I bet I can tell you who your captains are. I’m pretty sure they are a combination of three things – your oldest players, your loudest players and your best players. Look at most of the captains of most of the teams in the country, and I’ll be they fall into some combination of those 3 categories.
Why do we do this? Assuming we want our captains to be our best leaders, how much do those things actually have to do with leadership? Being an older player doesn’t necessarily make you a better leader – it makes you older. Being a talented player doesn’t make you a better leader. It just means you are a good player. And being loud certainly doesn’t make you a better leader.
That’s not to say those attributes have nothing to do with leadership. They certainly can, and in some cases it may be significant. Experience as a player can certainly help your ability to lead. And there may be some merit to the idea that teammates will listen to a guy who is a better player more than someone who doesn’t play. But if that’s the case, doesn’t that say more about how we let our teams accept leadership? I’ve coached many really good players who weren’t great leaders, so why would I want my team to listen to them. The willingness to speak up can also be an important part of leadership. But the point is this – those 3 things don’t make you a great leader, yet most of our captains fall into those 3 categories.
Don’t be afraid to look at leadership a different way. Think about how you choose your captains, and what you want out of your leaders. And keep this in mind – if you’ve coached teams that have been unsuccessful because you feel like you’ve lacked leadership within your team, you are really indicting yourself as the coach. You are the leader. If you want the right leadership out of your guys, it’s your job to pull it out of them. And if you can’t, then it’s your job to provide the leadership.
Look at your team closely and ask yourself this question – are my captains my best leaders? If you want them to be your best leaders, then you have to change how you go about choosing your captains, or you have to define leadership in a different way. What happens is so many teams end up with the wrong guys in leadership positions, and you don’t get any leadership out of some younger guys who may be able to provide it for you.
This is one of the reasons why I’m not a fan of the standard top-down model of leadership, where you empower a couple of guys at the top and ask them to lead the rest of the group. I think you want to empower the middle of your team, and create leadership in different directions – both up and down. Get the most out of all your players – and your team – by creating a balanced leadership model where it’s expected of everyone.
Think about the leaders of your team. Are the right voices being heard? Are they saying the right things? Standard leadership models and methods for picking captains can often result in the wrong guys being heard. You might have great leaders on your team that are afraid to speak up because of the model you use.
The standard captains model doesn’t always result in the right people having a voice. Find a leadership approach that allows you to get the most out of everyone, and doesn’t only included the loudest, oldest and best players on your team.