Coach’s Corner: Developing Leaders

Training High School Captains – Developing Team Leaders

A player who makes a team great is much more valuable than a great player.”  John Wooden

The last time I met with my Captains, we had fun, played a game, and got to know each other over some food.  It was a great time.

Now I have had a chance to see them playing in other activities and have made a few connections with them during the past few months.  Let’s get together again and take a look at some of the characteristics of great leaders.

I like to use the findings from the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins as the basis for our discussion.  Briefly, here is what I will focus on from this outstanding book. 

Professor Collins and his research staff examined the performance of 1,435 publicly held “good” companies over a 40-year period.  They discovered 11 companies that consistently outperformed the market.  What did these 11 companies have in common?  The leadership qualities of their leader, which he calls a Level 5 leader.  In my case, these are the qualities I would like to see in my captains.

  • Embody a mix of personal humility and professional will. 
  • Display workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.
  • Display modesty, are unassuming and understated.
  • Fanatically driven with an incurable need to produce sustained results.
  • Attribute success factors to others than themselves, but if things go poorly they take full responsibility.
  • Set up their successors for even greater success in the next generation.

In this second meeting, we talk about each of these and how we can exhibit these qualities on the field during practices and games, in school, at home, with our friends, and anywhere else we are at.

I will use as an example Mike Eruzione from the 1981 USA Hockey Gold Medal Olympic Team.  He barely made the team, never played in the NHL, and yet was the Captain of the team!  Then I pull out the “Again” clip from the movie “Miracle” (the greatest sports movie of all time – well if you are from Minnesota anyway :).

I also use as examples our captains from the past few seasons – captains that they practiced and played with.  I like to point out the times when a captain did something that showed Level 5 Leadership.  For Example:

  • After finishing his mile run, a Captain noticed that a couple of freshmen were not in good shape and were lagging far behind the rest in their mile run.  The Captain jumped back onto the track and ran alongside the freshmen for the rest of their run, positively encouraging them all the way.
  • My first week of practice I like all my seniors to pair up with a new student during the first few days to get to know them and introduce them to our program.  They become training partners for skill work and activities.  They often get to know the incoming players a bit during Captain’s Practices the week prior, so they have an idea of the skill level of the incoming player.  What I loved to see was one of my Captains purposely seeking out a new player with very little soccer or athletic ability and welcoming the new player into our soccer and school community.  That new player found a home at our school and in our soccer program, and continued to play soccer throughout his high school years.

There are so many directions you can take this time with your captains.  Have fun with it.  Let them talk it out.  You, as a coach, do a lot of listening and ask some probing questions.  We want our captains to be intentional about who they are, what they do, and why they do it.  We want it all to come from their heart.

The food is good, the conversation is great, and we still have not talked much about soccer!  I guess soccer is like life.

Read another Coach’s Corner: Choosing High School Captains

By Brad Carlson

Brad has coached a variety of sports in the community, middle school, and high school for 40 years including coaching the MN 2021 Class A State High School Champion.  He has coached soccer from U6 at the recreational level to U19 at the club level and all age groups at the high school level, including 11 years as a head coach.  He holds a USSF "B" coaching license and USC diplomas.