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The Role of a Team Captain

by on May 11, 2010 7:14 AM

I am venturing away from my usual format for this week’s column. I have been inspired recently by the amount of discussion going on about leadership, especially when it comes to sports teams, whether we are talking NBA or NHL playoffs, Little League baseball, or travel soccer. 

So I thought the best way to do this was to “put my money where my mouth is” and show you what the actual expectations were for the team captains for the Penn State Icers during my time as head coach. 

Many of these concepts can easily be transferred to expectations for managers at work or with volunteers.

I want to recognize the influence of PSU sports psychologist Dr. Dave Yukelson, past Icer coaches and team captains, and the many coaches and teachers who have influenced me over the years in developing this philosophy. I hope this will inspire you to re-examine how you determine your expectations for your team leaders as well as how important it is to communicate the expectations to them and to train them especially through the use of “teachable moments.”

The Essence of Leadership

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." (adapted from “Successories”)

Qualities of a Good Leader:

Leads by example

  • Responsible, accountable, committed
  • Gives 100 percent effort all the time

 Keeps the team moving in the right direction

  • Always puts the team first
  • Takes care of little things on/off the ice
  • Thinks and acts as a captain, not as an individual player

 Motivates team members to want to get better, pursue team goals

  • Inspires others to want to work hard, offers support when needed
  • Passionate, determined, resilient
  • Treats everyone with respect
  • Everyone has a valued role

Strong willed, not afraid to stand up for what is right

  • Principles and core values that govern the team


  • Credibility, trust, and mutual respect
  • Look out for each other
  • Always have your back

Able to Relate

  • Communicate, connect on a genuine level
  • Is in tune with the prevailing attitudes and what is happening within the team
  • Tap into team members ideas/opinions, get representation from each class in unity council

Orchestrate Team Building Functions

  • Team dinners, social functions, community activities

Player-Coach liaison

  • Go to captain first with concerns and team issues
  • Relay player/team issues to coaches
  • Maintain unified front with coaches on decisions that impact the team

Always Put Team Goals First

  • Ahead of your own and any individual player’s goals
  • Work with the coaches closely. Communication is key!
  • Your teammates will expect you to discuss issues of concern with them and to communicate them to the coaches. 
  • Have compassion for teammates and respect for individual differences. “Represent” them fairly when talking to the staff, but try not to take sides on every issue.
  • Always work toward the “Win-Win” solution. Be both supportive and tolerant of the coaches even if you don’t immediately agree with the staff’s decisions. When an impasse is apparent, “agree to disagree without being disagreeable”

Lead By Example On And Off The Ice

  • Be responsible for your own actions and consider the ramifications before you act.
  • Remember that every player (especially rookies) will look to you as a role model. You must accept this as part of your job as a leader.
  • Be receptive to new ideas from the staff.
  • Be coachable, show good sportsmanship, control your own emotions, excel in the classroom, and encourage your teammates to be open and honest with themselves (self-evaluation) and with the  captains and coaches.

 Outside Of Hockey

  • Act as a modifying influence at team “get-togethers”.  Help keep things under control. Use good judgement and take the “tough” stance when necessary.  Uphold our image!
  • Communicate with the coaching and academic staffs if a teammate is struggling off the ice with problems that we can help with.

Dealing With Practice

  • Always work hard, even if you’re having a lousy day (personally or performance-wise).
  • Show initiative, don’t wait for the coaches to act when you notice the team is either too flat or to tight.
  • Morale – be a cheerleader, friend, and especially a good listener.
  • Have fun but don’t screw around or let others either.
  • Motivating individuals. Learn to push the right buttons. Assist the coaches with certain “project” players.

Locker Room

  • Practice preparations (delegate duties).
  • Keeping the room clean, organized, and happy!
  • Saying hello to each player, either before, during or after every practice.
  • Foster team unity.

Off-Ice Workouts/Team Meetings

  • Lead the team through stretches or delegate it to others.
  • Speak to the team briefly to encourage them to work hard and achieve the days objectives.
  • Work harder than anyone in dryland and in the weight room.
  • Help coaches keep order and interest in meetings, and give the staff feedback on what is and isn’t working.

Game Preparations

  • Pre-game rituals (respect individual differences until its time to gather as a team).
  • Communicate last minute thoughts to coaches on personnel or strategy.
  • Bus – control the activities keeping the “Big Picture” in mind regarding rest, relaxation, and studying.
  • Hotels – help the staff in monitoring team rules and encouraging proper pre-game mental preparation.

Bench Management

  • Help the staff to maintain discipline and poise on the bench.
  • Help correct undesirable behavior as soon as you see it including disagreements between players, players and staff, players and referees.
  • Be a positive force no matter how tough the circumstances


Handling Player Conflicts

  • Dealing with players who might not be in the line-up
  • Dealing with conflict in the locker room or outside the rink

Communications with Coaches/Team

  • Regular talks with the staff to get your input (be honest!)
  • Hold team meetings at your discretion.  Don’t overdo it or you’ll lose their confidence.  Don’t wait to hold them only when things aren’t working.  Use meetings to feel good about yourselves and to reinforce the positives.


  • Communicate in a polite manner; you’ll get further with them. Since the coaches will do their best to influence them (probably by jumping on their case), you should work to establish a diplomatic approach.
  • Be firm, but fair and show them respect.
  • If you see an opposition player or coach talking to an official, get in a politic on our behalf. Sometimes you’re simply a deterrent to them influencing the officials.

Delegating Duties To Rookies

  • Foster a “mentor” atmosphere, not a divisive, “slave” mentality
  • Always look out for their safety, psyche
  • Hazing is STRICTLY prohibited!

Remember to have fun!

From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, Joe has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. Battista was influential in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. After a 2-year stint as VP of Hockey and Business administration for the Buffalo Sabres, “JoeBa” returned home to start “PRAGMATIC Passion”, LLC Consulting. Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 &’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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