Ask Anna: Captain’s Edition

Being a team leader can be tricky.

There’s a lot more to ultimate than just the Xs and Os. While your coach or captain might be able to help you diagnose a mechanical problem with your forehand, a lot of times, you might find yourself looking for answers to social or financial questions.

To that end, welcome to a new advice column on Ultiworld: Ask Anna!

You can reach Anna at askanna@ultiworld.com with any questions that you have.

Q: How do I get my co-captain to take on more of our shared responsibilities? We fell into a default pattern, but I don’t want to seem petty by splitting hairs over tasks. But it isn’t fair for me to do it all myself.

– Overworked in New York

I think this is a really common problem, especially in pretty informal settings, or in newer teams where there’s less planning and organization at the start of the season. If you happen to have notes from a meeting at the start of the season about who will do what, look over them and see how reality compares to the plan. If it’s quite different, talk to them about it and reference the previous agreement. Maybe they’ll be open to a formal redivision of labor, or you can hear about whether or not they’re able to hold up their end of the agreement.

If there’s no meeting or formal division to reference, before you talk to them, make a list of everything that needs done for the team that the captains are responsible for, and who currently manages which tasks. Include everything – expense accounting, travel logistics, bid submission, practice planning, party planning, cone-bringing, taking care of injured players, feedback emails. All of it. If other leaders on the team manage any of these tasks, include their name on the list. Giving your co-captain credit for the things they do already may help you frame a conversation with kindness and appreciation, obviously a good starting point.

After that, reflect on the list. Are there things you didn’t realize you were doing, or maybe things you didn’t realize they were doing? Do you still feel it’s imbalanced? What specifically would you like from your co-captain that you’re not getting? When you’ve considered and answered these questions, ask to talk with your co-captain about dividing tasks. You can lead with “I statements” about how you perceive the situation and avoid blaming language (e.g., “you’re not pulling your weight”) by saying that you’re feeling overwhelmed (or concerned, or unable to complete everything, or stretched too thin to play well – whatever it is) by some of the tasks, and you want their help in figuring out how to manage everything more evenly. Ask for their contribution in specific ways, ideally from your task list.

Use discretion with showing the list – it could be helpful to show you’re appreciating what they’re already doing, but if you only have your name on the list, it could be pretty inflammatory. After you hash out who will be responsible for what, make a note of this – email it to both captains, and maybe set a calendar reminder for yourselves to check in again in a month or two to see how it’s going.

Q: No one shows up on time for practice, and I’m fed up. I’m a captain and have told people over and over again to be on time, but people still roll up 10-15 minutes after practice was scheduled to start.

– Untimely in Georgia

A: Can you bench them for a game? If so, do that after giving them and the team one warning outlining the consequence.

If it’s a bigger problem (with people you can’t sit for games, or with too many people) or we’re talking about a less serious team, then try a less nuclear approach. Give everyone notice at the end of practice that the next start time will have two parts: Cleats on at 10:55, practice starts at 11. Let people know practice will start with or without them, and then stick to it. Hopefully you have a crew of people who come on time.

Plan to start practice with them exactly on time. Do not wait for people walking up or putting their cleats on at 11. They are late. When late players arrive, don’t wait for them, make a big deal about them being late, or make any allowances: just keep running practice. Do not explain things again to them. Let them know they can join the drill when they’ve observed and can comfortably join without disrupting or distracting their teammates. You don’t have to be harsh or snide to the late players — you’re glad they’re attending, I assume — but nor do you have to be overly accommodating. My bet is that when you begin holding the start time and installing social or play-time consequences, people will be a little more on time. Good luck!

Q: I’m in over my head. I over committed to everything this season – grad school, club captaining, league, and a running race. I’m stretched way too thin and am not doing well in anything. How do I approach this with my co-captains?

– Exhausted in California

First of all, figure out what your priorities are. Is it finding something to drop so you can devote better energy to the things you stick with? Is it apologizing to your co-captain and figuring out what they need from you? Is it bringing up your focus in school? Taking better care of yourself so you can be your best self during this stressful time?

Spend some time with that question.

Since you asked about co-captains directly, I’ll respond to that. Talk to them. Let them know you’re underwater, and what bandwidth you have to work with. Maybe you can trade tasks with someone to do things that are easier to fit into your available time. Or recruit someone else from the team to help with your responsibilities. I think if you proactively go to your peers and ask for their understanding while also making a reasonable offer that you can follow through on, most people will be accommodating. Be open if they ask you to step down or find a replacement, though that might not be feasible, depending on the time of the season.

My last piece of advice is to reflect and see if this is a pattern for you. If you often find yourself overcommitted, underperforming, and overwhelmed, consider talking to a therapist about the pattern, or doing some serious introspective work to avoid repeating these outcomes.

  1. Anna
    Anna

    Anna is Ultiworld's advice columnist. She is a long-time ultimate player that's navigated college, club, and league competition (and social scenes). You can reach her at askanna@ultiworld.com.

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