Getting the most from your team captains
Blake Respini explains the responsibilities of a team captain and how he goes about selecting his school's cross-country captain.
For years the captains of the cross-country team I coached were popular runners chosen by teammates who sometimes lead cheers and occasionally organized social events. They were usually great kids, and some were even great role models, but others offered little in the way of true leadership.
As the size of our teams grew over the years, I realized that the role of the captains had to grow if our program was going to reach its potential. I had been expecting the captains to know how to exert leadership without articulating what was expected of them or helping them develop the skills they needed.
I began to rectify this by creating a job description so that the team would know what they are voting for and the potential candidates would know what both their coaches and the team would expect of them. The job description also gave me a tool to use when I sat down with the captains to discuss what they hoped to accomplish, what they would specifically do, and what skills they would need to do these things. While the specific list of responsibilities will vary from program to program depending on the sport and one's needs, many are the same regardless of the sport. For any sport, a statement articulating what one wants from their captains gives coaches a tool for helping them lead the team, thus bringing significant benefits to any program.
The following is the list of our captain's responsibilities:
Generate Team Spirit
Lead warm-ups, stretches, and cool downs
Be a role model for all team members
Organize summer running
Know and support your teammates
Be a team spokesman
Selecting the Captain
I have always allowed the team to vote for captains to have their input. Still, I tell them that I will make the final selection in the case of a divided vote, and I will choose individual or vice-captains depending on the individuals and team dynamics. The vote takes place during our final meeting in the fall immediately after our season concludes. I allow seniors the vote as their maturity and perspective often give them the best judgement and perspective on who will be effective captains and also offers them a chance to extend their legacy to the program.
Choosing the captains in the fall also allows me to meet with them in the winter to plan for the forthcoming season. We carefully go over their responsibilities and discuss how they hope to fulfill them; what aspects will come naturally and what skills they will need to work on developing.
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About the Author
Blake Respini has taught history and coached boys' and girls' cross-country at Lick-Wilmerding High School from 1984 until 2004. His teams are a DV power-house in the BCL and NCS and are regular qualifiers to the California State Championships.