Being an athletic team captain calls for so much more than solid leadership skills. After all, captains play a considerable role in building a positive team culture and leading the team to victory (or at least that’s the goal!). But how do you identify and develop future leaders? How can you best mentor and support them as they settle into their new role? Here are five strategies to help coaches identify, cultivate and empower team leaders.


5 Strategies to Help Coaches Determine Their Team Captains

  1. Choose Someone Who Embodies Your Team’s Core Values.

Steady, confident, dedicated, passionate, focused … those are only a few adjectives to describe a great team captain. The responsibilities of a captain in sports are plentiful, and while you may have several candidates in mind, your final decision will require careful consideration and assessment of the following:

  • Communication skills: In a world plagued by toxic sports team culture, do your team captain candidates possess a natural ability to positively influence the rest of the team, foster team morale, challenge everyone to work hard, develop strong interpersonal relationships, and confront any negativity with poise?
  • Courage in the face of adversity: Team captains set the tone. They model behavior, responsibility, and work ethic for the rest of the team. Will your candidates approach high-pressure challenges and setbacks with a level head?
  • Accountability: From practices to championship games, a team captain must be equally accountable for wins and losses. Additionally, team captains must hold the rest of the team responsible for their teamwork, training efforts, and fulfillment of expectations.
  • Consistency: To be effective, captains must show up, display a high level of commitment, maintain steady leadership, display strong decision-making skills (even in the heat of the moment), and help teammates refocus when they lose sight of the goal.
  • Care, selflessness, impartiality, and respect: Team captains must put the team’s success first and genuinely care about the well-being of their teammates. They must show respect, support, and encouragement, treat everyone fairly and give credit where credit is due.
  1. Clarify Expectations

Kick off your captain-coach alliance by being candid. The best way to empower your team captain and nurture student-athlete development is by setting expectations from the get-go. Lay the groundwork by clearly defining team goals and outlining the roles of everyone on the team. This sets everyone up for success while also setting the stage for your team captain to offer that same level of support, encouragement, and forthright communication to their teammates. 

  1. Emphasize Communication and Encourage Feedback

As with any relationship, fostering communication is crucial in engineering team culture, starting with you. Open the door for communication with your team captain and encourage them to do the same with teammates. Emphasize honesty, clarity, and constructive dialogue. And don’t underestimate the power of feedback! If the leadership-team dynamic allows everyone to ask questions and openly express concerns, there’s more room for team growth and cohesiveness.

  1. Empower Self-Motivation and a “Take-Charge” Attitude

Coaching youth sports is part motivation, part know-how, and a rather large dose of patience. Providing your team captain with the necessary skills and resources to lead will curb your need to micromanage! Not to mention, your team captain will feel more invested — and when your team captain has the motivation and authority to take charge, the entire team will have a greater sense of accountability. By empowering your team captain to self-motivate and self-improve, you say, “I believe in your ability to lead this team to greatness.” 

  1. Show Appreciation for Hard Work and Forgive Mistakes

As with anything in life, there’s always room for improvement. Despite the most valiant attempts, your team captain will make mistakes; not every risk pays off. Acknowledge hard work, show your sincere appreciation for perseverance and effort, and forgive the failures and errors along the way. Forgiveness is a gift that keeps on giving — it models decorum, shows your team captain you have the utmost confidence in them, and empowers them to step outside their comfort zone.   

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