From the Coach’s Corner: Captains Aug 5, 2014

The team captain is the one who by their attitude and play is really saying, “get on my back…let’s get this done.”

By Tom Curry

Each year, many students and parents concern themselves with the child being named or voted “captain “of their particular team. I have had a number of parents over the years express concern over voting results, the formula used, who tallied the votes, etc. It has amazed me each time this has happened because it is inevitably the parent of a student who has no business being a captain at all.

The reasons some would like their child to be team captain are many. A few parents told me they wanted their child to be captain because it would look good on their college transcript. One parent told me that their son deserved to be the captain because he was a senior and that seniors should always be the captain. Another parent stated that it would be a real help in the future for business if her son was the captain of our team. Those of you that have read this column from time to time probably have figured out how far most of these type requests fared. If you guessed “not well”…congrats and move ahead to the bonus round! While it is an honor to be voted captain or chosen to be the captain, more important are the duties that go along with that selection. Some captains I had were real leaders. Others just became natural leaders by their play and example of how to be a leader. The one thing I will state that is something I truly believe…if you have to ask for your child to be the captain, they probably aren’t “captain material” anyway.

The New York Yankees, arguably the most successful professional sports franchise in history, have had just a few captains. Lou Gehrig was one of them. As a captain and player, he never took a day off and led his team in many categories. His speech on Lou Gehrig day was a great insight into the man that was indeed, “the Pride of the Yankees”. There was not another captain on the Yankees until Thurman Munson. After that, Craig Nettles, then Ron Guidry and Willie Randoph. Then came Derek Jeter. Jeter, who will retire from the Yankees after this year, has been the face of the franchise for 20 years. He has made some of the great plays ever seen and is known for his fine behavior both on and off the field. His toughness and resiliency is respected throughout the league and by just about everyone in sports. Even the most ardent Yankee “haters” have to admit his career is one of accomplishment and honor.

Usually, the best player is the captain. The best player is the one who carries the team when things get tough late in the game. And that doesn’t always mean the highest scorer. He or she is the one who by their attitude and play is really saying, “get on my back…let’s get this done.”

The captain is not always the player who yells the loudest either. Many people confuse being loud with leadership. Watch practices. Watch the person who is always giving the superior effort, who encourages everyone around them to improve and makes everyone on the team better each day. There’s your captain.

One of my former players and captains is now an actor and a model. Make no mistake about his ability as a player, a leader and a captain. Many a night he carried us on his back helping us win back to back league championships. He wasn’t the biggest guy out there. But he was as tough a player as we ever had and always found a way to make the tough basket, grab the big rebound or make the big defensive stop. He didn’t yell at his teammates. In fact, he never raised his voice. He would just put his arm around another player and tell him that he was better than he was playing and that it was really necessary for that player to step up right now. His last play in his last home game was a thing of beauty. He was about 6’2″ and proceeded to take off from just inside the foul line and throw down one of the best dunks I have ever seen over the other team’s best player. He got a standing ovation that night when he left the game and has gone on to great things in the movies and television.

So what makes a good captain? I may not be able to define every trait necessary that your child would need. But I can tell you a few things captains are not. They are usually not loud or boastful. Their actions speak much louder than their words. They are always “gamers”! They want to compete. They never quit. They are always gracious whether winning or losing. They are never critical and seek the right way, not necessarily, their way. They are resilient through and through. They are resourceful, dependable, trustworthy and set good examples for the rest of the team to follow.
I once had a young man who did something dishonest during a school trip just before school had ended. He had been voted captain for the next year and was truly a good kid. This was a mistake and an error in judgment. When I heard what had happened, I stripped him of his captaincy. His mother, a widow, called me and said that he was despondent and wouldn’t eat. He was really disappointed. I explained to her that my concern was that if her son had been so easily persuaded to take something that didn’t belong to him by other students on this field trip, where was he going to be in college when similar temptation struck? I also told her that I wasn’t really concerned with how he felt. I was more concerned with how I felt about him being a leader of our team the following season. To make a long story short, we agreed that he could work his way back to the captaincy in a number of ways and really showing the leadership skills necessary to live up to the title captain. He did and today he is an outstanding doctor and he still tells me it was the best lesson he ever learned.

Captain! It is important and is a respected title. It is not for every student athlete. You can’t buy it and it must be earned. Just remember Gehrig and Jeter and what they brought to the Yankees and baseball history! And while a student may not be the next Gehrig or Jeter, there isn’t a reason why he or she cannot exhibit some of those same traits that those two men shared with their teammates and the world.

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