Wearing The ‘C’ Is A Badge Of Honor

My son's first year of hockey was like living an episode of Oprah.

"You get to be captain. Then you get to be captain. And you. Come on down and get a "C" taped to your jersey."

While at the time it didn't make sense to me, it turns out there was a method to that coach's madness of rotating captains. Each kid got to see the weight that should be attached to that "C". 

The following year, no captain was selected for the start of the season. Huh?

The coach explained that he wanted to see a captain emerge from the pack. After a month of practices and games, he would be able to determine the player with the "C" qualities and it would not necessarily be the most talented or the kid who scored the most goals.

An ideal captain can come in many forms; it could be a communicator who rallies the troops and gets the best out of everyone. Or it could be a lead-by-example type who keeps his or her head down and gets results by setting the bar for the team.

There are plenty of ways to pick a team leader. Havertown, Pa., hockey dad/coach Lee Elias, author of "WIN: What Every Team Needs to Know to Create A Championship Culture," says, "It's a good idea for the role of captaincy to be shared by all players at the younger levels."

Leadership is something that can be taught. In addition to basic skills, we can also teach basics of responsibility, accountability and what it means to be a great teammate.

"All important life lessons that go beyond the game," Elias says.

Hockey tradition and the rulebook call on teams to designate a captain and two alternates. They are chosen to act as liaisons between the coach and officials.

But what makes a great captain?

"It's setting an example on ice," said one of the greatest captains in history, hockey icon Cammi Granato, who served as captain of the U.S. Women's National Team for years.

"It's pretty tough to define your own leadership," she once said. "I think you can do it on a daily basis. In my mind, it's always making sure you're thinking of the team first."

Officially, the job description is pretty simple. Be the representative of the team when discussion was needed with referees. In practice, there is much more involved. From communicating with coaches, getting messages out to teammates, corralling the group for buses to squashing locker room issues.

Chris Chelios, Mark Messier, Joe Sakic and Jonathan Toews were all brilliant players and legends in their own right. But bring up any of those names and one thing stands out-their leadership skills.

Leaders can lead in a positive direction and elevate the team, or they can take the elevator ride down and drag everybody with them. Their attitude and actions set the tone for the team.

As Granato said, "Team first."

Aye Aye captain.

Issue: 
2021-04

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