20 Strategies to Develop Your Team Leaders

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Your team captains can make or break your season.

When you look back over your coaching career, I'll bet that you had great team leaders during your most successful seasons and non-existent or poor team leaders during your most frustrating seasons. Your team captains have a huge impact on your team's success, your sanity, and your satisfaction as a coach. Rather than hoping you have effective team leaders, you must invest the time and energy to develop them.

Here are 20 practical strategies to develop more responsible and respected team leaders for your team from our Team Captain's Leadership Manual.


1. Look for leaders when selecting your team.

Of course you will look for talent when you are recruiting and selecting athletes for your team - but also be on the lookout for leadership ability. Look for athletes who were team captains at other levels, involved with student council, or voted class president. It is much easier to help athletes further develop their leadership skills than to start from scratch.

2. Acknowledge the importance of your leaders.

Let your leaders know how important they are to you and your program's success. Don't be afraid to the let them know how much you will rely on them to set the standards, keep the team focused, handle conflicts, etc. You may even want to tell them that it is "their" team. You will be there to help them but ultimately it's the athletes, and in particular the leaders, who determine how far the team will go.

3. Explore your leaders' definition of leadership.

Ask your leaders to describe their philosophy of leadership and what it means to be an effective leader. Their experience of leadership might be quite different from yours. Talk about the leaders whom they respect in their lives and why. Also ask them about leaders they don't respect and why. This will give you tremendous insights into their model of leadership.

4. Discuss what you expect of your leaders.

Sit down with your leaders and discuss exactly what you expect from them. Let them know their responsibilities and how you expect them to conduct themselves. Clarifying your expectations and their roles ahead of time will greatly minimize problems and misunderstandings down the road.

5. Discuss the risks and hazards of being a leader.

Talk frankly about the inherent challenges and problems your leaders are likely to face. They will have to deal with conflict, they won't always be liked, and they will always be watched. Be sure they understand that these challenges go with the territory and that they have to be willing to handle them.

6. Provide your captains with opportunities to lead.

Look to provide your captains with various opportunities to lead the team. Let them run warm-ups before practice. Let them make any announcements that need to be made for the benefit of the group. Have them contact their teammates to inform them when you have changes in your schedule. You can even involve them as leaders in various drills that you will use throughout practice. Or take it a step further and let them plan a practice from time to time. Give them as many opportunities as reasonably possible to help them become better leaders.

7. Give your captains input on decisions.

Solicit your captains' input on decisions that impact the team. These can be with minor choices like where to eat after the game to major decisions like giving their input on how to handle discipline situations. The more responsibility and input you give them, the more they will develop as leaders for your team.

8. Encourage your leaders to build a relationship with each teammate.

Encourage your leaders to invest the time to build a working relationship with each of their teammates. Just as you need to know each of your players as a coach, so too must your captains be able to relate to each of their teammates.

9. Have frequent discussions, chats, check-ins with your leaders.

You and your leaders should communicate frequently. Whether you designate specific meeting times or check-in with each other informally, you will need to continually be on the same page to be effective. Use our Captain's Weekly Monitoring Sheet in our Team Captain's Leadership Manual as a template if you are looking for something to guide your discussions.

10. Support your captains - be there for them.

Since being a captain is an extremely challenging job, especially for teenagers and young adults, you need to be there for them. They will have internal and external struggles throughout the season. They will be torn between meeting your expectations and their desire to be liked and accepted by their teammates. Understand this and help them work through it. You also will need to watch their backs and back them up when they confront their teammates. They need to know that they have your complete support and trust.

10 More Practical and Proven Strategies

Our Championship Coaches Network members can click here to learn 10 more strategies to develop your leaders.


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