May/June 2017
Team captains must not be normal By Kevin Hoffman

We expect captains to hold teammates accountable and unite players at difficult junctures of the season, but that’s not what makes them remarkable leaders — that’s just doing their jobs. To be special, team captains must go above and beyond their traditional duties, and that requires initiative and passion for the job.

In January, the Michigan Wolverines opened their Big Ten schedule by losing three of their first four games, and that’s when co-captain Derrick Walton Jr. had enough. The senior guard reportedly called a players-only meeting, an attempt to put his team back on track during the season’s stretch run. The Wolverines responded by winning 13 of their final 18 games, including two wins each over ranked Wisconsin and Purdue, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a visit to the Sweet 16.

“The coaches only can say so much,” Walton told reporters. “They make the calls. They make the adjustments. They make the subs. It’s on us to make the plays out there. That’s why we’re all here.”

I don’t know what was said during Walton’s meeting but his words seemingly made a difference. And although he holds a “captain” title and is considered a leader by those in the Michigan locker room, he didn’t have to go beyond what’s expected of him. He did it on his own.

When a teammate takes initiative and puts his passion for the program on full display, you take notice. You play to surpass his expectations and you compete with fear of letting him down. Walton is not your typical captain, and the team leaders in your program shouldn’t be either.

Examples of exceptional leadership are everywhere in sports, and rarely do they come from the cookie-cutter captains who do little more than deliver the occasional rah-rah speech. You’re not going to inspire your teammates with the bare minimum, so it’s important for leaders who value their role in the program to use creativity.

Those captains may require some inspiration themselves, and that’s where coaches come in. Ask them to set high standards for their teammates, show them inspirational quotes or suggest that they meet with other captains to discuss strategies for bonding with teammates. It’s possible they can take these steps on their own, but a little encouragement can go a long way for someone who may be a bit timid and unsure of themselves as a leader. Ultimately, this benefits your entire team because a positive, unified culture is the foundation for any successful program.

Winning is not normal. Those who finish their seasons hoisting a trophy are in the minority, and you can make the same case for great leaders. Nearly every team at all levels has a captain but only the special few make lasting impressions on their teammates. It all starts by being abnormal





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