Category Archives: Captains

3 Communication Tips To Help Women Get What They Want

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I often say that athletics gives its participants a chance to learn all sorts of life skills.  I’m going to quote the President of Beloit College (where I work!) as he talks about the benefits of sport, because he’s much more eloquent than I am:  “Athletics offers a particularly clear connection between high discipline and high achievement.  Being effective in front of a highly attentive external audience in a high-stakes setting requires years of practice.  Staying calm, rational, and productive when chaos is reigning around you requires practice.”

Good stuff, huh?

We have an opportunity to give our female athletes a chance to practice quality communication.  It’s not something that comes naturally for a lot of folks (hence the ever-present belief that women can’t get along), so allowing our team leaders to get practice at it will give them a leg up not only in athletics, but in life.  If you’d like, check out this video, Why women don’t get what they want, it’s only about three minutes long.

3 way our female athletes can practice great communication

  1. Be direct.  I remember a team where I had great senior leadership.  There were four young ladies who were equally strong, but in much different ways.  My two “fun” captains were always complaining that the underclassmen weren’t listening to them.  They’d say, “When we were freshmen, we just followed whatever the seniors told us to do.”  And that was the difference.  My fun captains were asking their teammates rather than telling their teammates.  Asking opened the door for folks to choose something that the captains didn’t want whereas telling would not.  Of course there are times for telling and times for asking, but our leaders can’t get frustrated when their teammates pick an option when given an option.
  2. Be a listener.  Over the course of a season, there are bound to be times when a player may not be getting along with another player.  I’ve often said the source of all “girl drama” is conflict left unattended.  We have a chance to show our athletes how to handle conflict in a way that it doesn’t escalate into an epic battle…with teammates choosing sides.  How is that, you ask?  Listen.  Rather than trying to shout each other down or make their own point, what if each player listened to the other’s concerns?  This may take some mediation by a captain or a coach, but I think it’s a great way for our players to practice conflict resolution.
  3. Be an “I”.  Many times, our team leaders may try to soften requests they have of their teammates by saying “we” want to do something…or even “coach” wants us to do this or that.  According to the expert in the video, that weakens their position and their authority.  I think this is an invaluable life skill!  If we could get our female athletes to practice owning their words, we can call our time with them a success.  Even if they are relaying information from the coaching staff, our team leaders could say something like, “Coach says we have to be more focused in practice and I agree with that, because I believe we can win conference if we practice at a high level all of the time.”


Sure, being direct, choosing to address a conflict, and owning their words can be scary for our female athletes….that’s why we want to get them some practice at it!  But as our college’s president said, athletics is a high-stakes game and it takes practice.  Teamwork takes practice, leadership takes practice, and communication takes practice.

If you liked this one, check out How To Equip Our Female Athletes To Be Leaders and 4 Steps To Communicate Competently With Your Team.

What Makes An Exceptional Team Leader?

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Lately, I’ve been assessing the usefulness of team captains.  Logistically, it’s nice to have them so that there’s someone to lead off-season workouts and things like that…but I’m not sure if they need to have a “captain” title in order to rally the troops to go to the weight room.

What happens when the leadership is in the lower classes?  What if we’ve got a sophomore who’s an amazing leader…but she’s on a team with four seniors?  That could be a team dynamic nightmare.

I believe in leadership training and its benefits to our athletes while they’re on the team and afterward…I just don’t know if they need that title to receive those benefits.  At the end of this post, I’ll ask for your help with a couple of questions, so be prepared!

3 qualities our captains should have in order to lead effectively

Clear strategic focus.  I know that seems obvious, but I’ve coached teams where the captains didn’t know what was important to them.  If it’s more important to the captains that the team jumps when they say to jump than it is for the team to accomplish its goals, then the focus is off.

Open to new ideas.  By the time players get to the collegiate level, they’ve been on many teams, been coached by many coaches, and have been led by lots of captains.  This means that, even though a player may not be a team leader, they may have great ideas about how captains should behave.  Great captains will listen to their teammates and maybe even take them up on a suggestion they make.

Forge strong bonds.  The best captains I’ve had mobilize the team and are laser focused on their goals.  They squash petty issues and internal fighting before I even know it’s happening.  They create time for the team to bond and hang out outside of practice time so they really get to know one another.  Great captains make the team into a family.

Questions for you, dear reader

Do you pick your captains or does the team pick?  How much input to you have in the process?  What about not having team captains at all?  Have you done it and did it work? What do you look for in team leaders?  Do you think the “captain” title is necessary?  Hit me up in my email or on twitter with your answers!

The thing is, great team captains are amazing…they can transform a team from okay and full of cliques, to united and focused.  On the flip side of the coin, bad captains can wreck team chemistry and any chance your team has at success.  Let me know what you think.

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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.