Should Sports Teams Have Captains?

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Peter Jones, Co-Editor-in-Chief

When someone brings up the subject of team captains, athletic greats like Derek Jeter or Jonathan Toews often come to mind – both incredible leaders in and out of sports – but we don’t usually consider the argument for eliminating team captains altogether. We glorify these athletic leaders, but don’t think about the hierarchy we impose upon the team by giving preference to one or two individuals.

Is having a designated leader on a team important to boost the players’ morale, or could it be detrimental to its chemistry?

Anson Dorrance, head coach of women’s soccer at the University of North Carolina, eloquently laid out one side of the argument. “The final piece in a championship team is leadership,” he said. “The most attractive type of leadership to me is the student-athlete who is a coach on the field. I want a driving force who won’t let standards slip. That’s how teams with ordinary talent can win championships. Without leadership, even a team with great talent will struggle to become a champion.” Dorrance has one of the most successful coaching records in the history of sports, with 21 national championships under his belt. The way he sees it, leadership on the field trumps even the team’s athletic ability, so having captains is crucial to the team’s achievement. It’s fair to say that Dorrance, who lead his team to a 101-game winning streak, has experienced some of that success.

Meanwhile, members of our own Latin community have spoken out to promote the role of captains in high school athletics. “You need someone to be a leader on the field,” Varsity Soccer player Colin Campbell mentioned. “Coaches can only do so much from the sidelines. Someone needs to be on the court/field giving advice or telling players what to do. Players also look up to captains, it’s good to have someone on the team like that.” Though Latin Soccer had an unfortunately abrupt end to the season this fall, with a sectional loss to Saint Patrick High School, the close-knit nature of the team and the captains’ guidance were both crucial during their matches.

But what if all this ‘captain’ stuff is merely an excuse to prioritize some players over others, like some kind of an athletic popularity contest? Deciding that one or two people should help to lead a team does have implications of the other players’ ability, both physically and in a leadership context. Who should even get to lead a team in the first place? The player who’s ‘best’ at the sport, or the player who doesn’t make that many baskets but still keeps the team motivated and ready to compete?

Latin’s Girls’ Varsity basketball team, coached by Max Rouse, ran into some trouble with the answers to these questions, and contemplated getting rid of captains once and for all. It wasn’t because Coach Rouse hated the notion of having captains from the start, it’s just that it didn’t always seem like it would bring the team together as a group.

As Marianne Mihas, a new freshman member of the team, said, “Rouse’s number one principle for our team is that we are one team. If someone has a bad game, that’s fine, what they can’t lose sight of is how they’re still going to help the team win. Whether that’s getting the bench hyped up, or just staying positive . . . we have to stay focused on the ‘we.’ Captains of teams are traditionally the ones who are the core of the team, but at the same time, giving them captain status puts them above the rest of the team in a way, which goes against some of Coach Rouse’s principles.”

As far as Latin sports go, it’s going to remain up to the coaches whether or not a team captain is chosen. Depending on the group of athletes, a captain may not be in the best interest of the team’s cohesiveness, but in many cases they prove to be useful additions to the framework of Latin’s athletic programs.

Personally, I sympathize more with Anson Dorrance’s side of the argument. I think that captains are a vital part of any sports team, and should not be excluded from any teams. They can provide help on the field of play itself, as opposed to yelling from the sidelines. Leading by example is a crucial part of being a captain, and it’s something that coaches can’t easily replicate.

After all, Jeter and Toews’ legacies as captains achieved much more than some extra jersey sales – they led their teams to multiple championships, and did so respectfully, always keeping the needs of their teammates above their own.