Fall 2014 Blog – Post # 13

Fall 2014 Blog – Post # 13

Nov 21   Leadership Training

It will be a whirlwind of blogs for me over a ten day period as I finish up this series of 15 different posts with the final three. Today we will look at Leadership Training, to be followed on Tuesday by Thoughts on saying Thank You (a timely topic next week) and on Nov 30 be sure to read my final Fall 2014 blog – which I will simply call Banquet.

For the volleyball coaches tuning in – it is my hope that, like me, you are a long time member of the AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association).   Last month, I was most fortunate to spend some time with Kathy DeBoer, the Executive Director of the AVCA.   We were together at the International Volleyball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. One of the honorees was this year’s Mintonette Medallion of Merit recipient, Rob Slavin.   Rob is a good friend and someone I admire for his promotion of the sport and the many contributions he has made to countless athletes and to his colleagues. I am sending a donation in today (in honor of Rob) to the AVCA for the Coaches 4 Coaches Scholarship program.   These scholarships provide the opportunity for coaches to attend their first AVCA Convention.   Please consider joining me by honoring someone who has made a difference in our profession, while also paying forward to our next generation of coaches.

One of the reasons I am mentioning the AVCA today is that your membership will allow you to gain access to an article I submitted for the Coaching Volleyball publication.     Follow the Leader: Beyond Captain Selection was the title of this article that appeared in the August, 2012 edition.

You will discover a detailed description of the process that emerged in my program where we linked the selection of captains to an eventual program of formal training for them.   I am currently serving as an advisor to a graduate student who is involved in this very topic.   That particular study coincides with informal discussions I have had for many years at coaching clinics. Some of you reading will recognize these two questions I often ask coaches.

1 – How many of you served in the role of a team captain?   (In a typical coaches clinic at least 75% of the hands go up, which is not surprising).   Then the follow-up question….

2 – For those who raised their hand, how many of you took part in a formal captain training program?   (Typically less than 5% of those hands are raised).   Hmmm – disconnect is the term that comes to mind. So, we honor the tradition of having captains but do little or nothing to prepare them for that job.

Let me share where my teams ended up late in my coaching career, related to the topic of Captains and Leadership Training. For today’s blog, I will highlight the four major steps in our process (for more detail, go to the original article).

STEP ONE – In our Non-Traditional Spring Season, I would engage the returning players with activities designed to help them collectively identify the peer leadership skills they felt would be needed by the team for the next season.   I would also work with our assistant coaches to contribute some qualities (to that list) that we felt would be needed. While in each season the process might be slightly different – the objective was to end up with a top five (or more) specific roles the team needed and valued from a captain.

STEP TWO – The players knew that there would be a day in our spring season, where I would line them up on the end line for step two – self nominations (the moment of truth). In this step, players were told that to be considered as a captain for the upcoming season, they needed to step forward and identify “the” role they pledged to contribute as a captain. To give you an idea of the words players used in the self-nomination, here is one of my favorites: “I will lead by example on and off the court every day”.   You think that was a powerful and special moment to witness? It sure was. The selection of that player and her ability to deliver on that promise, while also delivering on the court, is just one of the many reasons I will be there next Tuesday when she enters the CT Volleyball Hall of Fame > hint: Brandeis Head Coach today.

STEP THREE – Essentially, we would then provide a ballot that reminded the players of the roles and qualities produced by the collective process (step one) along with the names and specified role of those who had self-nominated.   Often players and coaches were then given three or five votes to use any way they wanted.   I had veto power, but rarely needed to use it. Comment on veto power: I try in all aspects of life not to contribute to chaos (enough said).

STEP FOUR – I would then design a formal training program for those selected. Here is an example of something we did one summer.   I selected a Leadership Book, and the three captains were told they would each get two weeks with the book. Each of them was encouraged to underline and write notes all over the margins with their designated color pen. I told them to highlight parts of the book that spoke to them, that challenged them, or confused them. I reviewed the book prior to Pre-Season and then I had some individual sessions with each captain designed to assist them in fulfilling their role. We reviewed and discussed parts of the book they had highlighted. We might use role plays designed in part to anticipate scenarios where their role would be needed, while at the same time, thinking through those situations where they should point teammates to another captain or to me.   I also met with all three of them at the same time so they could better prepare to be on the same page with each other and their Head Coach.   Part of that process allowed me to discuss the many roles I had responsibility for. It is also critical that you continue some form of training during the season. The captains will encounter challenges, and hopefully they will be quick to come to you and discuss those. Hopefully, you will discover that you have laid a foundation to build on, and ultimately each captain will develop effective peer leadership skills.


  • Somewhere along the line, I noticed that some of my captains were not performing up to their capabilities. I think I may have been like a lot of coaches. While not intentional, I was probably dumping lots of team drama, internal tension issues, etc. on to the captains. I also think I was not aware of inner team challenges that the captain felt they needed to address and solve. A theory emerged in my mind: maybe my captains were distracted by these types of circumstances, and as a result the focus we needed them to have during performance time was being diminished.
  • This was also a period of time where I was exploring lots of books and articles on the topic of Leadership Training, and recognized that I could do more to formalize that within our program.

I believe this gives you enough food for thought on this topic.   Going back to the title I selected for that article I wrote, notice that it included the phrase “beyond captain selection”.     I would encourage you to think through the typical process you have been using for selecting or appointing captains.   Ask some honest questions about that process, and if nothing else, start some type of formal training program for your captains.   There is no magic in this, and any updated process you install needs to reflect your philosophy, personality, leadership style/s and team culture. Since so many of us as coaches did have our own experiences as a captain, I am confident that you would agree that we could have been more effective and prepared if some of our coaches had established guidelines and training that prepared us for that role.   Sometimes we need to think more deeply about traditions, and adjust our view and our methods. You take it from here – good luck!

Next blog > Thoughts on saying Thank You


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