Being a team captain doesn’t just mean being a leader

An athlete helps haul the goalie equipment from the bus to the turf field. An upperclassman brainstorms how to make the sole freshman player feel welcomed to their team. Two players meet with the referee before the game commences.

From team bonding activities to organizing preseason practices, captains have many unique jobs and tasks to fulfill: they often talk to officials during games, help run practices, assist coaches, organize fundraisers and direct players on the field.

For many, being a captain is their first experience of leadership. It can be a position of teaching others and of great learning. Guidance and initiative are important, but a mutual respect for all members of a team is also essential. Not only does being a captain take leadership, it also requires humility.

According to many coaches, captains have an important role as players and during games. For Chad Hunte, coach of varsity football, captains are key to team coordination.

“They’re really just coaches on the field,” Hunte said. “The best teams are player led.”

But captains do important work off the field as well, said cheerleading coach Meaghan Cells.

“The captains are responsible for keeping the pulse of the team,” Cells said. “Sometimes as coaches, we don’t pick up on things that happen in different spaces. Our captains are a big liaison between the athletes and the coaches.”

While some teams vote on their next captain, others are selected by coaches. When it comes to the final choice, it’s often a combination of the two.

“I don’t think that there’s a right or wrong way to do it. I think it really depends on the group of kids that you have and what you’re hoping to see out of those potential captains,” said Nick Sama, coach of the girls hockey team.

The process that revolved most around the team’s vote was the one used by the boys crew team. At the end of the spring season, two rising seniors are voted on entirely by the team. The coach does not have a say in the decision.

“I think it’s really important for the team to vote on who they think is a leader,” Szymanoski said. “I think if I were to just pick out people, that wouldn’t make a team with camaraderie.”

The football team takes a different approach. According to Hunte, there is no team voting, and the final decision for captains is made by the coaches with help from the leadership council, which consists of two to four players from each grade.

“For us, being a leader is a skill,” Hunte said. “Skills have to be developed and they have to be trained every single day. So what we try to do is not just say ‘you’re the captain, you’re the leader, go run off with it,’ but instead give them tools to be successful to help lead.”

Both Hawkins and senior and captain of field hockey Shea Miller Novello prefer the team voting process.

“I think it’s nice for the coach to see things that maybe your teammates aren’t seeing, but I think that at the same time you want someone who the kids on the team are going to be happy to support,” Hawkins said.

For Hunte, grade level isn’t the most important thing that goes into picking a captain.

“If the kids all gravitate towards and respect that kid, whether he’s a freshman or a sophomore, it doesn’t matter for us. If you’re a great leader, we’ll take you,” Hunte said.

A common misconception is that players have to be the best on a team to be a captain. The coaches said that while this is sometimes the case, it’s not a requirement.

“I think that it’s important to have one of your captains be someone who is quite talented and who will be on the field for a majority of the time leading,” Jones said. “But at the end of the day, I truly value the individual and the qualities and characteristics that they bring to the culture of our program.”

According to the coaches, there are many essential qualities that a player should strive towards to be successful as a captain. Gallagher has a strong sense of what he wants in a captain:

“Someone who has positive energy, sees across all grades and is there to help others reach the best of their abilities,” Gallagher said. “Someone who truly wants to make the best of the season in every aspect, whether it be out on the field or in the classroom with their teammates. Someone who’s going to build everybody else around them up.”

Miller Novello said that mindset is a key part of being a captain because of the way it can reflect onto other team members.

“Being a captain is being a leader and that can actually mean a bunch of different things,” Miller Novello said. “It can mean pushing the team to do things that they don’t necessarily want to do, always having a positive attitude, giving it your all all the time. Continue to have those qualities even in moments when you don’t want to.”

No matter what qualities an athlete works towards, Hunte said that sticking to values and identity is key to being an effective leader.

“The number one thing is be yourself. Too many times you see kids trying to be who they think they need to be and trying to impress and they stop being who they are,” Hunte said. “You’ve got to be authentic and true to yourself first, and everything else kind of follows.”

A word cloud of traits that a captain should have, created by the girls hockey team last year. (Contributed by Nick Sama )