Your Team Captains

We are back…

After a busy summer with the World Championships in Denver, taking some rest from lacrosse, settling back in at work, we are back with the blog. Our next article is about the team captains. We are also actually in the situation of figuring out the captains for Stuttgart Lacrosse.

Afterwards we will start with our drill of the week series to provide a more constant flow of content on this blog.

Why do you need captains? Why are captains so important for a player-coach?

One of the first steps you should consider is to find your captains. This is a crucial part for you, because it is the first step to spread the workload on different shoulders. As mentioned in our blog post about Running practices as a player-coach the critical thing about being a player-coach is that you can only do 2-3 things at once. Before assigning captains you need to know what you expect from your captains. Some see them as a communication channel between the team and the coach, but since you are part of the team this is not their priority task. Their tasks are more in the reign of motivation, team spirit, leading by example and warm-ups. All these things have a huge impact on the team as we will discuss later, therefore you need to think carefully who can live up to and will want this responsibility.

Classic captains

The main role of a typical captain is to assure the team of the fact that in order to reach excellence you need to put in hard work, but that it will always be worth it. The captains should lead by example and motivate the team to give their best every day. In order to strengthen the role of the captains in front of the group, the coach often hands over some responsibilities to the captains. At the same time it is making the coaches’ life a little bit easier. Here is a short overview of typical tasks, even though they may differ from team to team:

  • warm-up
  • stretching out
  • discipline in practice (being on time, paying attention, attendance, preparation, etc.)
  • respect between the players on and off the field
  • overall appearance of the team (conduct, outfits on game days, etc.)
  • last word at the end of practice
  • connection and feedback between the coaches and the team

To get a better idea what we expect from our captains and to communicate those things we wrote a captain’s profile a few years back. The profile for Stuttgart Lacrosse captains is embedded here: Captain’s profile Stuttgart Lacrosse.

Differences due to a player-coach

As a player-coach there are a few differences to consider. In the next part we will pinpoint the ones that we experienced. The first and most obvious one is that there is no clear hierarchy since you are also a part of the team. So the task of a classic captain to be the connection between the coaches and the team gets blurred.

Also the roles of a captain and a player-coach usually overlap on the field. In a normal lacrosse game, the coach gives a certain set of instructions from the sideline, during time-outs and breaks and the players make the final call on the field. With a player-coach on the field, some tasks overlap like running the offense, calling plays or sets. It can happen that the coach and a captain make different calls on the field at the same time. Do not worry so much about that, just slow the game down and sort it out or fix an order who is in charge on the field. It does not have to be the player-coach when he is on the field.

Another big difference that we experienced in our player-coach and captain setup were heated discussions, which were not always objective. This comes through the fact that you are not standing on the sideline with a cool head and a different perspective. You are also on the field hustling after ground balls, making the same mistakes you told the team beforehand not to make. In our opinion this comes with the player part of the role and you might have to live with it occasionally and make up with each other afterwards. 

The soap opera

Be aware of the different social components of your team. It is like a soap opera. There are different characters you will find in every team and each of them fulfills an important purpose. You play the role of the coach and also a player, which is complex but sometimes you also have partially different roles such as being an offensive leader or captain. Typical roles are offensive quarterback, defensive leader, captain, coach, motivator, etc. These are just the most basic roles you should have covered in theory, there are much more on every team. We plan to write more in the future on different roles and how they affect a team.

Selecting or electing captains

You can choose a captain, but you can also let the team decide. The team might choose someone who is nothing like the person you need. Over the years we came to the conclusion that for us it was better to determine who the captains will be and talk to them about what we expected from them. Help them to think about their captain’s profiles and talk to them from time to time to gain insight into the internal mood of the team. Take their input seriously even if it might lack a certain farsightedness. Thank them for their feedback and adjust your plan or strategy to it, because the best tactics and basics are all for nothing if your team spirit is down.

Look for a motivator, one guy who is disciplined and one that people look up to. If you have one person that has all these characteristics that is great. If not, you might need several persons, so take several captains. If you have only one, make sure it’s the motivator.

Once you have a motivator you can focus on tactics and basic coaching rather then firing up the team. You still can if you want to, but it is good to have help on that part. Also the warm-up gives you vital time to prepare practice or adjust it. Further, captains can help you to make sure people stay focused.

If electing the team captain is part of your team philosophy or your team has always done it this way, it is a fine way as well. In this case you have less control over your captains and which roles they can fulfill best.

We have not elected captains in the last few years, so we do not have a lot of experience in that regard. But if you need to elect captains and want to know more about it, please comment on this article and we will talk to other coaches who have more experience, because even when electing the captains, there are a lot of different ways on how to do it or – as malicious tongues would put it – how to rig the election.

Legacy captains

Your captains need to fulfill the role you expect from them. In college lacrosse your players leave after 4 seasons, no matter what. In club teams this is quite different; you could have people on your team for a long time, which can also be your captains at one point. We have players who have been playing for Stuttgart for 5-10 years and longer.

In general that is a good thing, but circumstances for each player can change from year to year. So you need to check each year, if your last year’s captains still fulfill the role you expect from them. We take a look at our captains after every season and start to search for replacements or additional captains. This does not mean it cannot be the same persons. One of our captains has fulfilled his role for several years, while others have been in the role for a shorter time. Most of our ex-captains are still playing and are valuable team members.

I do not have the person you guys described!

Some people say leadership cannot be learned, but it is given to you. Some people grow into roles and excel under pressure, but others do not. There is no fixed answer for that. So think about who is the right person for this and what role you want him fulfill. It might not always be the best player. Sometimes it is also better to assign several captains.

Trust your gut and take your time, as it is not an easy task. For our championship season 2012/2013 it took us 5 months to find our captains. In 2013/2014 we decided who will be our captains after 4 weeks already. More time does not mean better or worse picks. Each time our captains fulfilled their intended roles. The time is not lost, you can try out different people and ask them to help you with certain things.

On a final note the most important thing is that the person wants to do this job and feels honored to be a team captain.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Hard work and enthusiasm payed off for one of our captains (source: Stuttgart Lacrosse)

Hard work and enthusiasm paid off. One of our captains presenting the championship trophy to the team (source: Stuttgart Lacrosse)

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