When I was a head coach at the high school level, one of the first things I wanted to see in my program was true leadership. I wanted leaders by example and vocal leaders. I especially wanted to see both of those aspects from our team captains.
Over the years I had seen team captain voting become a popularity contest. I couldn’t stand when I would see a senior not really fit to be a captain “campaigning” for popularity among the sophomores. I wanted a better answer so I developed a Senior Leadership Program and Captain Training Program.
Many of the ideas we incorporated were borrowed from a number of different resources, but we put it together into something that addressed our needs in team leadership. I will address the different components in posts over the course of this week.
The first aspect of the program was that we put the onus on the seniors. In their end of the season meetings with me they expressed disappointment in how our previous season’s senior class behaved as leaders. Therefore, as we presented the program to our seniors we let them know that it was designed to address all of the issues they brought up, and more importantly, it was designed to make them the leaders they desired to be*
*as a footnote, this particular upcoming senior class had a track record of doing the wrong things off the field and not being very accountable. We knew we had to do something different. Up to this point when they were a team on their own-junior high through junior varsity, they had not had a winning season. Their dependability was a key factor.
This was a group that didn’t particularly like to be forced to do things, so the leadership program was made voluntary. We stated it this way, “All upcoming seniors MUST participate in leadership training and meet some minimum requirements IF you wish to be eligible to be a captain for the #### season. Not all seniors will be on the ballot. You do not have to participate if you do not wish to be a captain.
They took the bait. 75% of our seniors chose to participate. Those who didn’t really were the guys who were not in trouble off the field, so that told us right away where the challenges of developing real leadership in our program lie (the guys who wanted to lead had dependability issues). We did encourage a few kids to take part in the program because we thought it would benefit them. One was a very introverted individual who most likely would not see the field much, but he had dedicated himself through junior high, and this could have benefits for him for his future. The others added diversity in that they were kids who did the right thing all of the time. They were not likely to be chosen captains because they were role players at best on the field and for the most part were new in that they had joined the program in the last couple years. What we didn’t want was this only being a certain clique involved in the leadership program. We wanted walls within that senior class to come down.
We set this up as a ten week program developed around Jeff Janssen’s book The Team Captain’s Leadership Training Manual. Each player was required to obtain a copy. This is a book that I had recently read, and I felt that the material would be very beneficial in developing leadership from this particular group.
Players would meet with me in the morning before school since we would not have any interference with any other activities they were involved in. Their attendance one time per week over the ten week course was mandatory. They were expected to have each reading assignment complete along with any activities in the chapter assigned, and they were to be prepared to discuss all of it.
We set-up the following guidelines for the program. My comments as to why we did this are in italics:
You will be expected to follow all of the guidelines in our program, which include:
1. Make good decisions – no problems/trouble inside or outside of school.
2. Have outstanding attendance at team work-outs. Be there, be visible, lead by example. Our spring sport athletes immediately became a presence at our workouts when they could. If there was a rain out or a day off, they would at least be there and be encouraging. We did not make them work-out in respect for their in-season sport. We never told them to do this. It just happened. The rest of our upcoming senior class showed new life and energy.
3. Show all coaches and adults respect. “Yes sir – no sir.”
4. Obey and maintain all team rules for yourself and your teammates. We noticed an immediate accountability with the team.
In addition, there will be other requirements for you to be eligible to be a captain:
1. Keep a notebook of your contacts with every team member of our program. You will be required to interview every team member of our program (players and coaches) to learn something about each of your teammates. We needed to eliminate cliques and open up the lines of communication. What those guys who in the past did to look for a sophomore “popularity vote” was valuable in the sense that it brought the older guys together with the younger guys. We said, “Let’s make them do that.” We wanted them to know something about every player. The notebook and the interview were just ways to open up communication and to make sure they did it. Yes, it was an idea I took from “Remember the Titans.” The main thing though, was if these guys were going to be our leaders, they had to make connections with their teammates regardless of what grade they were in. This definitely became something that helped this team bond.
2. Attend one booster club meeting and give a three minute update of something going on in our program. Our boosters did a great job of supporting football. The parents really liked the idea of the leadership program and loved it when the players showed up to speak. I would guide our players in what topics they should speak about. For the players, it was important that they saw how much they were supported and how important football was to our community. They had a responsibility and accountability that went beyond their buddies. They were representing a community.
3. Have an interview with the Head Coach and assistants to discuss our expectations for captains and to assess your qualifications (summer). This was to be treated as a job interview. At the very least they would have some great preparation for their futures. They took this seriously as well, showing up on time, dressed up, and representing themselves very well.
4. Speak to the team once during the summer either before or after summer conditioning about a selected topic (5 minutes). Vocal leadership was important, and the key thing that this group pointed out as missing from the previous one. We felt that giving them opportunities to speak could help them speak to the team when necessary in the future. I met and spoke with each player about the topic they chose and why. I also provided any ideas they could add to aid them in their talk. The process really allowed me to key in on some of their main focuses and concerns. I learned a lot through the process.
5. Be rated by your teachers as far as dependability and potential to lead (end of school year). NOTE: This will make up only a small portion of total points, but as a leader, others’ perceptions about you are important if you are to represent our program. This really put them on notice of their status and responsibility to do right in the school. They took this seriously. I was sure to make the evaluations due before teachers really got into finals so that this didn’t become a hassle for them. I notified all teachers about our leadership program at the start of it, and let them know that they would be asked for an evaluation from our participants if they had them in class. The teachers were great in providing me feedback on the participants. All of the feedback on our players was positive.
6. We will have 3-4 outside speakers on leadership topics. You must attend these sessions. I enlisted the help of our booster club for guest speakers. We had some alums and other local leaders help us out. The guest speakers really appreciated the chance to help and became huge supporters of the program.
7. Participate in community service-10 hours. For the past couple of seasons we had been involved in several different projects, and we had some scheduled for the spring. This group did an outstanding job participating and taking on leadership roles in the project.
A point system will be explained later. The team vote will make up a major portion off the final rating that will determine who our captains will be for the season. In addition to our two captains, our other seniors who have completed all of the requirements of the program and have received a favorable rating will be our second level of leadership, and on an alternating basis serve as a captain for a game week and game. This was exciting for all of our seniors. Our tradition was to have two captains and this allowed for more participation in the leadership of the team. This was something we shared with the whole team, so they understood their role in selecting the leadership of the team.
I will share more on this leadership program throughout the coming week.
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