I never wanted to be a captain. To wear the white stripe under my number, do the coin toss, sign the score sheet, communicate with the refs, and be the leader of the team. I never wanted to be captain because I figured it was those extra tasks that I was gaining. I was just focused on playing the game better than the girls on both sides of the net. Kicking ass and taking names.
I never wanted to be a captain, until it was taken away from me.
On my high school team there were very few of us who played volleyball at the club level, so I figured I deserved it. Then I lost it. Boy was I offended. Sucker punch to the ego. Seriously, how could I not be captain of this team? It’s my last year of high school, I’m the only one committed to playing at the post secondary level and I can’t even be the captain of this team. All I thought was how embarrassing this looked on me.
I spent a large part of that high school season without the captain bar, and I had to learn what it meant to be a leader. How I could help my team in good times and bad. Great players don’t necessarily make great captains, myself included. I believe leadership is a learned skill even if you may naturally have some qualities of a leader.
So, let’s take it back. What makes a great captain? Well, by definition a captain is someone who is at the head of authority over others; the chief leader. A powerful, or influential person in a particular field.
Okay, so let me think of a few traits
By my count I represented all of those things on some varying levels, but my reason for believing I should be captain was because of my skill set and the years of experience I had over my teammates. I figured I deserved it for just being me.
What really makes someone a great captain?
- they have the ability to motivate and inspire peers
- they work the hardest in the gym to set the standard
- ability to handle problems in a courteous manner
- rise to challenges with a never say die attitude
- the ability to listen and the ability to share
- takes the time to know and understand each teammate
- willing to help others on/off the court for the betterment of the team
Okay, so my problem was that I was lacking a few things there. It’s easy for me to see that now, but it was difficult to teach myself to be a better version of me during that time. I was naive in thinking I could continue to do the same things as a captain that I had been doing before. If I wanted to lead I needed to work harder in practice, but more importantly I needed to figure out how to build up those around me to help us all succeed whatever that looked like.
My eyes finally opened to what it meant to be a leader of a team, and that I wasn’t doing my part to deserve that role. Being a great leader is about so much more than having a great skill set. Being a leader is about setting an example, demanding the best, but also helping your teammates to find their best.
Once I got to UBC I spent 4 years playing under incredible leaders. I saw what it meant to lead by example. To lead with a little, or sometimes a lot of tough love. To be demanding of effort, and to earn respect. To communicate effectively, to love unconditionally. How to take responsibility for the actions of the group. Most importantly how to carry a team to a championship.
When it came time for me to be one of the captains of the team, I felt more than ready because I had gained tools to lead from the amazing women before me. I gained the confidence I needed to become the leader that I should have always been.
My Lessons in Leadership
Set the standard
One of the most important qualities of a great leader is the precedent that they set for themselves and the team. I’ve made it a habit to be early to the gym to set up the equipment for practice as my way of showing respect to my team regardless of age, or seniority with the group. The same goes for practice; consistently bringing the best and then some to show what level we needed to be at in order to achieve our goals.
Performing under pressure
I think that when I retire I’m going to be able to say with confidence that what has made me a great leader at times when I couldn’t see it myself has been my ability and willingness to rise up to a challenge. If our backs are against the wall and it’s do or die I’m going to show up 150%. All it takes is one person to be the spark to turn a game around or push to the finish. If you want to lead your team, show them how it’s done and give them the courage to go with you.
Practice what you preach
It’s okay to demand excellence from your teammates, but know that in doing so you need to demand it from yourself first. Being a hard ass is sometimes necessary, but go that route and you better back it up with your actions so that your words are credible. Lead by example in everything you do because you must show and not just tell others what to do.
Have vision, but see the big picture
A captain must have a vision of the team’s end goal and the target to work towards. But, the captain should be accepting and accommodating for any bumps in the road. Having a vision enables you to individually and collectively work towards a goal, but don’t lose faith and hope in your teammates when things do not go according to plan.
My first year at UBC we were 7-5 in January, not exactly championship calibre, but our captains never lost faith and kept us pushing towards our goal of repeating as National champions. In contrast, the following year we went undefeated on our way to our 3rd straight championship, and our captains kept us focused every step of the way. There are many ways to achieve success so don’t lose sight of the big picture when all hope seems lost.
Use your voice
One of the most important aspects of being a captain is communication. You are the bridge between the coaches and your teammates. Listen to the concerns of everyone involved and do your best to find common ground. As the captain you need to feel the confidence to voice concerns to the coaching staff. Use your voice to know and understand what your teammates may need on a day to day basis.
The other part of communication is being a motivator of your team. Do your best to provide positive feedback or constructive criticism to get all cylinders firing. Whether that’s an epic pre game speech, or a subtle reminder on the court of what needs to be done in order to get it done. As the captain your voice is the one everyone is looking to for guidance when the going gets tough.
Taking ownership for the team can be a hard lesson to come by especially if something isn't your fault outright. Gain the respect of your peers by taking the fall for any unfortunate events, and being accountable for all situations. No need to throw anyone under the bus or the respect that you need in that role will diminish.
Trust yourself, trust your teammates, trust your coach. Trust in your goals, and make sure that you gain trust from all of those involved. Just because you’re the captain does not mean that you’re above anyone else on the court or on the bench. Respect and trust are always earned, never given.
Everyone has a different way of learning, and performing, and I think it’s imperative for a captain to be able to recognize that different situations call for different leadership styles. Coaches this goes for you too. Sometimes it takes honest conversations to understand what everyone can handle whether they sometimes need a kick in the ass, or they need compassion/understanding, and sometimes everyone just needs a little bit of humour to break the tension. What can be manageable for some can be a breaking point for others.
If you want to lead your teammates get to know your teammates. Do your best to analyze the situation, the environment around you and lead accordingly.
I never wanted to be a captain, until I learned how to be a leader.
Honestly, you don’t even need to be a captain to be doing any of those things. Team sports have endless opportunities because they often require more than one leader at any point in time. There are many chances for athletes to lead, and different situations for anybody to step up.
Never shy away from becoming the leader you were meant to be.
Being a captain is privilege to be earned.
Becoming a leader is a choice to be great.