Rugby captain

Is your child a potential leader?

Written by Gordon MacLelland

How important is the role of a captain in children’s sport and do coaches take the opportunity to help develop some of the skills required in order for young people to develop and become leaders later on?  Do coaches when handing over the role really give away the responsibility and allow the freedom for their captains to express themselves?

I remember a school cricket game many years ago when a new cricket coach into our establishment (a former professional player) managed their first U13 game.  With not long to go the 1st XI were in real danger of losing a home game, something that had not happened for a while.  The field positions were wrong and he was not acting.  What was he doing?  Why had he not spoken to the captain? Why had he not moved some players as many U13 coaches would do?  Could he not see the score board and the danger of losing?

These were all comments made from fellow coaches and parents on the side of the pitch.

I spoke to him afterwards and I will never forget the conversation.  He merely said, ‘how can we expect them to learn if they do not make the decision for themselves?’ ‘I will speak to the captain this week and the team and we will talk about what has happened.  It will be a far more powerful lesson that they have lost the game and the next time they find themselves in that situation, hopefully a few of them will recognise it and make far better decisions.’

I later saw that side get into a similar situation later in the year and the same mistake did not happen again but not only did the captain act so did another 4 or 5 players.  Great leadership from the coach, great learning from the players and the loss had led to so many valuable lessons being learnt by the players as opposed to adults bailing them out to gain a short-term victory.

I am writing this blog opposite an old school friend and we are just talking about our own sporting experiences.   Neither of us as players had any interest in being a captain, were never asked to be a captain and we felt we had enough to worry about with our own games than worrying about other people.

In a lot of children’s sport the role of captain is certainly less important than the role when children reach the teenage years and enter into adulthood.  Most coaches carry out a large number of the roles required in the early years along with supporting parents.

Many captains who appear in children’s sport can often be seen to be simply the best player, regardless of whether they display many of the character traits assumed with such a role.  As a coach working with 13 year olds over the last 10 years, with hindsight I believe I have appointed 5 great captains and 5 very average ones.  What was it I was looking for?

Even if I knew what I was looking for, why did some carry out the role far better than the rest?  Is there a magic formula?

It is pleasing to see that many clubs at grassroots level simply rotate their captain around giving a different child an opportunity each week.  It gives a child confidence, gives them something to look forward to and gives them a taste of what it perhaps may feel like in the future.

As they grow older however when should we really start to be looking at these potential leaders?

I welcome any thoughts from coaches and parents on when you feel this should be, when this occurs and what can we do as coaches and parents to really help them understand their roles and responsibilities to the rest of the group?

Being a captain isn’t just about wearing the cap or being the boss or even just cheering your friends on. It requires a number of other traits.

Rugby Dylan Hartley

England Captain Dylan Hartley lifts the Six Nations trophy. Credit Patrick Khachfe – onside images

Does your child display any of the following?

  • the desire to lead by example
  • a passionate belief in team spirit
  • the ability to handle the conflicts that invariably arise when a team is under pressure
  • the desire to put more input in planning the team’s strategies
  • the ability to handle problems which may arise in a fair and expedient manner
  • the ability to behave professionally and responsibly despite personal feelings of frustration and anger
  • a thorough knowledge of the rules of the game
  • a desire to build relationships with other members of the team, in good times and bad
  • the ability to handle the burden of being captain while still playing in the team
  • the ability to inspire and motivate and raise team morale

If your child does gain this coveted role or displays many of the above, how can you as a parent help support them in doing the best job that they can?  Being a sports team captain is a great opportunity for them to develop the leadership traits that will help them succeed in their future career, whether this is as a sports athlete or in another field of work.

How can you as a parent help them provide good leadership?

  • Encourage them to take charge – not just rely on the coaches. For example, encourage them to start the warm ups on time, even if the coaches are still getting ready or temporarily occupied elsewhere.
  • Encourage them to do more than is expected – stay longer, help put equipment away, take the time to talk to other players and coaches.
  • Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions – don’t play the blame game.  They will be respected far more than if they make lots of excuses.
  • Get them to lead with actions, not words. Anybody can talk – it is what they do that counts.
  • Don’t allow them to elevate themselves above the rest of the team – just because they have the captain title does not mean that they should have any preferential treatment.

A sports team captain is subject to the same rules and consequences as the rest of the team.

If your child has yet to be a captain and they would like to be then encourage them to be self-aware and improve their leadership skills.

There are many great leaders in many sports teams around the world who never gain the coveted role but are excellent in their own right both on and off the field.

If your child needs encouragement, get them to think about the captains of various sports teams in the international arena and consider why they were chosen – was it because they are popular? The best player? Responsible? Honest? Dependable? A good listener? Motivating and inspiring? Remain calm and positive under pressure?

Some children are not cut out to be captains but they should all be given the opportunity by coaches and parents to develop some of the character skills through their sport associated with such a role.

(Thanks to Gordon MacLelland of WWPIS. Check out more great articles at http://www.wwpis.co.uk/)