Category Archives: Captains

Which Leadership Style Is Best For Our Teams?

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Whenever my team has struggled, it is usually because of weak leadership.  Of course, when my team has weak leadership, I have to hold myself at least partially responsible because it’s my job to teach my team captains how to lead.

Let’s look at psychologist Kurt Lewin’s different styles of leadership and how we can apply them to our teams.

Authoritarian Leadership:  These captains leave no doubt about who is in charge and what they want from their teammates.  Most likely, this type of leader won’t ask for input from the rest of the team, but will make decisions on their own and expect the team to follow…no questions asked.  This leadership style works best with those who have already earned the respect of their teammates.

Positives:  When it’s crunch time and the game is tied with only a few moments left, this type of leader will instill confidence in the rest of the group because they will have a plan of action.  This leadership style is also strong off the court and these leaders are very aware of any off the field “issues” and will keep things in order.

Negatives:  Authoritarian leaders are bossy, which will lead the followers to feel marginalized and not “heard”.

Democratic Leadership:  This type of leader is generally seen as the most effective.  They have a plan for how things should go (when they’ll have team dinners, study tables, recruiting visits), but ask for input from the rest of the team.  These captains get their teammates to work hard for them.

Positives:  Every situation isn’t “crunch time” and democratic leaders understand that there are many team situations when everyone’s input is necessary and appreciated.

Negatives:  This leadership style takes a little more time than authoritative, so it isn’t great when decisions need to be made…like now.

Laissez-faire Leadership:  These captains are afraid to make a decision, so they leave it up to the group.  The problem with that is everyone in the group may not be prepared (or even want) to make decisions for the team.

Positives:  Everyone would have the opportunity to lead and if your leadership is in your younger classes, perhaps they’d be able to step up to the plate (though I’ve never seen that happen).

Negatives:  I suppose you’ve already figured out that I’m not a big fan of this type of leadership…if it can be called leadership.  The problem with this style is we have “leaders” who are averse to leading.  Without defined roles, and players willing to perform within those roles, the team will flounder.

In my opinion, the best style is a combination of Authoritative and Democratic.  Whether the mix is within one person or a combination of players, the ability to embrace the opinions of their teammates while making the tough decisions when necessary is essential in team leadership.

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Teaching Our Players How To Handle Conflict

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Our first inclination when we’re around someone we don’t get along well with is to run away.  We avoid them, we discretely leave the room as soon as they enter it, we just stay away.  And that works most times…except on teams.

When I saw the title of this Harvard Business Review, I just knew I needed to bring it on over here.  Conflict in groups is normal and the emotion that goes along with it is how I’m sure the author came up with this title:  How to Work with Someone You Hate.  I know it sounds harsh, but conflict left to fester will definitely end up in this place.

Do’s & don’ts helping your players work alongside someone who drives them crazy

DO NOT assume it’s all about the other person.  It’s easy to put the fault on others, but most times each person has played a part in creating a bad relationship.  It could be that these two people wouldn’t be friendly outside of the team, so their relationship isn’t going to be the greatest.  The best way to advise our players in this situation is to believe the best about the other person.  Perhaps they do drive each other crazy, but it’s not malicious.

DO NOT gossip. Oh, it’s so easy to “innocently” say to a teammate, “What’s up with Susie? She’s always such a jerk.”  And thus is starts…the drama!  We’ve got to make sure our captains keep their eyes and ears peeled for this kind of talk, because they’re our first line of defense.  They should encourage both players to talk to each other rather than gossiping about one another to their teammates.  Our captains also need to know at what point they need to involve the coaches in the conflict.

DO NOT confront with bad motives.  Have you ever had someone tell you they’re giving you a correction “for your own good” and then proceed to rip you to shreds?  It’s something we’ve got to warn our players about as we advise them to talk to the player who’s driving them crazy.  If part of their talk includes letting their teammate know that everyone on the team thinks they’re awful and hates them, then maybe they can hold off on the confrontation until they’re a little less emotional.

DO manage emotions.  Sure, we want our players to learn how to manage conflict and gently confront their teammates when necessary.  Before they get to that point though, we should challenge our players to do all they can to stay positive.  If they’re walking into practice with a chip on their shoulder about the player who’s driving them crazy…conflict is inevitable.  It goes back to believing the best about their teammates.

DO try to get to know them.  It’s too easy to make assumptions about folks…especially if we don’t bother to get to know them.  Players assume others don’t like them because one player always looks grumpy or has a sassy attitude around them.  What they may not know is that’s the player’s personality.  They’re not just sassy with one player, they’re sassy with them all!  Maybe knowing that it’s a personality thing, and not a personal thing, will help everyone get along better.

Conflict is inherently emotional.  Hopefully our players aren’t at the “hate” stage, but even if they are, we’ve got some good tips to bring them back from the brink.

3 Keys To Quality Communication For Leaders

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It takes a special kind of person to want to be a captain.  I’m not talking about the obvious stuff that is outwardly fun, like the “C” on your jersey or creating a warmup playlist for the team.  I’m talking about the real stuff, the nitty gritty…the stuff that’s hard to do while still executing on the court or field.  I’m talking about leading by example and verbally.  Or supporting a teammate that’s struggling…or calling out a teammate who’s not giving the proper amount of effort to the team.  I’m talking about not being afraid to bring the team’s concerns to the coaching staff.  A captain has to do all of these things while maintaining high grades in the classroom and managing family and friend relationships…it’s a big job.

So how can we, as coaches, equip our athletes to handle this job effectively?  In an article from the Harvard Business Review’s blog called, Speaking Up Takes Confidence, Candor, and Courage, the author gives us the three things are leaders should possess…let’s break those down.

3 things our captains need to lead effectively

Confidence.  As is usual with me, it all comes back to John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.  Confidence is one of the blocks of the Pyramid and Wooden says that we must believe in ourselves if we want others to believe in us.  If we want our leaders to feel comfortable leading, we’ve got to give them the power to do that…but we’ve also got to give them a structure within which to work.  Giving parameters will make their job much easier, which will lead to success, which will give them to confidence they need to be effective captains.

Candor.  This can be described as being forthright, sincere, or honest.  All of those things are great qualities of anyone in a leadership position.  The Pyramid of Success tie-in here is to use self-control with their candor…there’s nothing worse than someone who’s “honesty” feels more like a sharp stab in the back.  Sincerity and honesty that’s tempered with caring will go a long way on a team.  Then it feels like the captain has their back, rather than just picking on them.

Courage.  Having initiative is a scary, but necessary part of being a leader on a team.  And what is initiative anyway?  It’s having the courage to make decisions.  It’s having the courage to take action.  It’s having the courage to push past their own perceived limitations.  With courage, our leaders won’t be afraid to call out teammates, they will advocate for the team with the coaching staff, and they will be confident in their team role as captain.

Communication is the basis for every relationship, including those on our teams.  Let’s show our captains how to communicate with their teammates so that it’s received in the spirit it was given.

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3 Criteria For Successful Teams

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I’ll admit that I was stoked by the title of this article, How To Make Your Team Smarter: Add More Women?, because I’m a woman and I think we make everything better.  But it turns out my main takeaway from the article was how coaches could use this information to make our teams better.

The basis of the article was research identifying certain criteria for successful teams.  The research showed that a team didn’t need to have the smartest folks on it, but people who shared these three characteristics.

3 criteria of successful teams

They share criticism constructively. I think this is the toughest lesson to teach to teams:  Giving and receiving criticism is a responsibility of every team member…it’s a must.  We’ve got to teach our players that they’re letting their teammates down if they don’t give them appropriate criticism.  If we’ve got a team of players who tell each other they’re playing great when they’re really playing terribly, then we’re not going to be a very good team.  If we’ve got a team of players who get pissed off when one of their teammates tells them they’re doing something incorrectly, then we’re not going to be a very good team.  Criticism, when given constructively and appropriately, is always a good thing.

They have open minds.  Our players have to have open minds about their coach’s teaching style, about their teammate’s personality types, and (most importantly, in my opinion) their playing time and role on the team.  In my mind, having an open mind really means being a team player.  It’s putting the team first and self second.  If our teams have this mindset, then they’ll have an open mind to whatever the season has in store for them.

They’re not autocratic.  I know you’re thinking, “Dawn, my team is an autocracy. When I tell my players to jump, they’d better ask how high!” Yes, I get that…even business teams have a boss that they’ve got to report to and are most certainly accountable to.  This is talking about the team itself, the players.  If you’ve got captains who wield their power like Attila the Hun, then they’ll either tick off the other players, scare the other players, or their teammates will just stop following them (mutiny!).  None of those things are good.  While it’s wonderful to have strong, competent, and confident captains…they should still be respectful of their teammates and their opinions.

Female teams

Before those of us who coach female athletes start jumping up and down because we’re ahead of the game on being successful according to research, I think we need to remember that we still have to teach our players how to do these things.

We’ve all had the girl on our team who didn’t know how to deliver criticism and ended up hurting everyone’s feelings.  Or the girl who demanded that the team be her minions because she was voted team captain.  Being of a “team” mindset isn’t something that’s innate to female athletes.

The takeaway

When you really think about it, being of a team mindset isn’t common, which is another reason I think athletes are more prepared for the future than the average student (check out this post for more!). It isn’t common to receive criticism constructively or to truly have an open mind to new ideas or different people.  And it certainly isn’t common to give up the “my way or the highway” mentality.

The proof is in the pudding.  Successful teams, regardless of gender, have these three qualities.  Now that we have the information, let’s do something with it!

Create Effective Leaders Using This 5 Step Process

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“The basic principle in leadership development is that an organization should never give a team leadership role or position to someone without training.”—John Adair

That quotation says it all!  We can give our team leaders a great experience by training them to do their job well…or we can just wing it and hope it turns out okay.  I’m sure we can all agree that we’d rather them be successful than not.  So let’s see what we can do to train our leaders up right!

5 requirements for effective leadership training

  • Simple.  I’ve heard of coaches who put their captains through a formal training, but I’ve also heard of those that meet with their team leaders on a regular basis to “check in” with them.  I favor the latter method, though I’ve used Jeff Janssen’s Team Captain’s Leadership Manual with my entire team before.  It served two purposes: my captain’s knew what was expected of them and it trained any future leaders we had in our midst.
  • Practical.  Which just means that it’s got to make sense for your team and your leaders.  If you’ve got a group of captains that held that role the previous season, your teaching and training will be different than for a brand new crop of leaders.
  • Relevant. If you’ve got a team full of freshmen, but you’re training your leaders for a team full of returners…well, that won’t work too well!  At the beginning of each season, we should have an idea of what our pitfalls are going to be…though we’ll get surprised by some things for sure.  If you’ve scheduled a tough tournament or long road trip, that’ll be something to talk to your leaders about.  Once you make it to the post season, have your captains talk to the team about managing emotions, classes, etc.
  • Have variety.  When I first starting coaching, I had a weekly meeting with my captains in my office.  I thought they were discussions, the captains thought they were lectures.  Lesson learned!  I’m sure things would have gone better if some of the meetings were in my office, others in the gym, and still others on their turf.  Nowadays I just grab them at the end of practice and ask how they’re doing, how the team is doing, and if there’s anything I need to be worried about.  They feel free to do pop-ins at my office just to chat.
  • Be a dialogue.  Like I said in the previous point, my venture at lecturing my captains about what they should be doing was an epic fail!  There’s got to be back in forth to keep them engaged and excited about their duties.


We have a real chance to impact our team leader’s lives here!  We can show them how to be leaders and that’s something that they can take with them after their time on our courts and fields has passed.  With quality leadership training, we can create teams of people who are comfortable both leading and being led.

According to the back cover of John Adair’s book, How To Grow Leaders, he is the world’s leading authority on leadership and leadership development.  Join me for a three-part leadership series discussing leadership qualities, leadership levels, and leadership training.

The 3 Levels Of Leadership

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The tagline to John Adair’s book, How to Grow Leaders, is “The seven key principles of effective leadership development.”  I’m going to have to write about those later, because there was so much good stuff in the first half of the book!  Many times, folks talk about “born leaders” and I believe that those people are out there…but I also believe that it’s a skill that can be taught.  I also believe it’s the job of the coaching staff to give the athletes the tools they need in order to lead their teammates effectively.  Let’s check out the three levels of leadership…they each progress nicely into the next.

Level 1: Know the basics.  What are those, you ask?  You can look all around the internet (heck, all around this blog!) and find different answers, but this is my favorite based on my research.  Here are the basics: the followers should understand the task, trust the leader, and know how to do what is required.  Those three things are action items for the coach.  We’ve got to make sure we’ve equipped our captains with knowledge, so that they appear knowledgeable in front of their teammates…which will engender trust.

Level 2: Get a difficult job done.  As all of us know, leadership is sometimes hard.  And when we come upon one of those difficult tasks, Adair says the adept leader will get the job done “well, quickly, and willingly—even enjoyably.”  Think of your toughest practice…the one that you know will be a butt kicker.  Then think of how an amazing captain and team leader would react to that difficult situation.  Hopefully she will encourage her team to step up to the plate, face the difficulty…together.

Level 3: Extenuating circumstances.  During most seasons, we’re going to face even tougher times that will require the team leaders to rise to the occasion.  Adair details them for us: “courage in defeat, inspiration in apathy, clarity of mind in confusion.”  When do we lean our leaders more than at these times?  Losses will come, lack of enthusiasm may invade the team, and the athletes may take their eyes off of their goals.  It usually takes a collaborative effort between the coaches and the team leaders to refocus the team.

Ideally, with the leadership traits from yesterday’s post (link below), our team leaders and captains will be able to navigate these three levels of leadership!

According to the back cover of John Adair’s book, How To Grow Leaders, he is the world’s leading authority on leadership and leadership development.  Join me for a three-part leadership series discussing leadership qualities, leadership levels, and leadership training.

7 Qualities Every Leader Must Have

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All of us want to equip our captains and team leaders with the skills they need in order to be effective.  I believe that the success our leaders experience is in direct relationship to how well we train them to lead the team.  According to John Adair, a world-renowned leadership trainer, “leadership is both a role and attribute.”  Using that as a jumping off point, let’s look at what we need to give to our team leaders…beyond just a “C” on their shirt.

7 attributes we’ve got to give our captains to ensure their success

  1. Enthusiasm. They’ve got to be excited about what they’re doing!  If you’ve got captains who are fired up about creating great relationships with their teammates and having a successful season, then you’ve got some great leaders in the making.
  2. Integrity.  A while back, I had the opportunity to watch a group of captains of another sport try to set stringent rules for their team.  The rules weren’t out of bounds, certainly in keeping with what the other teams in the department were doing…but a culture change to say the least for this group.  The rules never stood a chance, though, because the captains weren’t willing to operate under the new rules and therefore lost the trust of their teammates.
  3. Toughness, coupled with fairness.  As Adair says, “leadership is not a popularity contest”.  The coaching staff should be able to count on the captains as another level of accountability for the team.  Surely the captains should be friends with their teammates.  But they have the added responsibility of cracking the whip when necessary.
  4. Humanity.  I’m sure I’m not the only coach who gives her captains the job of keeping an eye on the team.  While part of the captain’s job is to be tough and “above it all”…it’s also to look out for their teammate’s well-being.  If they’ve noticed a player who’s struggling with homesickness or classwork or their role on the team, hopefully the captains know that being a good leader means showing that you care…and trying to help.
  5. Confidence.  We all want our athletes to be confident, so this isn’t a news flash.  Ideally, our captains would have a quiet confidence that comes from quality training by their coaching staff and solid relationships with their teammates.
  6. Humility.  If we’ve done a decent job of training our captains, they’ll realize that it’s literally impossible for them to be right all of the time.  That realization should make them a great leader because they’ll listen to suggestions from their teammates as well as coaches.
  7. Courage.  No matter how great our relationship with our captains, they’re probably still a little nervous when they have to come to us with concerns from the entire team.  I’m sure the same is true when they have to confront a teammate about poor behavior.


Hopefully this list reminds us of what is required of us as the coach to make sure that our team leaders aren’t just filling a role, but exemplifying the characteristics of leaders.

According to the back cover of John Adair’s book, How To Grow Leaders, he is the world’s leading authority on leadership and leadership development.  Join me for a three-part leadership series discussing leadership qualities, leadership levels, and leadership training.

3 Steps Innovative Leaders Take With Their Teams

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I’m sure most of us understand that athletics teach more than the individual skills required to perform a particular sport.  We’re teaching team chemistry, how to win and lose with grace, and leadership…among other things.  This post will focus on leadership.

In my post, 5 Signs You’re A Wimpy Boss, I talked about the unfortunate situation when a coach isn’t an advocate for their own team because they’re afraid of rocking the boat.  Since we have our athletes while they’re still malleable, let’s teach them how to take risks…how to be gutsy instead of wimpy.  This won’t just help our team, but will benefit them later in life when they’re in the “real world.”

3 skills we can give our team in order to create gutsy leaders

  • Go with the best people. As coaches, we rarely know what’s happened in their non-practice lives and how those affect their time with the team.  For example, we don’t know if two of our players aren’t on the best of terms or when there’s strife on the team.  But our captains always do and they’ve got to be able to articulate a clear answer if their coach pulls them aside with a tough question.  I’ve been known to chat with my captains and tell them that I like two people for a position and get their feedback.  The gutsy leader will go with the person who makes the team better…and that person may not necessarily be their best friend.
  • Value ideas from anywhere. Hierarchy is a major part of most teams.  I think it’s important to show our teams that there is some sort of benefit to putting in time with the team and being loyal, though I’m not a fan of picking on freshmen and things like that.  A tough idea for a senior captain to wrap their brains around is that a wonderfully awesome idea may come from one of the newbies on the team.  Not only will the newbie feel like they’re a bigger part of the team, they are more likely to willingly follow that captain because they feel respected.
  • Demand accountability. There’s a point in the season where results really matter.  Whether you’re team is heading into the conference schedule or about to start competing in the post season, that’s when everyone’s got to be on the same page.  Your gutsy captain will not be afraid to demand excellence in the gym…and then they’ll model that behavior.  A gutsy leader knows that they are held to a higher standard than the rest of the team…and continually rise to the challenge.


If we take the time to train our captains to be leaders, surely the effects will last long after their time with us is complete.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It: An Introverts Leadership Guide

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Socially awkward.  Shy. Unfriendly.  Those are just a few of the stereotypes that are out there about introverts.  Do you know why?  Because studies say that most people, 75% to be exact, are extroverts.  So before you throw in the towel on the introverts on your team, see what makes them tick.

I thought of this post back during football season when all of the hubbub with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was going on.  If you remember, he came out of the NFC Championship game with an injury and carried himself very poorly on the sideline.  Sport talk radio blasted him, saying he was not a leader and was pouting on the sideline.  From all accounts, Cutler is an introvert who is not all that interested in what others think of him.  My advice to him is to start caring and learn how to fake the extroverted traits that people want from him (getting fired up about good plays, fist pumps, etc.) so that he can be an effective leader with his teammates.

So what’s the difference between an extrovert and an introvert anyway?  Very basically: extroverts are energized by other people and introverts are energized by time with themselves. Since I’m an introvert myself, I’m interested in showing people how to encourage and manage the introverts on their teams.  Here are a few tips for empowering your introverts to be amazing leaders and captains.

3 things to do when your team leaders are introverts

Help them to watch their body language and facial expressions. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times.  Someone will ask me “what’s wrong” when absolutely nothing is wrong…things are great, as a matter of fact!  The problem is you can’t tell by looking at me, so I’ve got to constantly be aware of how I present myself to people so they don’t think the sky is falling or that I’m just an angry, angry woman.  I actually gave a speech on being an introvert to my Toastmasters group and the one correction I got was to smile more.  *sigh*

Encourage them to make personal connections with their teammates. Introverts like making real connections with people, so when we’re in group situations, we typically identify a few people to get to know.  Whereas the extrovert is the “upgrader”, always looking over your shoulder trying to find someone cooler to talk to or checking their phone instead of looking you in the eye…introverts are willing to invest the time into getting to know you.  The extrovert may have two thousand “friends” on Facebook, but the introvert will have created solid relationships.

Let them know that sometimes they’ll have to fake it. As awesome as we introverts are…there are times when we’ve got to channel our inner extrovert.  Personally, I’m not as introverted when I coach my team. I don’t think “silence is golden” or “I need me time” are good foundations for working with athletes.  You can teach your introverts how to fake it as well.  Typical extrovert traits are:  being outgoing in groups, loving competition, being aggressive, taking risks…those sound like athletic traits instead of extrovert traits, right?  But as I said before, most folks are extroverts and the introverts on your team will just have to jump on the bandwagon for two hours each practice and game day.

Now that you know more about the rare gems out there that we call introverts, I hope you will embrace us and our quirks.  I also hope you learned that you can have introverts who are quite effective leaders.  But mostly, I hope you learned that introverts are awesome!

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4 Steps To Creating Bold Leaders And Followers

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We all have things that we say so much that they become a coaching maxim.  One of mine is “enough about leadership, we need followership classes!”  We’ve got two groups of people on our teams: leaders and followers…and both groups need to be trained and respected.  My response to captains who complain that the team isn’t following them has always been, “well, are you doing anything worth following?” because that’s what it comes down to…leading in a respectful and coherent manner.  That brings me to this great video (you should check it out, it’s only three minutes long) by Derek Sivers called “How To Start A Movement”.  In my mind, that’s what team leadership is about…starting a movement of belief in your leadership and your captains.

Here’s how to create a team of leaders and followers that are mutually respectful

1.      Leaders needs to be brave. The example Sivers uses in the video is a guy dancing in a crazy manner at an outdoor concert.  He says that a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed…but also be easy to follow.  That says to me that our leaders have to be comfortable in their skin and confident in their approach to leadership. Most importantly though, our team captains need to be consistent…that’s what will make them easy to follow.  No matter how quirky they are, if their teammates know what to expect, then they will feel comfortable following them.  But if you’ve got captains who are the team clown one day and the next day they won’t even speak to anyone because they’re grumpy…that’ll make them a whole lot harder to follow!

2.      First followers should be enthusiastically embraced. Sivers calls the first followers an underestimated form of leadership.  Why?  Because they’re taking a risk.  They are the person who transforms their teammate into a leader.  Coaches can slap a “captain” title onto a player, but leadership is earned.  If your captains truly embrace those first followers, then they’ve not only become a leader, but have also trained the rest of the team in what followership looks like.  So if you’ve got new captains, or captains that are taking over after particularly popular captains graduate, or captains who’ve never held leadership roles before…this could be something that you talk to them about.

3.      Followers follow followers. Here’s an interesting point from the video:  followers don’t follow the leader, but rather, the other followers.  That makes sense right, because there are only a few leaders, but many followers.  Which makes that training of the followers even more important.  If you’ve got poor dynamics between your captains and the rest of the team, it could be that they wielded their power in an inappropriate manner.  That’s when you get teammates talking behind each other’s backs or a team that resists what captains are trying to do.

4.      Following becomes the norm. Hopefully you’ve watched the video, because this is a particularly funny moment of the film.  This is also the tipping point for your captains.  It’s when following them is no longer a risk, so everyone jumps on board.

So there you go!  Leadership and followership go hand in hand, let’s be sure to nurture both.