A captain's leadership traits

Captains are entrusted with authority from the coaching staff to lead teams on the field.  Their influence on the outcome of a game is huge. Let’s consider some of the traits that a remarkable captain needs to build into his or her life.


A captain has personal hunger and the motivation to succeed – a captain possesses unquenchable intrinsic motivation and his appetite for success sets him apart. He is constantly seeking to improve as a player and a leader. He goes the extra mile and this is evident to all. This is one of the character traits that qualify him as the leader of the team.


A skipper has a close relationship with the coach. It is imperative that the captain and coach are on the same page when it comes to philosophy, game plan and their approach to motivating and handling people. The team will benefit from every hour invested in this key relationship. If you attain synergy at this level, it will ricochet through the team DEEPLY and ‘get’ what the coach is trying to do. Back the coach and do not complain about him behind his back. Address things with him face to face otherwise you will contribute to building a culture of back -­‐ stabbing.


In a conversation I had with Springbok Rugby Captain Jean de Villiers about leading the Boks he stressed how critical the coach, captain relationship is, “The working relationship between a captain and coach is vital and they must be able to work together.”


The captain is a primary cultural architect.


Richard Daft teaches: “Culture is the set of values, guiding beliefs, understandings, and ways of thinking that is shared by the members of a team or organization. It represents the underwritten, feeling part of an organization. Culture provides members with a sense of organizational identity and generates a commitment to beliefs and values that are larger than themselves. Organizational/team culture serves two critically important functions: 1) to integrate members so that they know how to relate to one another and 2) to help the organization adapt to the external environment.”


A major thread of this culture should be a ‘culture of honour’. Nikki Hudson the former Aussie Women’s Field Hockey Captain and Olympic Gold Medalist speaks of respecting: 1) her coaches 2) team mates 3) the opposition and 4) the rules. If you violate these you will constantly be trying to rid your team of unwanted toxins.




The captain has well defined values


“Values help us determine what to do and what more to do. They’re the deep-­‐ seated, pervasive standards that influence every aspect of our lives: our moral judgements, our responses to others, out commitments to personal and organizational goals. Values set the parameters for the hundreds of decisions we make every day. Options that run counter to our value system are seldom acted upon; and if they are, it’s done with a sense of compliance rather than commitment. Values constitute our personal bottom line.”16


A captain builds trust – he cannot afford to be an architect of political divisions in the team.


Jean de Villiers places supreme value on trust, “The most important thing for me about being a captain is that there needs to be trust between you and your team mates and it's not something that will be there from the start but needs to be earned.”


Synonyms: certainty, belief, faith. Trust, assurance, confidence imply a feeling of security.    Trust implies instinctive unquestioning belief in and reliance upon something.


Lauren Jackson is passionate about trust, “The one thing you need to know in a team sport is that your team has your back regardless. Trust and relying on each other in a team environment, form the basis of any team culture.”


The captain is a formidable strategist – captains have game plans; mental maps to consult in different match situations. They are planners and schemers. They play to their strengths and seek to impose their pattern on the game but they respect the opposition and have counter moves to match the opposition’s plays. They are adaptable and know when to implement a plan and when to scrap a move.


“Great team leaders do not wait for opportunities to knock. They go out and look for opportunities whether it is to exploit opportunities or enhance the team’s strengths.”– Lauren Jackson


A captain takes responsibility for his actions and decisions – people who don’t mature, don’t take responsibility for their actions. Author, Ed Cole, a wise man said: “Maturity doesn’t come with age but with the acceptance of responsibility ”.

Captain’s own the situation and don’t cast blame on the refs, coaches, the opposition or the fans. They govern the moment and live without regret!


Captains rally people from different backgrounds around a common goal -­‐ if you consider the English Barclays Premiership Soccer League as an example, players come together in one team, from all over the world. Captains need to be able to communicate cross -­‐ culturally and in some cases inter -­‐ generationally as there may be 18’ year old and 35’ year old soccer players in the same team.



Captains are secure, they share authority and power – John Smit, the World Cup winning Springbok Captain was revolutionary in his approach to sharing leadership in the team. He appointed under – captains who fulfilled critical functions in the team. A captain realises that he is most powerful when he doesn’t retain all the authority and power but wisely dispenses it to trustworthy co -­‐ leaders.


Kouzes and Posner teach that a leader, Enables others to act – “A grand dream doesn’t become significant reality through the actions of a single leader. Leadership is a team effort. Leaders enable others to act not by hoarding the power they have but by giving it away. When people have discretion, authority and information, they’re likely to use these resources to produce extraordinary results. Leaders know that no one does his or her best when feeling weak, incompetent or alienated; they know that those who are expected to produce results must feel a sense of



Consults everyone – Nikki Hudson consulted everyone in the team, even the new recruits. She valued and respected everyone


A captain has to be selfless – one of the tendencies that will constantly try and creep into a team, especially a team of stars is an elevation of self above the team. If you are to be a winning team, individual goals need to be subject to the overall aspirations of the team. Captains don’t care who scored the touchdown or the home run as long as someone did it. Being selfless involves sacrifice; without this ingredient teams will only experience the shallow waters of synergy.


Captains need to remind their players that they have elected to play a team sport. A popular acronym for TEAM is:


Together Everyone Achieves More


Captains know that it is essential to have fun – light -­‐ hearted moments are medicinal in a competitive sporting world. Top teams push themselves hard as they get physically into shape and harness their technical skills in repetitive routines. A captain needs to personally inject mischief into the mix. If he is poor at this, he can still value fun by delegating this role to someone else. Laugh a lot, laugh at yourself, it is a wonderful detox.


To read more on this topic you can get Iain’s Book on Amazon Kindle. Also check out www.peaksportssa.com for regular blogs and articles on performing at your peak.

Originally posted in SA School Sports

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