to the broader goals.
A good captain communicates well with both their teammates and the coach(es). For me the latter is very important. I need to be able to have a dialog with my captain(s) to be able to ensure that I know what I need to know to manage the team most effectively and that the team understands my thinking and decision-making.
This need not be of the loud, constantly talking kind. I should be able to look at them and see the focus, concentration, and commitment in their eyes, though.
The captain must be one of the hardest working players on the team, if not the hardest. Lazy players in leadership roles set very bad examples.
This is multifaceted. The captain must respect the players and be respected by them. The same is true with the coach(es) and anyone else associated with the team.
I personally delegate quite a bit of team management to my captains, so having someone who can be organized is important. The ability to delegate to others is useful in this context as well.
I’m not talking cheer-leading here. For some captains, in some circumstances, that is a desirable course (as with coaches), but what I’m talking about here is mentality. There’s no whining or moaning or pulling of faces when they disapprove of something. They are constructive rather than critical. They are more optimist than pessimist.
This maybe falls under communications skills, but I want to break it out for specific focus. It is important for a captain to be able to be critical of their teammates, either individually or collectively. And from there they must be able to effectively kick them in the butt when required. Sometimes that sort of thing is much more impactful when it comes from within the team rather than just coming from the coach.
I’m sure you can think of some other features of a good captain. If you do, or you disagree with something I’ve said above, leave a comment below.
Terry Pettit has a chapter in his book Talent and the Secret Life of Teams in which he talks about some of the captains he had over the years. It is definitely worth a read. It speaks to both the demands of captaincy and the different types of captains there are. We don’t often get an exact ideal captain in our teams. I happened to have a very good one on that team which reached the BUCS semifinals, but in some ways she grew into the role over the course of the season. The coaching of the captain as a leader is something which cannot be ignored in all this. It probably doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
It should also be noted that captaincy isn’t the only form of leadership.