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August 29, 2011 • Coaching

The 7 attributes of effective team leaders

All of us want to equip our captains and team leaders with the skills they need in order to be effective. I believe that the success our leaders experience is in direct relationship to how well we train them to lead the team.

According to John Adair, a world-renowned leadership trainer, “leadership is both a role and attribute.”  Using that as a jumping off point, let’s look at what we need to give to our team leaders…beyond just a “C” on their shirt.

Seven attributes of captains

1. Enthusiasm. They’ve got to be excited about what they’re doing!  If you’ve got captains who are fired up about creating great relationships with their teammates and having a successful season, then you’ve got some great leaders in the making.

2. Integrity.  A while back, I had the opportunity to watch a group of captains of another sport try to set stringent rules for their team.  The rules weren’t out of bounds, certainly in keeping with what the other teams in the department were doing…but a culture change to say the least for this group.  The rules never stood a chance, though, because the captains weren’t willing to operate under the new rules and therefore lost the trust of their teammates.

3. Toughness, coupled with fairness.  As Adair says, “leadership is not a popularity contest”.  The coaching staff should be able to count on the captains as another level of accountability for the team.  Surely the captains should be friends with their teammates.  But they have the added responsibility of cracking the whip when necessary.

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4. Humanity.  I’m sure I’m not the only coach who gives her captains the job of keeping an eye on the team.  While part of the captain’s job is to be tough and “above it all”…it’s also to look out for their teammate’s well-being.  If they’ve noticed a player who’s struggling with homesickness or classwork or their role on the team, hopefully the captains know that being a good leader means showing that you care…and trying to help.

5. Confidence.  We all want our athletes to be confident, so this isn’t a news flash.  Ideally, our captains would have a quiet confidence that comes from quality training by their coaching staff and solid relationships with their teammates.

6. Humility.  If we’ve done a decent job of training our captains, they’ll realize that it’s literally impossible for them to be right all of the time.  That realization should make them a great leader because they’ll listen to suggestions from their teammates as well as coaches.

7. Courage.  No matter how great our relationship with our captains, they’re probably still a little nervous when they have to come to us with concerns from the entire team.  I’m sure the same is true when they have to confront a teammate about poor behavior.

Hopefully this list reminds us of what is required of us as the coach to make sure that our team leaders aren’t just filling a role, but exemplifying the characteristics of leaders.


Dawn Redd is the head volleyball and assistant track & field coach at Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin.


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