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10 Tips for Developing Responsible and Respected Team Captains..
by Jeff Janssen, M.S.
Janssen Peak Performance

"Talent is important. But the single most important ingredient after you get the talent is internal leadership. It's not the coaches as much as one single person or people on the team who set higher standards than that team would normally set for itself..."

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Men's Basketball Coach

"On every team there is a core group who sets the tone for everyone else. If the tone is positive, you have half the battle won. If it is negative, you are beaten before you even walk out on the field."

Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers, Four Super Bowls

"The quality of your team leaders can make or break your season."

Kay Yow, NC State Women's Basketball Coach

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"Having great leadership is a big key to success. Our team will go as far as our leaders are willing to take us."

Mike Candrea, Arizona Softball Coach/USA Olympic Gold Medal Softball Coach

"Our coaches were clear - the single most important characteristic necessary to build a winning program is leadership among the student-athletes..."

Dick Baddour, Director of Athletics, University of North Carolina

Clearly, effective student-athlete leaders are not a luxury but a vital necessity. They impact virtually every aspect of a team's chemistry, commitment, confidence, mental toughness, and reputation - on and off the court/field/track.

When you look back over your coaching career, I'll bet that you had great team leaders during your most successful seasons and poor leaders during your most frustrating seasons. Your team captains have a huge impact on your team's success, your sanity, and your satisfaction as a coach. Here are 10 practical ideas to proactively develop the responsible and respected team leaders you need to succeed.

  1. Look for leaders when selecting your team.
    Of course you will look for talent when you select athletes for your team - but also be on the lookout for leadership ability. Look for athletes who were team captains at other levels, involved with student council, or voted class president. It is much easier to help athletes further develop their leadership skills than to start from scratch.
  2. Acknowledge the importance of your leaders.
    Let your leaders know how important they are to you and your program's success. Don't be afraid to the let them know how much you will rely on them to set and enforce the rules and standards, keep the team focused, and handle conflicts. You will be there to coach and counsel them but ultimately it's the leaders who determine how far the team will go.
  3. Explore your leaders' definition of leadership.
    Ask your leaders to describe their philosophy of leadership and what it means to be an effective leader. Their experience of leadership might be quite different from yours. Talk about the leaders whom they respect in their lives and why. Also ask them about leaders they don't respect and why. This will give you tremendous insights into their model of leadership.
  4. Discuss what you expect of your leaders.
    Sit down with your leaders to discuss exactly what you expect from them. Let them know their responsibilities and how you expect them to conduct themselves. Clarifying your expectations and their roles ahead of time will greatly minimize problems down the road.
  5. Discuss the risks and hazards of being a leader.
    Talk frankly about the inherent challenges and problems your leaders are likely to face. They will have to deal with conflict, they won't always be liked, and they are always being watched. Be sure they understand that these challenges go with the territory and that they have to be willing to handle them.
  6. Provide captains with opportunities to lead.
    Look to provide your captains with various opportunities to lead the team. Let them run warm-ups before practice. Let them make any announcements that need to be made for the benefit of the group. Have them call their teammates to inform them when you have changes in your schedule. You can even involve them as leaders in various drills that you will use throughout practice. Or take it a step further and let them plan a practice from time to time. Give them as many opportunities as reasonably possible to help them become better leaders.
  7. Give captains input on decisions.
    Solicit your captains input on decisions that affect the team. These can be with minor choices like where to eat after the game to major decisions like giving their input on how to handle rules and discipline situations. The more responsibility and input you give them, the better leaders they will become.
  8. Encourage your leaders to build a relationship with each teammate.
    Encourage your leaders to invest the time to build a working relationship with each of their teammates. Just as you need to know each of your athletes as a coach, so too must your captains be able to relate to each of their teammates.
  9. Have frequent discussions, chats, check-ins.
    You and your leaders should communicate frequently. Whether you designate specific meeting times or check-in with each other informally, you will need to continually be on the same page to be effective. If you want your captains to be extensions of you, you must extend yourself to them.
  10. Model effective leadership as a coach.
    Last but certainly not least, the best way to develop team leaders is to model effective leadership principles yourself. Your prospective and current team leaders will learn infinitely more about leadership by your actions than what you preach to them. Be sure that you are just as demanding, if not more, of your own leadership skills as you are of your captains. Be sure that you are a Leader by Example and a Vocal Leader yourself.

Are You Up for the Challenge?

If you want to be a great coach, not only must you create willing followers out of your athletes, but you also must develop responsible and respected leaders who will make a real difference on your team and in the game of life.


If you would like to find out how your current and/or prospective captains rate as leaders, visit http://www.jeffjanssen.com/coaching/evaluation2.html to take the Team Leadership Evaluation.

And, be sure to check out Jeff's new online resource for emerging and existing team leaders called the Team Captains Network at http://www.TeamCaptainsNetwork.com


Janssen Peak Performance, Inc.
Mailing Address: 102 Horne Creek Court Cary, NC 27519
1-888-721-TEAM (toll free in U.S.)
(919) 303-5321 (phone)
(919) 303-4338 (fax)

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