Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put a “Want Ad” for a team captain in the classifieds of the theoretical team newspaper?  In this fast-changing and ever evolving world of college athletics we must make it a priority to grow and develop potential team captains and equip them to serve their teams.  Player-driven teams tend to go farther, go faster, and go more efficiently than teams where the coach is the one pulling the team along.  So we create a “Want Ad” – then what? Certainly, then we would have our pick among those eager respondents who have had previous training, right? In this article we’ll jump in and check out five ways to create a steady pipeline of leadership on your team.

Saint Leo Huddle

Calm, level-headed, essentially flawless, coach seeks team captain.
Must be able to (at age 19-22 by the way)
• Conduct themself with maturity 100% of the time
• Be professional and act as a conduit between myself and the rest of the team.
• Must consistently (and by consistently I mean ALWAYS) demonstrate loyalty
• May challenge decisions privately, tactfully, and most of all sparingly, but then MUST support my decisions in public.
• Must lead by example – never letting up and never, ever faltering. EVER.
• Must be a verbal leader, capable of deciding in a split second if a teammate needs to be pushed, pulled, or simply left alone.
• Must possess the knowledge that the very next second that teammate may need something different, and adapt accordingly. SEAMLESSLY.

I write this tongue in cheek, of course, but let’s be honest here coaches …We do demand A LOT from those we place in the position to be a team captain.

What are you doing as a coach to ensure a steady pipeline of leadership within your program?

If you’re drawing a blank, or just don’t have it all mapped out, consider the following strategies:


Dig in and really take a look at the things happening before, during, and after practices. Look at things outside of traditional practice such as conditioning sessions, the athletic training room, and during team travel. You’re not doing anything other than “taking it all in” during this stage. Note those individuals who are quieter but are always doing the right things. Also note those who are more vocal and who the team naturally tends to rally around or follow.


With your entire coaching staff, identify those student-athletes who are leading by example, those who are leading verbally, and the few who may do both. Don’t concern yourself with their class, position, whether they will likely be a starter, or anything else. Simply make a short list of those with potential to to be a team captain. Major bonus points should be awarded for those who are authentic.

NOTE: As you implement these strategies each season, you will begin identifying earlier and earlier. The goal is to accomplish this during a student-athlete’s freshman or sophomore year.


Here’s where it gets fun! Acknowledge those from your list in Step 2. Bring them in and talk to each of them, 1 on 1, and lavish the praise. Tell them, specifically, why they stood out to you as somebody capable of being a team captain. ASK them if a position of leadership is something they aspire too? If you get a “no” keep them on the list and talk with them again in the future – everybody is ready to step up at different times.


The most critical step in the entire process. Create opportunities for learning. Consider a weekly discussion/training outside of normal team activities. Slowly dive in to issues they will face. Tell them how you would like for them to handle certain things. Solicit their input too; after all, you tabbed them for leadership based on how they were already going about their business. On larger rosters where there is more than 1 team captain, discuss ways for the leaders to fill in each other’s weaknesses. This should be a conversation, not simply a lecture on the Do’s and Don’ts.  If you’re feeling stuck Jeff Janssen has loads of resources to help!

NOTE: Take your time on this step; it’s perfectly fine if this training lasts an entire semester, or even year.


This happens concurrently with step 4. Build up and support those who are learning to become the type of team captain you want them to be. Encourage their natural leadership styles and reward the behavior you want. Show them that you view mistakes as opportunities to refine their roles – use those mistakes as teachable moments. Acknowledge their efforts and victories publically in front of the team. Send a clear message that being a team captain is a position of honor. One that you invest in. One that you respect.

There ya have it – five action steps to start building your pipeline. This isn’t the easy way, of course, but IT IS the way to sustain the type of leadership we all crave.

I challenge you, right now, to look at ways to implement these strategies. Who on your coaching staff will take the lead to get this off the ground?

Remember the life cycle of a student-athlete…What you do TODAY will affect your team culture for the next 4 years.

**Disclaimer:  I originally wrote this post for my buddy Dan Tudor in fall 2014 and it appeared in his weekly college recruiting newsletter.  I’ve dusted it off and gussied it up a bit to post here. I think it’s still incredibly relevant – maybe even more so than two years ago. **

Share your tips and tricks that are working for your programs to help develop leaders – let’s all learn from one another – COMMENT BELOW!

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