I get this question every so often, usually from people who don’t know me. I typically go for a humorous redirect, wanting to shift the subject toward easier waters. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sailing the seas of hard questions, it’s just that I am not sure the questioner has the perseverance to watch me skipper the whole way to completion.
I have attempted to take the helm of captainship twice, and we lost in the finals both times. This leads me to believe that I am not good at being a captain, and makes me realize being a good player does not correlate to being a good captain. I have also discovered that behind every good captain is a good coach. If you don’t have a coach, I suggest finding one. A coach is the team’s mouthpiece and vocal point, a leader that frees up the captains to focus on the details– which I think is what separates the good from the great.
So, what makes a good captain?
I actually think this is pretty easy question to answer. To me a captain is whatever the team needs at the moment. What isn’t easy is that there are a lot of needs, and meeting each requires playing a different role. Below, I have listed some of the roles that captain should be prepared to assume. Whether you do it by masquerade or genuine sincerity is it up to you.
The Motivational Master. Your job here is to get people to want to be the best player they can be. Every team has players who are good but also content to get by one talent alone– you can see the potential lurking just a few hard workouts away. These players could destroy small buildings or leap them in a single bound if you could just motivate them to get off the couch. But how do you get them to care? I don’t have the perseverance or the energy to uproot the mighty couch potato, but a good captain does.
The Sitcom Script Writer. When you put a bunch of similarly sexy people in a tightly knit group, drama will almost certainly unfold. Girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives: no one is safe from the claws of desire or the currents of change, and and if you’re not careful these underlying currents will become a strong undertow that will drag your team down before you even step on the field. A good captain can rewrite the script, giving each character the ending they want… at least for that season.
The Lord of Logistics. This is very under-appreciated role considering the influence it can have on a team’s performance. With so much of sports being mental, the last thing you want is a stressed out team fighting over the choice of restaurant or the last bed spot. I remember my first couple years playing on Johnny Bravo, when I would show up to Nationals and all the bed spots and all the comfy couch spots would be taken and I was left building makeshift beds out of abandoned pillows and discarded blankets. Being a terrible sleeper already, I can tell you I did not sleep well and was quite bitter that the captains had not taken care of my fundamental need for sleep. If you are a captain, making sure everyone is logistically content can make a huge difference, especially with the younger players who might be to scared to speak up or might not have the funds to secure a cozy bed.
The Sadness Sorcerer. No team win without learning how to lose. Learning to lose means taking everything that caused you to lose, throwing it in a cauldron, boiling it up and extracting the essence of what you must improve upon. Crying is fine– it means your team cares– but don’t let those valuable tears be wasted upon the uncaring ground. Collect those tears and pull them out the next time your team wants to half-ass a practice. There will also be those who dwell in despair, maybe because they think they caused you to lose or because they didn’t get a lot of opportunities to step on the field and help your team win. These people needed to be handled with care and aided with a delicate touch.
The Chief of the Cut. This is becoming increasingly important because there are more and more good players trying out every year. If winning is your goal, you need captains who can pick the team objectively rather than holding onto the fingers of friendship. Being on the team last year should not guarantee you spot every year after that. Separating fact from emotion is not easy, but you have to ask yourself: are you a sports team or a social club? Confession: This is the number one reason I am not a captain. Ruining peoples dreams and crushing compadres’ hopes really sucks, especially when it may not be the correct choice.
The Commander of Confidence. This is super important. As a captain you must have confidence in not only yourself but also your teammates, and that is the difficult part. Giving confidence to your teammates can be like giving food to a San Francisco panhandler. You would think since the sign says “hungry,” all food would be accepted. Nope. You may try to offer a nice three course meal of confidence and they will deny your attempt to help. Do not be put off. A good captain will always find a way, even if that means force feeding. Try disguising confidence into little nuggets of backhanded compliments. That’s what I do.
I could go on for another page or two about important roles, but I think you get the point. If you are a captain, be prepared to shift masks and change into roles that may make you uncomfortable. Each season brings new challenges, from new players to new distractions to financial insecurities. Your team is a living ship, constructed of flesh, powered by emotion, riding the ocean of uncertainty. Trust your team and they will trust you and don’t be scared of little conflict, even if 90% of it is hidden from view. Take every problem, discuss it and and have a captain deal with it head on.
Thanks to all the people who responded in respectful manner to my last post. I really do like reading other peoples perspectives if they are written with a common decency. The winner of the jersey, as selected by Flamer Cass, is Jack Deschler with the call for the fire department. Please contact neeley@skydmagazine for your prize.
This weeks question is completely selfish: what kind of play do you think my teammates or I could make that would get onto SportCenter’s Top 10? We will attempt the best play, and should it succeed in its mission you will get the jersey worn during the undertaking.