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The Role of Captains
by David Jacobson, October 23rd, 2008 5:45PM



By David Jacobson

In preparation for your next season, give some thought to the role of captains on your team. In a recent Leadership Roundtable Conference Call for leaders of schools and youth sports organizations partnered with Positive Coaching Alliance, we identified several best practices in:

* The criteria used to name captains
* Specific responsibilities captains are given
* How captains can help establish and maintain your program's culture.

All are important considerations that can help you succeed this season and beyond, on the field and beyond.

Rather than simply awarding the title of captain to your leading scorer or your virtuoso midfielder, Positive Coaching Alliance recommends that captains be "Triple-Impact Competitors," who are committed to improving themselves, their teammates and the game as a whole. As a coach, introduce the concept of the Triple-Impact Competitor during tryouts and preseason so that players understand the basis on which you will select captains.

In addition to helping you identify captains, this will inspire players who aspire to captaincy to suddenly pay a bit more attention to helping their teammates. Of course, this improves individual and team performance and can reinforce a strong team culture, which carries rewards far beyond the playing field.

Once you have identified your Triple-Impact Competitors, other factors that can determine whom you name captain include:

* Who works the hardest in preseason
* Who singularly goes above and beyond your expectations in terms of improving self, teammates or game
* Who might contribute even more to your team due to the psychological boost of being named captain.

Captains should complement coaches as arbiters of team culture. Sometimes they may help you focus players' attention when it wanders. Other times they may represent players' points of view on game strategy, practice plans or how to ensure that all players stay aligned toward team goals.

Each coach must find his or her own comfort level with the captain's level of authority among teammates and take care to understand and cultivate the appropriate level of respect teammates afford to captains. With the right balance, coaches can keep a finger on the pulse of the team through the captains, and captains can voice the players' divergent ideas to coaches without undermining the coaches' authority.

Captains also can lead in a variety of routine ways, such as:

* Leading stretching and warm-up/cool-down sessions
* Communicating with referees
* Organizing off-field activities
* Finding ways to include teammates who are less integrated into the team
* Helping settle disagreements among teammates
* Assigning other routine tasks, such as carrying equipment or preparing practice fields, making sure to take their turn in leading by example.

Establishing and Maintaining Your Program's Culture
Choosing the right captains and charging them with appropriate responsibilities sets them up not just as team leaders but as exemplars for your program. They can proudly represent your team in the broader community, such as booster clubs or school or district administrators.

They can visit the clubs or leagues that feed your program and encourage younger players to continue working on their games so they can someday play for you. And they can return after graduating from your program to share inspiring stories of the past with their successors who are carrying forward the established values, traditions and culture of your program.

(David Jacobson is the Marketing Communications Manager of the Positive Coaching Alliance . To request information on PCA's high school level workshops - "Becoming a Triple-Impact Competitor" [for athletes] and "Developing Triple-Impact Competitors" [for coaches], visit



  1. Paul Giavanopoulos
    commented on: October 28, 2008 at 6:47 a.m.
    While I agree with the tenants, I would like to add some criteria. Captains should always be able to accept constructive criticism and feedback about their individual and team play. They should also be good communicators and respected enough to relay the feedback to their teammates. We have isolated out youth soccer teams of all perceived negative feedback, and we a responsibility as coaches and mentors to provide the players with honest feedback of their efforts and their play . We can again begin to do this with the Captains help. Captains should refuse to accept losing. We can learn from some of the greatest Sport captains across the spectrum lines. Great such as Larry Bird, Bobby Clarke, Roy Keane (Manchester United). All refused to accept losing, mediocrity and lackluster effort from themselves and their teammates. Again for long now we have sheltered our players to believe that there are no winners or losers in games when we all know that is not true. We have done a disservice to our young based on this, as many have accepted the norm that one can be mediocre because at the end of the day we are all winners. We need Captains that do not believe this and will not allow their teammates to believe this. Finally the above points should be for U-12 and up, while I believe U-11 and younger there should be a shared responsibility of being Captain. One should allow and give a turn to all the players to captain the side. This will bolster their confidence and train them on what it takes to be in a leadership role.
  1. Jay Perrotte
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 8:51 a.m.
    I'm a bit late to this conversation (only by 6 years) but this is a good write up on a subject where little is written +1 to Paul... Nearly every new "captain" I have come across is star struck with all the positive elements that come with the position. I have yet to encounter (though I know they are out there) a coach who puts in writing what their expectations are. Some of which should include what you have said, but also NOT responding to media reports (keep in the team) without coaches permission. Accepting defeat and learning from it. Accept the standards established by the coach and holding teammates accountable if they do not meet them (i.e. drinking, putting down teammates). But by far their greatest contribution is being a good steward of those values...the job is temporary. Try to hand it off in better condition than you received it.

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