Category Archives: Leadership

O Captain My Captain

I’ve noticed a disturbing change in sports. I’ve seen it in both professional leagues, and in the amateur leagues I’ve played in: Selling out the captaincy by giving it to young players with a lot of skill but lacking experience and the maturity that goes with it.  It’s almost as if professional teams are counting down the days until they can make their young star the poster buy for the franchise by handing him the “C.”

This trend is most prevalent in hockey, which places a lot of importance in its captains. A modern example is Sidney Crosby of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.  At age 18, Crosby played half a season before Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien put an “A” (assistant captain) on his jersey. At the time, Crosby was already known in his dressing room for his cry-baby antics with the referees. He’d been coddled as a hockey prodigy since the age of ten, had not experienced adversity or failure, and was a poor choice for the assistant captainship at that time. Thankfully for the Pittsburgh Penguins and its fans coach Therrien resisted the temptation to make Crosby the captain leading up to the 2006-07 season. He went with three alternate captains instead.

Another modern example of this change is the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vincent Lecavalier. Back in 1999-2000, the Lightning was a horrible team. So with his team floundering head coach Steve Ludziko made 19-year-old Lecavalier the captain. At that time Lecavalier was a player halfway through his second year and whose peers were still playing junior hockey. Not only was Lecavalier not ready to be a captain at the NHL level, but being a captain turned him into a whiner who had to be benched for entire periods of some games. Subsequently in October of 2001, head coach John Tortorella wisely took the “C” off Lecavalier’s jersey. “You don’t name a player captain based on the talent they possess,” Totorella said, explaining the move. “That’s not what [being the] captain is about. [The “C”] was taken away so Vinny could see what leadership is all about. There are plenty of guys around here to show him.” One of those guys was Dave Andrechuk,  who replaced Lecavalier as captain and led the team to its Stanley Cup win over the Calgary Flames in 2004.

While captains are often the most talented players on their teams, that should not be why they get the job. The captain of a hockey team is supposed to be a shining example of character, experience, and leadership. Proper captains are guys who symbolize the character and heart of a hockey team.  Players who have been around, seen it all, and lived to tell about it. The ones who can stand up in the dressing room and say what has to be said and be believed because they’ve been there. Guys who lead by example, either by what they do on the ice or off it. Most importantly, they are players who bring a team-first attitude to the rink with them every day. (As opposed to the my stats-first attitude of some players.) Classic examples of good captains are players such as Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe.


The Great Mystery in Team Sports

In my roughly 25 years of playing sports I’ve been on many teams in several sports, but few of them had what most call “chemistry” (also called “teamwork”). Team chemistry is difficult to achieve, and I think most athletes would agree that it is required to win championships. Here are some of the best thoughts that I’ve found on the topic:

– “The best players don’t necessarily make the best team.” – John Wooden, Coach of UCLA men’s basketball

– “Great players rarely work well together, and are more effective with players of complementary and subservient skills.” – Ken Dryden, professional hockey goaltender

– “A championship team needs all kinds of players. Too many players of the same type, no matter how good, make a team vulnerable.” – Scotty Bowman, professional hockey coach

– “Some people believe you win with the five best players, but I found out that you win with the five who fit together best.”  – Red Auerbach, professional basketball coach

– “Teamwork is taught. You don’t just lump a group of people together in a room and call them a team and expect them to behave like one.” – Pat Summit, University of Tennessee coach

– “I’m a great believer that humour’s the lubricant that helps teams create chemistry.” – Dave King, professional hockey coach

– “One of the real mysteries of any team sport is how chemistry develops. It’s usually such an elusive, mercurial thing; it comes unexpectedly and can leave abruptly. For years, coaches and sports psychologists have analyzed, dissected, and theorized about chemistry. Many conclude that you can orchestrate its development within your team. Chemistry generally evolves on a day-by-day basis. I’d suggest some team-building activities can assist the process. At practice, during games, in the dressing room, on the bus or plane, at team meals and meetings – these are the moments when the chemistry is percolating.” – Dave King, professional hockey coach

The recent NBA finalists The Miami Heat had talent, LeBron James (see image below), Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh (the best three) but lacked team chemistry, and were beaten by a team having less talent but better chemistry, The Dallas Mavericks.

Bringing Out an Athlete’s Personal Best

The best coaches I’ve had in my life: 1. My father Terry Peters (baseball) 2. Phil Cousineau (elementary school basketball) 3. Mary Jane Kiraga (high school volleyball) 4. Mrs. Jerry Brown (high school cross country running). And, no, I don’t believe I’ve made a biased decision ranking my father my best coach. He coached us to a championship victory without benching weaker players, and deserves the accolade. Unfortunately, apart from the 4 above the rest have been weak. I believe that many coaches make the mistake of trying to live out their winning aspirations through the teams they coach, instead of focusing on developing better players. This usually leads to the infamous bench-the-weak-players tactic, which repels many young players from sport. In his book The Only Way I Know, famous baseball player Cal Ripken said that he (and his father) believes there is too much emphasis on winning in youth sports, and not enough emphasis on player development and having fun. That’s been my experience. In fairness to those coaches, I don’t think most have been properly trained (nor certified) for the role.

The best book I’ve read on coaching is John Wooden’s My Personal Best. Kareem Abdul Jabar, the famous center for the L.A. Lakers and player of Wooden’s, said that Wooden never focused on winning, but said that winning would come as a result of trying to be your best. He said that if you’ve played your best, you’re a success regardless of what the score says. I like that philosophy because it changes the focus of sports from just winning to something more important: becoming your best. And it’s also a good answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? Before you dismiss Wooden’s philosophy as lame, keep in mind that he coached 10 teams to NCAA championship victories in a 12-year span, and was named national coach of the year 6 times.