The Team Captain: A Recipe for Success

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A team captain must keep up with the physical game while staying on top of it mentally and emotionally

By Tim Turk

Hockey is a physically intense sport that requires strength, athleticism, and quick reflexes. There is also however a strong psychological and mental aspect of hockey that can truly help set the good players apart from the greats. Being a team captain requires the ability to keep up with the physical game, but also to stay on top of it mentally and emotionally.

Hockey captains can’t get into bad habits like taking careless penalties or daydreaming on the ice. They are the cornerstone of the team and must act accordingly in order to keep great chemistry and promote strong teamwork. These are some of the qualities that the best hockey team captains will exhibit—both on and off the ice.

Highly Motivated

While some players are able to get by with their natural talent and minimal effort, hockey captains don’t fall into this trap. Even if they are the most skilled player on the team, the team captain will be constantly working to improve his or her game on a daily basis. They are willing to show up early and study the other team, or to go over important drills and learn from past mistakes. To a captain, the most important thing is that the team gives its best effort, and he or she is prepared to motivate their teammates (and often even their coaches) in order to bring out everyone’s strengths.

Selfless Individual

A team captain isn’t just looking to be the stats leader at the end of the season—they wants to see all of their teammates play to the best of their ability. This means being selfless and giving someone else an opportunity when the situation calls for it. A selfish player might see a small opening on the ice and attempt to shoot their own goal, when a much better option was right in front of them. A good captain knows that in this situation they should pass, as it gives the team a better chance to score and possibly win the game.

This selflessness extends beyond the game. Team captains will stick around and help younger or less experienced players with their drills and practices. The captain is there to motivate not only him/herself but every other player on the team. They will be focused on growth and learning, and willing to give their time to the team in order to help others. The success of the team is far more important than that of the individual, and the captain is well aware of this. They would much rather see a “W” for the team than a hat trick for them.

Offers Positive Reinforcement

Negative comments and pessimism are contagious, and can result in the entire team playing below their standards. If someone takes a bad shot and gets reamed out by their teammates, they may become angry or lose confidence. This can cause them to start playing worse throughout the game, even if they hardly made a mistake in the first place.

A good team captain is aware of this and does everything possible to focus on the positive aspects of the game. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong with a certain play, the captain might compliment the initial move or the excellent skating skills shown by the player in question. They will discuss what can be changed next time in order to succeed, rather than continuing to highlight why the team failed previously.

Encouraging a stronger performance always yields better results than putting teammates down and dwelling on poor ones. This starts small with every play on the ice, but must also be followed throughout the course of the season. Losing four in a row isn’t an ideal situation for any team, but a captain knows how to rally them together and get everyone looking forward to the next game instead of thinking about the past.

Humble But Strong

While there is nothing wrong with a good goal celebration, a good hockey captain knows not to get too emotional in any one aspect of the game. They can have fun with their team and enjoy the victories, but they must maintain a steady, humble but strong presence that keeps the team on an even keel.

This can be a challenge when everyone is celebrating an overtime victory. But it is a major asset when a team is down multiple goals in a physical and chippy game against one of its rivals. Instead of succumbing to emotion and taking a bad penalty or starting a fight, a captain knows to focus on the game and remain unfazed.

When the captain can show this kind of resolve, the team is likely to follow suit. Negative emotions should be channeled into a burst of energy to get the team working together again. A team captain will not let a bad situation get the best of him or her, and their teammates will respect them for keeping their head in the game in the face of adversity.

Learns from Their Mistakes

Many players continue to try to use the same technique over and over, even when it isn’t working. They may become frustrated and unable to understand why they can’t get their plan to work. The right team captain knows that mistakes will be made and that he/she must adjust in order to overcome them. This ability to learn from mistakes is one of the strongest traits that a captain can show their team, and they must impart their knowledge to their teammates at every opportunity.

Whether it’s something as small as poor footing leading to an inconsequential turnover, or a sloppy pass that leads to the game-ending goal for the other team, a good team captain is always analyzing their and others’ mistakes. This allows them to evaluate the cause of the problem and come up with a fix for it the next time it happens.

It isn’t so much dwelling on mistakes as it is learning from them, and that is extremely important for any athlete. Even if their play caused a team to lose the championship game, the good team captain sees it as a learning experience that they can take into the next season.

Tim Turk, a frequent contributor to CrossIceHockey.com, has been an NHL-level skills and shooting coach for over 18 years. He has worked with the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as with many national programs overseas. He continues to work with NHL players while making time for minor league hockey teams and players. For more information visit his website, www.timturkhockey.com.

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