Tuesday Tips: How To Select Good Captains, Presented By Spin Ultimate

The best players on the field are not always the best captains.

Colorado Kali captain Megan Ives talks to her teammates in a huddle at the 2017 D-I College Championships. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

This article is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

This article was written by guest author Ben Murphy, coach of Michigan Flywheel.

Especially at this time of year, college teams are ready to make the transition from competing in the 2017 season to preparing for 2018. For many teams, the first major step in this process is to select captains for the next year.

This article walks through the primary responsibilities for captains, the skills and attributes that will help them succeed with those responsibilities, and the ways teams can ensure that they best identify and select new captains.

Decisions, Decisions

First and foremost, captains are expected to handle or delegate all of the team decision making. Those decisions can include choosing a coach, deciding which tournaments to attend, making roster decisions, choosing offensive and defensive formations, and so on. In all of these decisions, captains are expected to be able to consistently do what is best for the team. Often these decisions are required on short notice or without complete information about the situation.

On teams with coaches, some decisions — such as line calling — might be delegated to the coach; others, like roster decisions, are often made with coach input. Long-term administrative duties may also be delegated so that the captains don’t have to do everything. Tasks like recruiting, fundraising, and travel logistics are often more effectively tackled by a committee of people and can be delegated to one or more teammates. Captains should help build a team of volunteers (volunteers are better than recruits!) to work on these tasks while captains provide oversight or advice for committee leads to help ensure they stay on track.

In all of these facets of decision making and leadership, the captains are entrusted by the rest of the team to guide the team in the best direction possible. Even when the captains aren’t directly responsible for individual tasks, their guidance and leadership for the delegates tackling these tasks can be critical to success.


Captains are responsible for communicating team direction, goals, and decisions to the players, and they are also the primary point of contact with other organizations and teams. As part of coordinating team discussions or as mediators in case of disputes between teammates, captains are expected to have strong communication skills. Captains with high emotional intelligence and strong interpersonal skills will be better at getting everybody on the same page and keeping them aligned through the many ups and downs over the course of a season.

In cases where a coach isn’t part of the team, the captains bear additional responsibility to ensure that players improve through feedback and a progression of skills and drills that will challenge players over the course of the season. Giving feedback and helping ensure that players understand opportunities for improvement on and off the field is integral to overall team improvement. As with many things in life, giving feedback well is often more about how the message is delivered than the specific content.

Skills Required

In order to fulfill their duties as decision makers and communicators, it helps for captains to possess some or all of the following skills.

  • Experience: Most ultimate and team management skills are enhanced and improved through experience. Players that have been around the team and been playing the sport for longer are more likely to be successful at building skills and understanding team dynamics.
  • Perspective: Another useful skill is being able to keep things in perspective. Understanding which issues are significant, which decisions require immense thought, and which problems are mostly insignificant will help captains minimize anxiety. All captains are bound to be subject to some stress as part of the role, so an advanced maturity is helpful.
  • Time Management: Especially for college teams, having captains with strong time management skills is hugely important. Handling captain duties in addition to doing well in school is difficult, and people with strong time management are more likely to succeed. Both while running practices and thinking through season-long goals, it is important to be able to plan your work and then work your plan.
  • Self-Awareness: Tied into experience and perspective, players with strong self awareness are going to be better equipped to identify their relative strengths and weaknesses, playing a bigger role where their strengths are useful and stepping back or delegating accordingly when situations would otherwise play into their relative weaknesses.

Selection Process

The selection process for a new captain is easy to do well, as long as the team is aligned on expectations. Team culture can dictate what the best process will be, and many options can work well for a variety of teams.

Typically, players can either put their own name up for consideration or be nominated by teammates. Candidates have the option to accept or decline a nomination, potentially share some kind of platform or some explanation for why they’d like to be captain, and then some form of team-wide voting will select which nominees become captains.

Here are some key questions and factors to consider when deciding which captain selection processes to use; these questions and the team’s answers all tie together to determine the best process for each team.

  • How many captains should a team have?
    Most teams have between two and four captains. Some teams may have a process for ensuring that some captains serve for multiple years and have overlap between experienced and new captains so that there’s always at least one captain with experience. Sometimes, three is a great number to ensure that decisions can be discussed and ties can easily be broken; three can also ensure that enough captains are available to tackle urgent tasks while not having too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.
  • How much information should candidates provide?
    Captain candidates should be able to give the team a sense of their goals and aspirations for the team under their leadership. Communication skills are evident in how players interact, but a candidate’s priorities for decision making may be easier to explain thoughtfully with some kind of personal statement. Giving candidates an opportunity to express themselves helps the team choose leadership that aligns with their values.
  • Will the vote happen in-person or online?
    Some teams choose captains for the next season in person immediately after the last loss in the current season; others wait and do things over email between seasons. Both systems can work well. In person can be faster, more direct, and easier to build team-wide consensus. Online voting can allow for more thought and might make it easier to manage sensitive issues with players that want to be captain, but may not be well received by the rest of the team.

Wrapping Up

Captains have to make decisions and communicate well. Where captains need help, being able to delegate, manage, and lead groups of players to help with tasks are all valuable skills. Experience around the game and with these skills will help players succeed as captains. However, on-field excellence or experience does not always translate well to decision making and communication skills — the best players on the field are not always the best captains. Some teams make the mistake of assuming that the most talented players will make the best captains, but a careful review of the skills and responsibilities required of captains makes it clear that there’s no guarantee they overlap.

Hopefully some of these ideas can help your team ensure that next year’s leaders are the best yet.

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