Selecting Captains

by Raymond Prior, Ph.D

Talent is essential for teams to be successful; but quite frankly, talent is not enough and talent is often overrated. Through the grind of a season, teams need leaders who set the example for how to treat other teammates and hold their teammates accountable. They should be the ones setting the tone for practices, communication, and how to conduct yourself on and off the field. And when the pressure is on, teams need leaders who will empower their teammates vocally and provide direction in the midst of confusion. In short, your leaders are the cornerstones of your team that dictate all the intangible factors that contribute to your team’s success both on and off the field.

One of the most important responsibilities you have as a coach is to identify and select your leaders—members who have the potential to serve as team captains. This can be a difficult task and often leaves many coaches asking two important questions: 1) “How do I know who will be a good leader;” and 2) “What’s the best way to select leaders for the team?”

In an ideal world, your best athletes would be juniors and seniors and they would have the ability and desire to lead others. However, being and upper an upperclassman/woman and being talented are not tell-tale signs of a good leader. As a coach, you can choose to select captains for your team and ensure that the players you want to be leaders are in leadership positions. However, you risk appointing captains that are not respected or trusted by their teammates. Many coaches opt to let their teams select their own captains, but you run the risk of having captains that are popular and well-liked rather than being hard-working and willing to hold others accountable to high standards. Like being talented, being popular is not always an indicator of good leadership ability.

In my years working with elite level high school and college teams, the best option for selecting captains is to allow your athletes to apply for a position as captain. The process is simple; as a coach you take the time to write a captain job description just as if you were writing a job posting. Your description details a summary of the position, the duties and responsibilities, the expectations for those that apply, the pros and cons of the position, and the required mental attributes to fulfill the position. This method of selecting captains is an invention of Dr. Greg Shelley, who is one of the country’s foremost experts on building high-functioning teams.  An example of a captain’s job description can be found in his book Coach Up: 50 Rules for Building Committed, Confident, and Motivated Athletes and Teams. It is an excellent resource for every coach.

By establishing a captain job description and using it as the basis for the captain’s responsibilities, you are in better position to identify and target athletes who are willing to serve in this role and are confident about fulfilling all of the requirements. It also allows you to empower your athletes to take on the challenge of being a leader.  

If you have several applicants, conduct interviews with your candidates as if you were interviewing them for the position before selecting the athlete or athletes who will be your best captains.

The goal of selecting leaders is to get your best leaders in positions to lead, and the method you use for selecting captains will determine the type of leaders you get. When you clearly outline the type of leader your team needs in order to be successful —and if you provide an opportunity for interested athletes to apply for the role—those who want the responsibility of being a leader will have a chance to serve as captain and lead your team to success.


Raymond Prior is president of RFP Sport & Performance Consulting.  As one of the country’s top peak performance professionals, Raymond has nearly a decade of experience educating athletes and coaches about building mental toughness.  He works with athletes, teams, and coaches at professional, Olympic, NCAA, amateur, and youth sport levels. His clients include professional athletes, Olympic Gold Medalists, individual and team National Champions, National Coach of the Year Award winners, individual and team Conference Champions, and more than 100 NCAA All-Americans in a variety of sports.  To contact Raymond, vist his website (, email, or call 505-235-4486.