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UK Coaching Research Team
Young people Rapport Building and Communicating

Ways to Develop Team Captains in Youth Sport

Evidence based tips to help you develop leadership skills in young people

Researchers from universities in Michigan and New York spoke to coaches in youth sport who had a reputation for developing effective team captains. This reputation was not based on win/loss records, but rather the expertise of the coaches in training captains.

What emerges from this research is that although leaders may display certain natural abilities, team captains in sport are very much made and not born. 

However, it is not enough to just pick a potential captain and then rely on them to develop skills through experience. Coaches need to take an active role in the development of their captains. Based on their findings, the researchers came up with a series of recommendations that coaches might find useful.

  1. Develop a coaching philosophy that places importance on developing captains as leader

Develop your philosophy around what attributes make a good captain and what roles and responsibilities a captain should have. It is also important to decide what level of responsibility and decision making you are willing to allow your captain.

  1. Create a trusting team and motivational climate

 Make it clear that players can discuss issues with the coach. Provide players with choices and allow them to take the initiative while explaining the reasons behind rules and limitations.

  1. Be intentional in cultivating youth leadership in captains

Recognise that all young people can learn to lead, and make your players aware that they all have the capacity to enhance their leadership skills. Encourage younger players to take on leadership roles inside and outside sport and to look for examples of successful leadership.

  1. Discuss what leadership involves

The captaincy is more than just an armband. Explain that it involves inspiring others, being a good role model and fostering acceptance of team goals. 

  1. Determine the method of selecting your captain

Decide on the characteristics of a good leader and captain before you start the selection process.

  1. Explain to captains what their roles and duties involve and the approach that will be taken when working with them

Outlining specific expectations in advance can foster a more positive experience for your captain.

  1. Help your captains learn to lead

First, develop their skills in talking to groups, motivating teammates and listening. As they develop these skills, move on to concentrate on more advanced skills such as tailoring their approach to meet the different needs of teammates.

  1. Hold regular meetings and provide feedback to captains

Allow your captain to act as spokesperson for the team and provide them with opportunities to talk about any problems they are having. In turn, you can feed back to the captain about their leadership skills and behaviours.

  1. Recognise that young people will make mistakes

Coaches must be patient with their young leaders, who may well be leading for the first time. Remember to judge performance against the age, experience and development level of your captain.

  1. Discuss with your captain how the leadership skills they learn can transfer beyond sport

While effective captains will help team performance, it is also true that the captaincy is an opportunity for the young person to learn skills that will be valuable outside sport.

Related Resources

Learn more about developing young captains in the remaining guidance and tips in this series:

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UK Coaching Research Team