Training Captains – Captains Practices

Captain’s Practices

I have met twice with my Captains now as a group, once during the late spring/early summer and a second time in midsummer.  We are now a week away from Captain’s Practices.  This is a two-week period before the actual High School season begins when, in my State, the coaching staff is not allowed to interact with the players.  But the players are pumped and want to get some touches in, so the Captains run the practices.

Leadership Qualities

In this final meeting, I like to recap our last meeting, remind them again of the leadership qualities of a Level 5 Leader from the book “Good to Great” by author Jim Collins and how to work out those qualities on the playing field during the next couple of weeks with their teammates.

  • 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.

Now we will talk about soccer!  Some topics for discussion are:

  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What can we be the best in the State at?
  • What style of soccer produces sustained positive results?

When these topics are fleshed out by them, they take ownership in them and it makes for us all to come together for the same purposes.  We will revisit these during the course of the season and fashion or practice sessions around them.

Notice that we don’t talk about systems of play, or players put in specific positions.  That will come later as we see who we have on the Varsity.  The key for them is to put together a vision for how they want their team and this season to come together.  Then we talk about how we start the process, which begins with their Captain’s practices.

These Captains are being placed in a position where they are in charge of 20-80 players with no adult supervision.  WOW!  CRAZY!  SCARRY!


  • Have all players come together as one group – our soccer program.
  • Encourage the new players to our program and make them feel welcome.
  • Let everyone have a safe and fun experience, while still working hard in a controlled environment.
  • Come into the first week of training for the High School season with a high enough level of conditioning so that time can be spent on skill development with the High School coaches rather than physical condition.  We test the first day of High School training to assess the relative physical conditioning and skill level of every athlete.  This helps us get off to a good start during the first part of the season.


  • Practice is outside during the heat of the summer. Make sure everyone brings their own water – no sharing of water bottles.  We want a healthy group coming into the season.  In addition, the Captains will bring a large container of water to refill water bottles.  The school is also open for water and bathrooms.
  • These practices are in the cool of the morning and are 90 minutes long.  Players are free to take water breaks as they need them.
  • The Captains learn about heat exhaustion and heat stroke, what signs to look for, and the precautionary measures to take.  Heat Stroke – call 911 immediately.  The safety of the players is always the primary concern.
  • The Captains have a medical kit. 
  • Ice is available in the school, or sometimes they will have a cooler with ice.
  • No hazing of any type is tolerated.
  • I work out a schedule with the parents of the seniors to make sure that at least one parent is on-site during these Captain’s Practices.


  • Soccer Players Love To Run!
  • The Captains learn about aerobic vs. anaerobic conditioning, what kind of running is best for building each type of conditioning, and what the work to rest ratio should be.
  • We talk about the difference in physical abilities between a 12/13-year-old and an 18/19-year-old, and how they will have to adjust some of their long-distance runs to accommodate the players who are not physically able to keep up with some of the other players.  One way is to split the group into two parts, the new-to-the-program players and the returning players.  Have a Captain lead each group in their distance runs and adjust the pace to the group.
  • Some of the running can be done with a soccer ball at their feet, which is more fun than just running.  However, I encourage a mixture of running with and without a soccer ball.
  • The Captains have many options for running with and without a soccer ball.  Some of the most used runs are “Peal” or the “Australian” two-line run, “Snake” two-line run, and an Army cadence run (if your Captains are creative enough to come up with an appropriate cadence 🙂 and Man U sprints.  They can also play 1v1 to a cone for 30 seconds, then rest for 90 seconds.  If they go all out, it is exhausting!

Skill Work

  • The players are all given access to the MOTI soccer app at the beginning of the summer, which contains 24 soccer skills.  We ask the players to all work on perfecting these ball manipulation skills before the High School season begins.
  • The Captains review these skills daily with the players during Captain’s Practices.  I give them a number of simple activities they can do as a group to help them practice these ball control skills.  They also have a number of activities from their club soccer coaches which they are free to use.
  • The returning players know that when the High School practices begin, we work on these ball control skills daily as they are the prerequisite for a good first touch.  If you want to play at the varsity level, your first touch has to be outstanding.

Activities and Games

  • I encourage them to play small-sided games rather than 11v11 full field.  We want the players to have more touches on the ball and opportunities to score.  Half field 6v6 up to 8v8 works well.  They can even tighten up the field by playing the width of the box, which provides more pressure.
  • Depending on the numbers, a fun game to play is “King of the Field” where three teams are involved.  Two teams play, the third team rests until a winner is determined, then the resting team replaces the team that lost.  If numbers support it, you can have two-half field games going on with a “winners” field and a “losers” field.  Play for 5 minutes, then move according to the score.  Add the 5th team to rest if numbers are up, or even a third field.  The key is small-sided, competitive, with lots of touches and action.
  • Perhaps the most important part of playing games is dividing up into teams.  I encourage them to stay away from the Captains manually choosing players to play for their team.  Remember how much it hurt when you were one of the last ones are chosen!  I give them some other creative ways to divide into teams and to make each team competitive.

That is a lot for these new Captains to process and put into practice.  Fortunately, they have been in your program for up to four years or more, have had great Captains and leaders come before them to show them the way, and have us counsel them.

The First Week of Training!

Now let’s have a great first week of Coach’s Training, tryouts, and enter into our first games of the season prepared.  We will talk about that next when I share with you some ideas for your first week of the High School season.

Learn more here – Coach’s Corner: Developing Leaders

Character Development Series – Relationship Building

MOTI Sports – Character Development Series: Relationship Building

Watch Development Series: Responsibility

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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

Coach’s Corner: Training Captains

Getting to Know  You

Players are very often surprised that when I meet them first time that we don’t talk at all about football.”  – Jurgen Klopp

Now that you know who your captains for next season are, what do you do to prepare them for their leadership role with your team?

I plan on getting together 3 times before the season as a group.  I pick a public place where there is food – pizza is always a favorite – and we can take up a table for an hour or so.  I also ask an assistant coach or coaches to join us if they can.

Since our high school soccer season is in the fall, I set the first meeting in late spring or early summer.  The second meeting in mid July.  The third meeting right before Captain’s Practices begin (2 weeks before the start of the high school season for my state).

I will often bring a deck of cards or a board game to the first meeting just to break the ice a bit.  These captains love to compete!   We will play “Hearts” or “Spades”, or play a board game like “Apples to Apples” or “Clean Slate”.  These games are fun and even a bit enlightening!

The first meeting is all about getting to know each other. 

Along with having fun playing a game, I like to play “21 Questions” with each other.  I want to be open with them, just as they are with me and each other, so they can ask me questions also.  Here is a quick list of a few of the questions:

  • Do you have a nickname?
  • Cell phone number – you probably already have this.  But if you don’t  know, it is a good time to get it.  I only group text.  Or your school might have a message system within an App that you can use to communicate.  Safety, of course, is the biggest concern with any form of communication.  I make sure my other coaches are linked in to all communications with parents and team members.
  • What is your favorite song or group or both?
  • What is your favorite movie – or movies?
  • What are some of your favorite lines from movies?
  • Sports – What sports did you play growing up and at what level? 
  • What is your soccer playing experience?  Years, teams, levels, etc.
  • What Superhero do you most resemble?
  • Volunteer – how have you volunteered in your community, soccer or otherwise?
  • What is a favorite memory you have with a parent or grandparent?
  • Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend?  If so, what is her/his name, how long, where did you meet, fun things you like to do together, etc.
  • Think of (or name) a teacher or coach that had a positive influence on your life.  Why? 
  • Think of a teacher or coach whom you had a negative experience with.  What was it that they said or did that turned you off?
  • What is the name of your favorite pet (or stuffed animal) and the name of the street of your home?  Put them together and you get your rapper name (or Super Hero name, MMA name, etc)!

I also like to go and watch them play, either soccer or any activity they are in.  It is fun to watch them participate in any activity that is important to them.  It is also fun to sit with their parents and get to know them better.  Then after the event, just say “Hi”, build them up about their performance and tell them how much fun it is to watch them play.

We are building a team together this year, just as all the captains and players before them built their teams and our program.  It takes trust, and trust doesn’t just happen.  Let us, as coaches, be intentional about how we get to know our captains, the leaders of our team.

Next time we will talk about leadership, using as our base the Level 5 Leadership as outlined in the book “Good to Great” by author Jim Collins.  We set the bar high for our Captains!

Read part one COACH’S CORNER: Choosing High School Captains article here.

View another COACH’S CORNER article here. – Put the Ball in the Parent’s Court

Coach’s Corner: Choosing High School Captains

Players that aren’t true leaders but try to be, always bash other players after a mistake. True leaders on the pitch already assume others will make mistakes.Johan Cruyff

It is a blast choosing Captains and training them for my High School team. I like to impress upon them that this is their team, their friends, and their last high school season if they are seniors. Players consider it a great honor to be a Captain. Let’s help them to become the best Captains they can be.

What is your selection process?

Most teams have a voting process, where the current players – usually the current varsity players only – and the coaching staff vote for the captains for the next season. The Activities (or Athletic) Director also may have a say. 

I prefer to have the captains chosen before the end of the season banquet. It’s a great way to transition from this past season’s glory into the next season when the captains are announced. I give my current captains each an envelope with the name of one of the new captains along with a captain’s armband. They then open the envelope, announce the captain and give them their armband.

If you are a coach who is not connected in any other way to the school, your Athletic Director (AD) may have information about your players which you do not have. For example, is the candidate academically eligible? Or has the candidate been involved in an activity that would make them ineligible for any disciplinary situation? I am not a teacher in the school district, so I count heavily on my AD for guidance in choosing my captains.

Some schools require candidates to fill out an application with the school AD before they become eligible to be voted on by the team. I have found this helpful. It surprises me how, in some years, I have had to encourage some players to apply. It also gives me some further insight into my captains.

I encourage all of my returning Varsity players to apply, although I tend to lean towards senior class captains. There is nothing quite like senior leadership.

Once you decide on the process, you will need to determine how many captains you want. I personally like three captains. With injuries and substitutions, I always want to make sure that I have at least one captain playing at all times. Three seems to work best.

I also count on the parents of the captains for several duties during the season. Again, having at least three groups of parents involved with me helps to take care of the many “opportunities” to make the season special and relieves me of many seasonal tasks that I, as the head coach, need to oversee.

In the end, your captains become your greatest allies. They become your eyes and ears on the whole program. You seek their input and counsel. It is very hard to develop close relationships with your whole team. I focus on these three first.

Now getting to know them and training them to be good leaders is for another episode 🙂

View another COACH’S CORNER article here. – Put the Ball in the Parent’s Court

COACH’S CORNER: Put the Ball in the Parent’s Court

In my 40 plus years of coaching from U6 to U19 at the recreational, club and High School levels I can count on one hand the number of parent issues I have had.  The key – open communication.  Try these suggestions:

Personally engage with every parent and player through your teams method (management system, email, etc.)  Make it from you, with your contact information and encouragement to contact you directly.

Choose the number of players for your team so that they all will play significant time in each match.  For my high school team I like to keep it to 16 players.  I play equal time for as many players as I can, or at least 10 minutes per half if the size of my team is larger.

Rotate the starters.  Parents and players are not aware that most goals are scored in the last 10 minutes of a half or of the game.  Use that to your advantage.

Ask for volunteers for team parties, meals, etc.  Get the parents involved.

Post on social media.  Make sure you rotate the focus so that each player has a mention somewhere during the season.

Meet with the parents where they are . . . in the stands!  I like to spend at least one half per season in the stands sitting with the parents.  I allow them to ask me anything they want.  It can be about me, my family, my coaching style, our style of play, their child, their child’s playing time, etc.

If you are an open book to the parents, they will know that you have the best interest of their child at heart.  That is what a parent wants to know.  Give them as many opportunities as you can to express to you their thoughts and feelings.  The ball is in their court if you make yourself available to them.

View another COACH’S CORNER article here.

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WH Passing Square Technical 1 – Tactical Drill

View the article Making Skills Stick here.

Character Development: Responsibility

MOTI Sports – Character Development Series – Responsibility.

Watch the previous Character Development Series: Emotional Management