Written by Scott Bauman

Simply put, player-lead (preferably the most skilled) programs are the most successful. If polled, I would bet that this would be consistent with the experiences of coaches across the country. I have yet to witness a team win consistently despite having ongoing #Leadership issues throughout the year. Beyond the wins and losses, player-lead programs often have the most enjoyable experiences. There tends to be more ownership of the results, connectivity in the locker room, and memories that can create a strong alumni fraternity/sorority.

One of our job as coaches is to create a competitive culture. And leadership is arguably one of the most influential variables contributing to a program’s success. And admittedly is one of my biggest challenges for developing year-to-year. A coach of mine – while playing – often reminded our rising seniors and leaders:

“We can work to build a culture for years that has the potential to tear-down in 30 seconds from the intereactions with teammates.”

While this seems more coach driven, we understood the premise, which may in fact been their end goal anyways. Despite efforts of creating a collective culture strong in its core values; during the midst of a season established roles and expectations can change an individual’s personal values constantly testing a team’s leadership. Our program aims to empower players to step-up to the opportunity of leading the program during their time. Ultimately, leaving their footprints in a positive direction following their departure. This is a brief reflection on our process of identifying, developing, and empowering #Leadership of the locker room.

Player-Lead Program
  • What we look for in a leader
  • What we tell our team about leadership
  • How we decide leaders/captains
  • Responsibility & training of a leader

Leaders often emerge from a combination of earned social status within the team dynamic, perceived sense of self-efficacy on the floor, and the peripheral vision to drive the locker room toward a collective mission.

We look for a combination of character attributes that reflect our core values – dependability, respect, persistence, and togetherness. In addition to emulating our core values, leaders tend to have an authentic commanding presence. There is oft-referenced lead by example or vocal leader existing within locker rooms. This is why philosophically I am not inclined to believe leadership is innate. Particularly at the high school level, maturity breeds perspective and confidence which can enable some to find their voice and stature.

What We Tell Our Guys:

“If you know, teach.”

“If you aren’t talking, then you are presumed to be concerned only with yourself.”

“Lead with substance.”

“Your punctuality reflects your priorities.”

Chatter can be misinterpreted with communication. Simply talking on defense disregarding intent lacks situational awareness. Recklessly jumping on a teammate following a mistake lacks emotional intelligence. And saying nothing leaves coaches to assumptions, which doesn’t often lean in the players’ favor.

A leader demonstrates punctuality, not limited to just showing up to practice when expected. Punctuality places an emphasis on timing. Promising leaders can separate themselves by recognizing the time to be vocal or when to set the example. The irony is that those same leaders never have time to mind their own business. Always having to be on comes with the role. A leader is a perception. A captain is a title. That is why these two terms can be mutually exclusive.

The hardest part of being a leader (captain):

Creating separation. Leadership demands the difficult responsibility of separating – friendship, emotional attachment, individual objectives – from what the team needs in any particular moment.

Possibly, even more so at the high school level than college or professional, maturity can play a significant influence on an individual’s ability to lead. Think of the friendship that consists of a high school locker room as opposed to playing with college or professional teammates. It is likely to have developed over a shorter time period with potentially fewer commonalities shared because of childhood differences. To have the ability to challenge a friend, or devalue personal goals for a team objective is really tough at the high school level.

Our Captains are Nominated & Voted Based on Three Questions:

  1. Who does the best job connecting with everyone on the team?
  2. Who does the best job demonstrating accountability and holding others accountable?
  3. Who do you trust the most to be ready to compete at all times?

Prior to voting the expectations and responsibilities are communicated to the group. Our program looks to delegate growth opportunities (not limited to) for the following activities:

  • Sunday School Captain’s Meetings – 30 Minutes prior to Sunday Practice
  • Leads Pre-Practice and Dynamic/Static Stretching
  • 1st Words to Team prior to Practice following Stretching
  • Locker Room Cleanliness (Home & Away)
  • Opportunity for Invitation to Coach Summer League Team

There is nothing additional for captains, that a leader cannot already emulate within our program. This is very clear during the voting process. The process of voting for captains doesn’t limit who can help lead our team and program. However, having earned that role amongst their peers; our staff attempts to provide an additional platform for that group to improve their communication, gain more insight into our program decision-making, and embrace being a brand ambassador.

The role places the burden of being the rock and the glue. During the most difficult situations, everyone looks to your mannerisms for confidence. That poise is the adhesive to keeping everyone connected with the primary objective of competing at our highest level at the forefront. Being a captain is not based on the “C” on your chest, but the pride you take in the “W” for the program.


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