The Role of Captains on Succesful Teams

By Mike Hurley


“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” – John Wooden

Successful teams and organizations always have strong leadership throughout, and athletic teams are no different. Teams always have the best chance at being successful when they have strong leadership in the form of players, led by selected captains. Often, when there is miscommunication or a lack of communication between coaches and captains, it almost always leads to internal struggle and frustration – both on and off the court.

Captains are the pivotal link between coaches and the entire team, providing one of the most important aspects of developing a strong and positive culture. Captains need to be both an extension of the coaching staff, as well as a solid example for the rest of the players to follow. They reinforce the vision of the coaches, as well as hold teammates accountable to expectations set forth within the program. At the core of a coach/captain relationship is trust and respect, and those qualities are passed along to other members of the team.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure a positive coach/captain/team relationship:

  1. Make sure the expectations, guidelines and responsibilities are known and enforced.Before your captains are selected, make sure the parameters and description of the role is discussed with the potential team members. There needs to be an understanding between the coach and player to build upon the foundations of mutual trust and respect.
  2. Positively select and develop team leadersTelling your players that you have confidence and trust in their leadership abilities empowers your players to be leaders both on and off the court. When players know that they have their coach’s trust and support, it provides them validation and confirmation as leaders to their teammates and peers. Many players embrace challenges, and accept tasks to prove their worthiness to both the coaches and the team.
  3. Allow feedback from your captainsSince captains are entrusted to be the role models and enforcers for team expectations, rules and guidelines, it is only natural in the coach-captain relationship to allow them to have input on those same standards. The interesting dynamic from the relationship is that captains may end up requesting stricter guidelines than what the coaching staff previously established, or they may request more lenient and relaxed rules than what was established. Captains have a strong pulse into the mindset of the team, and they provide invaluable feedback that cannot be duplicated from another source.
  4. Have honest and confidential conversationsHaving trust with your team captains should allow there to be honest and confidential discussions regarding the state of the team. There could be conversations regarding the effort or commitment regarding a member of the team, a situation or distraction that is currently affecting the team, or just a general concern about the current state of the team. Regardless of the difficulty of the conversations, these discussions are always needed to ensure the team and program is positively progressing and developing.
  5. Let your leaders leadCoaches that let players grow and develop into captains need to trust them and allow them to lead the team during practices, games and organized team activities. They can help lead stretching, pregame talks, communication within the team and ensure that competition on the team is at a healthy and strong level. Coaches giving up just a little bit of their control and management of their team to their captains can help a program grow and develop in unquantifiable ways.


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Athletic Director, Saint Clement Wolverines | Assistant Varsity Boys Basketball Coach, Saint Ignatius College Prep Wolfpack | Marquette University Graduate.

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