Between the Lines: Team captains must not be normal
We expect captains to hold teammates accountable and unite players at difficult junctures of the season, but that’s not what makes them remarkable leaders — that’s just doing their jobs. To be special, team captains must go above and beyond their traditional duties, and that requires initiative and passion for the job.
One example is Eddie Jackson, team captain and defensive back at the University of Alabama. In December, Jackson wrote a letter titled “To my brothers,” thanking his teammates for electing him captain and describing the influence each of them had on his life. His words were full of emotion and gratitude, and he regretted that a broken leg would keep him from battling beside his teammates during the national championship game against Clemson.
“Your entire goal should be to live up to the standard that the player in front of you on the depth chart has set,” Jackson wrote in the letter, published by The Players’ Tribune.
“When I think about my fellow captains … as well as the other seniors on this team, I feel a lot of pride about how much we’ve grown over the years. Playing at ‘Bama is bigger than winning one national championship. Winning championships is the expectation. But playing here is also about becoming the very best possible version of yourself, and then showcasing that for the world. If you can do that, all of your other goals will fall in line.”
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If you’re one of Jackson’s Alabama teammates reading those words, a fire is lit. You play to surpass his expectations and you compete with fear of letting him down. Jackson is not your typical captain, and your team leaders shouldn’t be either.
Examples of exceptional leadership are everywhere in sports, and rarely do they come from the cookie-cutter captains who do little more than deliver the occasional rah-rah speech. You’re not going to inspire teammates with the bare minimum, so it’s important for leaders who value their role in the program to use creativity.
Those captains may require some inspiration themselves, and that’s where coaches come in. Ask them to read Jackson’s letter, show them inspirational quotes, or suggest that they meet with other captains to discuss strategies for bonding with teammates. It’s possible they can take these steps on their own, but a little encouragement can go a long way for someone who may be a bit timid and unsure of themselves as a leader. Ultimately, this benefits your entire team because a positive, unified culture is the foundation of any successful program.
Winning is not normal. Those who end their seasons hoisting a trophy are in the minority, and you can make the same case for great leaders. Most teams at any level have a captain but only the special few make lasting impressions on their teammates. And it all starts by being abnormal.
Kevin Hoffman is the editorial director of Coach & Athletic Director and his column, Between the Lines, appears in each issue. He can be reached at [email protected].