Picking a captain is one of hockey’s most storied traditions. At the older age groups they play a vital part as a role model for the rest of their teammates and can act as a liaison and line of communication between the coaching staff and players. Captains need to balance what the coaching staff wants to deliver while looking out for the best interests of their teammates. However, it’s important to determine when the right age is to start naming a captain.
Teams shouldn’t be in a rush to put a ‘C’ on a jersey just because they think it’s necessary. More and more in the NHL we are seeing teams go multiple seasons without an official captain because they are waiting to find the right time and person for the honour, especially for rebuilding teams that are relying more on youth.
In younger age groups, players may not be fully able to understand what leadership is and how it works within a team setting. A player’s on-ice skills don’t necessarily make them the best fit to be an automatic captain. As they grow older, how a player acts off the ice is much more telling of who a captain should be. The captain should create a culture of accountability and leadership and be looked towards in close games to send positive messaging to their teammates.
Building Leaders for Life
There are many different ways for a team to pick its leader. Coaches can use an off-ice practice session with the players to review how and why leadership is important and what qualities their group has. Perhaps it is there that the picture of who the most appropriate captain is will emerge.
Certain leadership styles fit different types of groups. Some teams respond best to a loud, vocal leader while others prefer someone who uses their words more carefully. There is no right or wrong leadership style but ultimately the team has to respect not only its captains but the rest of their teammates as well. Having a balance in leadership styles is crucial.
Every member of the team is equally as important as the next and being captain does not signify that you are better than your teammates. Here are some suggestions of how teams can pick their captain and why each may or may not work:
Sometimes it’s best to let the players decide who they want to represent them. A natural leader may emerge that the group respects and will listen to. The captain is willing to sacrifice for their teammates and best show what the team is all about. However, this may turn into a popularity contest and the loudest voice doesn’t always equate to the most appropriate choice.
The coaching staff come into the season with a gameplan and idea of how they want their team to work as a unit. When players buy into a system, they work seamlessly together. Coaches can take a look at the team’s social dynamics from an outside perspective and make a decision from there. Working together with the players and reviewing what kind of leadership you are looking for could lead everyone to the right choice. Having players nominate teammates who they trust, work hard and have the best relationships with gives them an input in the selection process and a group for the coaches to choose from.
Giving everyone an opportunity to be captain could end up with a few pleasant surprises. Sometimes all a player needs is a chance to prove what kind of leader they are and what different styles everyone brings to the table. This also gives every player the responsibility of being a captain. Other twists on this concept include a different captain on the road and at home as well as rotating the ‘A’s and ‘C’ between a leadership group. It could be tougher to find a consistent messaging and communication method this way.
With an established team that has been together for many years, it could be best to carry over the leadership from year to year. The group dynamics have been settled and the unit works well together. A shake up may not be necessary.
The captain can hold a lot of influence over how the group performs. Players will look to their captain and follow their lead. Having the hardest worker as the group’s leader can set the bar for what the expectations of each player is and that they will be held accountable if the effort level isn’t matched. This level of maturity could bring a team closer together and have them more prepared.
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