Choosing a Captain
I think this is a tricky conversation because there are so many different angles to consider when choosing a captain. Each team has a unique dynamic, a special story, that brings the players together. I have personally witnessed a scenario where team captains blended two teams together of different levels and bridged that gap to reach one cohesive unit. I’ve also been a team captain where coaches and players voted creating unnecessary division within the team which led to overall failure in their soccer season.
I do not support players “voting” for the captain. My reason for this is because I believe the Head Coach sets the tone, expectations and culture for their team. Asking players to “step up” when voted on is more of a popularity contest than actual leadership. Therefore, I believe the Head Coach must choose the captains. Choosing these captains requires evaluating players who fit the competitive, committed role necessary to support the Head Coach’s vision.
Before one starts the calendar soccer season (usually in the Fall), the coach should have a parents’/players’ meeting to go over the expectations of the season. The meeting should include the role of a captain and the support system expected to surround this type of leadership and a reminder of why we choose captains (which I will discuss below). I think creating positive energy around leadership is paramount to having success in soccer.
The Role of a Leader
I recently read a book written by Bill Beswick, a renowned sports psychologist, who has spent a significant portion of his life helping the most elite soccer clubs in the world. One would question how a world-class author could relate to a small town in Williamsburg, Virginia and the Tidewater Sharks Soccer club? However, after reading “One Goal- The Mindset of Winning Soccer Teams,” I genuinely believe what Mr. Beswick stresses is relatable not only to soccer, but any team sports atmosphere.
“Player leadership is becoming increasingly hard to find. Yet leadership is the key to the mindset of a successful soccer team. Teams operate in demanding environments where purpose, motivation and cohesion are always under threat…A winning team mindset is a combination of the passion to achieve and the mental toughness to do so” (pg. 49).
One important point we must consider with youth soccer is that these kids have different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses. Most kids are battling between confidence and anxiety. As a spectator you can sense when a player appears confident or nervous. What a leader can provide is the balance between the two. They must understand the severity of a situation but remain composed under pressure. Recognizing those qualities isn’t something you can figure out in one practice. Most captains should be announced after a significant preseason. I am always in support of silent leaders as well as vocal leaders. You don’t need to be loud to be respected. You need leaders who understand the expectations of the coach, can rally the multiple personalities of a team, and still be individually successful. I usually like to take that thought a step further and encourage the atmosphere on and off the pitch is just as important. I usually take note of those players before practice and how they engage with their teammates. Furthermore, I put players in different leadership roles to see who rises to the occasion and how the players respond to the leaders I have chosen.
I loved what Mr. Beswick wrote when he stated, “Leadership through personality can break down under pressure or adversity, whereas leadership through character is able to hold firm” (pg. 50). Yes! You must see these players in a variety of settings before choosing a captain. How are they in the classroom, how do they treat their parents, other teammates, even the referees speak volumes about their character.
An important side note: I think is extremely important when discussing leadership and especially captains- protect your captains. Other players and parents may become upset regarding captains. Usually you hear them complaining about “favorites” and THEIR personal take on their idea of a captain. I encourage you to really make sure you communicate your expectations of the captain and support that captain when they are put in difficult situations (i.e. a player yelling back at them, etc.). Often these captains are grateful for the opportunity but nervous to step above their peers. As coaches we must encourage leadership. Even though your captains may be the best players, helping their mental game is a huge responsibility to foster not only a positive environment but a winning mentality.
Beswick, Bill. One Goal- The Mindset of Winning Soccer Teams. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2016. pgs 44-54.