Jaimee Rindy | middle blocker at Coe College, juniors’ club coach
It’s common knowledge among coaches that having a united and cohesive team requires player leadership. While coaches offer formal instruction and serve as Commander in Chief, they need help, so they turn to a player – or maybe two or three players – to provide extra leadership.
Choosing the right player leader is a big decision. It involves thinking carefully about whose personality will resonate best with the team. When deciding, here are some important things to consider:
- Generally, team leaders are older players, but they don’t have to be.
- The best players don’t necessarily make the best leaders or captains.
- Good leaders are calm under pressure and strong in the face of adversity.
- Effective leaders are inclusive of many types of people.
- A leader should be a hard-worker.
- A leader should respect both the coaches and other players and be respectful to everyone.
- There is a characteristic difference between a leadership personality and a submissive one (and both are essential to the team), but there is also a difference in the way people choose to lead.
- Leadership goes beyond the court. Your leaders need to understand that they set the tone for the team’s overall attitude, work ethic and reputation.
Don’t force it
Consider whether the player will feel comfortable in a leadership position. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your choice will be 100 percent confident on Day 1. But you shouldn’t force someone into a leadership role simply because they are older or have been with the program longer than most. Some veteran players fall easily into a leadership role as they progress through the program, but some are simply not natural-born leaders.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Player leaders are the liaison between the coach and the team, so it’s important that they know that you trust their leadership. There must be a mutual understanding of expectations within the team but especially between player leaders and coaches. Stay in constant communication with your player leaders. If a captain or another designated leader is unable to answer questions from the team or feels unequipped to provide information, it can be stressful for them and make them feel as if they’re failing to do their job. Make sure your players know that you fully support your leaders in their decisions and concerns. The team needs to be assured that they are getting the same information and instruction from their team leader as they are from their coach.
Additionally, you should check in with your team leaders regularly to see how the team feels they are doing. Create an environment where your team leader feels comfortable addressing any issues or concerns. The number one thing a team leader needs is confidence, and that comes first and foremost from the coach.
Recognize different kinds of leadership
Some players are more outspoken than others, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the better candidates to lead. I’ve played on many teams and have had many different kinds of team leaders, all of whom I consider when I am in a position to lead. I remember a particularly quiet teammate who was one of the best volleyball mentors I ever had because she expelled all of her energy onto volleyball and volleyball alone when we were in the gym. As a result, I aspired to the same level of focus.
I’ve also had leaders who used motivational speeches to rally the team behind them. I find both styles to be effective. What was important, though, was that these leaders were never asked to change their style for the sake of conforming to a fixed idea of what a captain or leader should be.
Keep in mind, a team may need more than one leader and more than one type of leader. Teams are made up of lots of personalities, and everyone responds differently to situations. Let your team leaders lead in the way that they are most comfortable.
Cut them some slack
Be understanding if there’s a misstep or miscommunication involving your team leader. Chances are, they’re trying their hardest, and just like in volleyball, mistakes will happen. What’s important is that the player learns from these mistakes and becomes a better leader in the future because of them.
Over the course of my volleyball career, my favorite roles have been as a leader and mentor. I like helping younger players realize their potential and understand that they’re not alone in their feelings, whether they be of anxiety, excitement, frustration or elation. I’ve found that a big part of being a good leader comes down to balance. You must hold high expectations of the team while also being patient when the team struggles. You must encourage the team to enjoy the game while still respecting the time, effort and commitment needed to be truly successful.
It’s true that there are natural leaders, but leadership is a skill. And like all skills, it needs refinement and gets better with practice.
Jaimee Rindy is a junior middle blocker at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.