Team Captain: The Importance of Picking the Right One in Sports

team captain

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Being a coach is a lot more than wearing a baseball cap and yelling at your athletes from the sidelines. One of the biggest and most important jobs for any coach is making sure that they pick the right team captain for the team. A captain must exemplify several qualities, most importantly leadership, and it is a coaches duty to discern and vet who the right athlete for the job is. While some may not see the importance of picking a team captain, this individual is not only the face of the team, but they are the voice of confidence and reason when moments become overwhelming.

Making the decision of who will be the go-to person for a team is one that requires a large amount of deliberation and feedback, from not only other coaches, but team members as well.

Team Captain Selection Process

The team captain selection process is something that takes careful planning and strong consideration. A coach should take the time to figure out exactly which way they would like to approach the process in order to ensure the most effective outcome for their team in the long run.

Do Not Quickly Move through the Process

Some coaches may find it easier to assign the role of the team captain to an athlete that excels on the field but, if it were that simple, this role would not carry much weight. As a coach, it is your responsibility to carefully weigh the pros and cons of all serious candidates for the position. Coaches need to throw their ego and expectations out the window to ensure that their captain truly wants to be in that position of power and fully understands what that role encompasses. A captain is not allowed the luxury of being able to slack off or have “bad moments” like other team members.

Be Realistic with Expectations and Pressures

While a team captain is expected to be a leader, many young people do not understand the full scope of leadership or what their approach to situations would be. Coaches need to make sure to remember that (first and foremost) they are dealing with kids, teenagers, or young adults. It’s a major juggling act because coaches are the people that set the expectations for their teams but also need to keep themselves from exerting too much pressure on impressionable minds.

While it would be amazing to have a team captain that could police all of their teammates, provide constant and appropriate motivation, and get teammates that do not care about academics to do better, that is way too much for a young person to handle. Coaches should tailor their expectations to the ages of their athletes and be that source of constant support if their captains have questions or concerns.

How to Choose the Right Team Captain

Now that the selection process has been explained, many coaches wonder the best methods for choosing a team captain. There are several ways to approach this situation; each method has its own ups and downs.

Let the Team Vote

One of the most common methods for choosing the right team captain is letting the athletes on the team have full control. In theory, this decision makes sense because athletes are the ones that spend the time on the field or court sweating and competing with each other, meaning that they should know who the right person for the job is. Also, by allowing the team to vote for the captain, it shows athletes that coaches value their opinion by putting the power in their hands.

While that sounds all good and well, one of the major drawbacks of this method is that the coach selection process could become a popularity contest. Just like any other social activity, sports can become an area where popular team members dominate both on and off the field. If too much power is given to the teammates, they could vote for someone that is popular in a social setting but does not have the necessary skills to lead a team when times get tough.

It is much harder for young athletes to understand concepts like emotional intelligence because their minds are still forming. As a coach, it is important to closely monitor the maturity level of your athletes when determining who would be the best all-around choice.

Coaching Staff Selections

On the other spectrum, some organizations leave the process of team captain selection to the coaching staff. Another viable option, coaches are people that should be able to make objective decisions that always put the best interests of the team first. A sign of a great coach is being able to compartmentalize and wear many different hats at the exact same time.

However, coaches are human beings and the idea or ​expectation that they should be objective is not realistic. Whether they want to admit it or not, coaches naturally favor some athletes or another because they might have better chemistry or energy with them on and off the field. Giving too much power to a coach during this crucial process could be detrimental to the team in the long run.

For example, a coach may think their selection will be a perfect captain because he or she has a great academic standing, performs well under pressure, and is focused. But, if that same candidate does not have the respect of their teammates, it could lead to a horribly awkward dynamic that would leave all parties feeling uneasy.

Team Nominations with Coach Endorsement

A hybrid of the processes previously mentioned is having both parties actively participate. It is a way of ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard. By giving team members the choice of nominating who they believe to be captain material, the ball is initially in the court of the people who are out on the field competing. Once the nominations have been counted, the coach then has the opportunity to deliberate and ultimately endorse the team’s choices.

In order to avoid any disagreements concerning team member selections and coaching expectations, the coaching staff needs to stress the seriousness of the process and go into great detail about the duties that the captain is expected to accomplish on and off the field. If a clear rubric is laid out, the team and coaches will be in greater agreement with one another when nominations are due.

The Importance of Picking a Team Captain in Sports

Something that a coach should realize is that most of their athletes know what a captain is, but they don’t understand the importance of the role. If you were to ask student-athletes (high school and collegiate) what a team captain is, many would be able to recite a definition but would struggle to find a deeper meaning to the position of a captain.

A coach should help their players understand the role of a captain by explicitly explaining all of the elements that encompass the role. While the on-field activities matter, making sure to always stress the importance of grades and good behavior or presentability are also things that every team captain needs to take seriously in order to make their tenure successful. The coach needs to make sure that their players know as much about the position as possible before assuming that the star athlete wants to take on that position.

A team captain is a person that sets the example for other team members by being the person that they look up to when they have questions or need motivation. Not only is the captain someone that should be highly skilled, but they are also a well-rounded person that knows the importance of high academic standing, community service, and an overall good image of the team. A team captain cannot be someone that is irresponsible or unreliable, as they shoulder a lot more of the burden than a regular teammate.


As one can see, coaches have a lot of responsibilities both on and off the field or court. While creating game plans, ensuring that their athletes are motivated, and checking on their academic standing is a full-time job; coaches also need to keep track of those on the team that exhibits leadership potential. The team captain is someone that has to be the beacon of encouragement and faith when other teammates feel unmotivated to continue working.

The captain also has to set the pace both on and off the field. Coaches are encouraged to thoroughly vet their candidates before a decision is made. And while pure objectivity is not possible, a coach needs to make sure that this decision is one that the majority of teammates understand and respect. Coaches need to make sure that they take the time to get to know their potential candidates as all around people as opposed to only caring about their on-field performance.

Athletes who display integrity, motivation, sportsmanship, and commitment to excellence should always be at the top of any coaches list, especially if they are looking for a captain that can act as a source of inspiration to the rest of the team.

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