I don’t often get questions from players, and when I do they tend to be more about playing opportunities. Here’s one, though, that really caught my attention.

How do you help your teammates improve without coming off as annoying, negative, or angry? I’ve always thought that I wasn’t negative on the court but my teammates have told me not to get mad as often. Now I don’t know how to lead my team and be a good captain. Should I just be as positive and as resourceful as I can and left my teammates figure out how to fix their mistakes? Or should I find ways to be constructive after each play and mistake? I want to be the best team leader I can be so I want to make the most of my teams trust in me.

I am very much interested in getting thoughts from others on this subject, but I’ll share my own here.

The subject of the qualities of a good captain is something I addressed previously. That is mainly for coaches. I think, though, that it provides some foundational pillars for any captain. That would be a general starting point if I were sitting down with this player and talking about their captaincy.

I have some specific thoughts about this scenario, though.

Relationships

The first thing that came to my mind while reading the above email is the old saying “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It is much easier to make critical comments as a captain if you have a positive personal relationship your teammates.

When I coached at Exeter my second year our captain could definitely get sharp with her teammates if they were not performing up to expectations. She came to me with the concern that she was being too much of a bitch (her word, not mine). Her teammates loved her, though. They knew she cared about them and had their best interests at heart. As such, they were OK with it when she got on them. I told her I’d let her know if I thought she was going too hard. Honestly, even that would have been more about her own mindset than probably about the team.

So my first thought on advice to this player is to look to their relationships with their teammates.

Content

The second area I’d look at is the content of the communication. It sounds from the use of the phrase “help your teammates improve” like the captain is acting as coach in some way. This is a very tricky issue. Players often don’t react well to their peers giving them technical feedback. This is even more the case when it comes from someone who plays a different position. It’s generally best to steer clear of making these sorts of comments, unless they ask for it. This is a bit trickier if there isn’t a coach. In that case it’s probably best to offer to provide help, perhaps in a 1-on-1 situation, rather than just to give it unsolicited.

So what should players talk to each other about on the court? I’d say the first part it is support. Players want to know their teammates are with them and have confidence in them. The second part is coordination. That’s talking about responsibilities, adjustments, opportunities, etc. In other words, how they are going to play together moving forward.

Of course the captain has an added layer of responsibility. They have to set the example and the tone for the rest of the team. How they do that varies from captain to captain.

Tone

The last element I would look at is the tone of the captain’s interaction with the team. It sounds like there might be too much of a negative edge to it in this case.

Generally speaking, the captain should be supportive with their teammates. Are there times when they might need to provide a kick in the butt? Of course. But that should be more the exception than the rule.

It’s important for the captain to know how each individual deals with criticism. Some don’t handle it well while others use it for motivation. The better you understand where each player is at, the better you can balance things when interacting with them.

Also, it’s important to be consistent. Your teammates want to know they can count on you to be stable, no matter the circumstances.

Final thoughts

I think it’s important to say that you shouldn’t try to be a certain type of captain. You should be your own type. If you’re an outgoing, high energy type of person, then it’s fine to be that way as captain. If you’re not, though, then you will struggle with it mightily. And you don’t need to be that way to be an excellent captain because great ones come in all different types.

As I said above, I’d love to hear the thoughts of other coaches (and even captains) on this subject. What would you say to this player? Leave a comment below.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

    1 Response to "Helping a player be a better captain"

    • Avatar Lilli

      Thank you so much! I’ll try my best to be more uplifting. One of my teammates wasn’t having a good playing day and was making the same mistakes, and after each of her errors everyone on the court would tell her “move your feet” or “get in front of the ball” and she ended up getting angry. She got pulled out, but I just want to be someone my teammates can look toward for help or motivation. But thanks so much! This helps a lot.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.