Captaining my Ultimate team has been the most stressful job of my college career. Forget the midterms, forget the finals, forget about juggling my job, school, church, and girlfriend. But no matter how stressful the role was, the payoff was always worth it. Over my few years of being a captain, I’ve learned the ropes. Here, ladies and gentlemen, are the 10 things every Ultimate captain should know.
1. You’re the face of your franchise
Congrats. You’ve been elected/voted/thrown into being captain for your team. How’s it feel? Better have a good smile on because you’re officially the face of your team. Newsflash: Everyone is depending on you. When things go bad, it’s because of you. When things go great, it’s because of you. Get ready for a healthy dose of scrutiny and praise. When teams need help, they go to their captains. You’re officially the go-to guy (or girl).
Not only do your teammates look to you, but the opposing teams have their eye on you. How often do we assume the two representatives who do the disc-flip are the best players from each team? I know I’m guilty of this. Since you’re the captain now, the opposing team will most likely think you’re the best player (and that could very well be the case). When teams think of your team, they think of you. Were you respectable the last time you two played or were you a jerk? You’re the face of the franchise. Represent your team however you choose, just understand there are now hundreds of eyes on you.
2. Lead by example
We’ve all heard this before. If we want the team to be successful, we need to be setting the example. This applies to all of us on teams; Yes, even those of you who AREN’T captains. This “tip” is obvious. Lead by example. Duh.
The biggest thing this can be applied to is practice. Yeah, you’re supposed to be a franchise player and I’m talkin’ about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. I’m talkin’ about practice. But practice makes perfect, right? Not exactly. Perfect practice makes perfect. Yeah, you can have 16 people show up to practice, but if the captain is goofing off, not taking things seriously, then why would your team take practice seriously? As a captain, you’re the one in charge. You dictate how practice is going to be. Are you willing to put in 100% every rep? If the captain puts in 100%, the team should be willing to put in 105%. Lead by example.
3. You can’t do it all on your own
This is the hardest for me. I’m the “If you want something done, gotta do it yourself” type of guy. Yeah, everything gets done, but man does it suck. Chances are, if you’re a captain, you have other co-captains; none higher nor lesser than the other. Each captain should have a specific role on the team.
For instance, the week before a tournament is always the most stressful week for a captain (at least it is for me). We have to deal with car pooling, the housing situation, tournament details, and trying to convince that one guy to go to the tournament, despite the fact that he’s in $100 of debt. Oh, and you can’t forget the constant, “Hey, where are the fields at?” on Friday night, even when we don’t have a captains packet. Man, it’s challenging.
But there’s a solution. Instead of having all two, three, four (however many there are) captains do everything, each should be assigned to a specific role for the tournament.
My team has three captains, Darin, Joel, and myself. Joel deals with all of the USAU details. Maneuvering that website is a job fit for 10 people, but somehow he understands it. Joel also deals with the money aspect of the tournament. Darin helps a lot with the housing situations; Finding hotels, camp grounds, or random houses, while also doing a good job of communicating it with the team. I do the car pooling, captains packet, answering texts (I can’t express how annoying it is to get a text asking about details of the tournament, when I’ve posted the details on our facebook group page MULTIPLE TIMES), and attempting to clearly communicate all of the details with the team. It is way less stressful, but we get it done.
4. Don’t put up with any crap
Arguably the hardest part about being a captain is not putting up with crap. We make life-lasting relationships outside of practice with the team, and we are afraid we might say something that could ruin that friendship while at practice. We’ve all been there. Some carry a grudge, others don’t. An important message to send to the team is to leave everything on the field. If we, as captains, make you, as a player, run extra for an attitude problem, it’s not personal, it’s business. There are no hard feelings. It’s all about being the face of the franchise.
I was recently faced with a situation where I had to put my foot down. Two players on my college team showed up to practice late. They took a quick lap around the field (a normal part of our warm up) and jumped into focus-throwing. Typically, the routine is to do backhands, IO backhands, and OI backhands, then do the same with flicks. These two were doing hammers, chicken wings, stupid upside down throws, and just being annoying. Needless to say, it made me mad. I asked them to take the throwing serious and they back talked. I had another captain talk to them and they back talked. At this point, I had two options: I could let them continue to walk over us and take the reins of the team, or I could nut up and do something about this. I told – not asked – them to take their cleats off and leave. They did so.
As a captain, you deserve respect. Not only because you have to do so much for the team, but because you are the leader of the team. The team should willingly submit to you. From the very beginning of the season, show that you’re not willing to take any tom-foolery from the team. If needed, go Coach Dale on the team… or if you’re ballsy enough, go Coach Carter on them.
5. Be Organized (tips included)
This is crucial. To expect anything to get done, there needs to be some sort of organization. My first year as a member of my college team, there wasn’t any organization with the captains. They would figure out the practice agenda at practice, we’d decide how to pay for a tournament on Saturday night of the tournament weekend, and there was no communication to the team about what was going on behind the scenes. It was a mess. Here are three quick tips to help get your team organized:
- Get a Google Doc! I swear, Google Docs were heaven sent. If you’ve never experienced the glory of a google doc, it’s basically an excel sheet that everyone (whoever you want) has access to. You can have a tab for the roster, upcoming tournaments, and anything else your heart desires. Organize car rides, practice times, and keep track of attendance all on one document. It’s glorious
- Have a Captain GroupMe. Have a smart phone? Perfect. Download GroupMe and get your captains in there. It’s the perfect group chat app to communicate with. If your team’s captains all suck at meeting up, this is an extremely useful tool. Talk about practice agendas, upcoming tournaments, and other captain gossip (whatever floats your boat) in the group chat. And besides, who doesn’t love having someone ‘like’ their comment in a GroupMe chat?
- Meet regularly with your other captains. Although having a GroupMe is the best thing on earth, nothing beats an old fashioned meet up with the bros. Go out for a beer (or coke if that’s your cup of tea), play cards, or just go to one’s apartment and talk about the season. Express your opinions on what needs to happen with the team. Should someone be cut? Is anything bothering you with the team? What about practice next week? The upcoming tournament? Get together and talk about this stuff and don’t leave until everything is said.
6. Have goals
How can you measure the success of your team if you don’t have goals? Set goals at the beginning of the season and constantly check to see if you’re meeting those goals. If you’re a lower-end team, a reasonable goal might be to have a .500 record, or maybe to not get last at sectionals. If you’re a higher-end team, a reasonable goal would be to do better than last season, or to make nationals this year. This seems like such a “duh” tip, but it’s necessary. To understand if your season was successful or not, there needs to be something to measure it with. Did you meet the goals you set at the beginning of the year?
7. Balance the captain-friend role
As a captain, it can be challenging to balance the role of being their captain on the field and their friend off the field. Obviously, a level of respect needs to be there from the player to the captain, an unspoken, “You’re in charge of me” needs to be present on the field. But as a captain, I don’t necessarily want to be feared by my team. I want to have long-lasting relationships with the guys on my team. So finding that balance between respect on the field, and friend off the field is difficult. The best way to do this is to establish that sort of relationship from the get go.
I played Ultimate for a short time in Portland, Oregon during the summer of 2012 for a team called Knife Fight. The captain, Shane, showed his dominance of the team and it was clear that he meant business when it came to Ultimate. At the end of practice, I was scared of him. But after practice, he asked me and my friend to go eat dinner with him at a pizza place down the street. I saw him in a different environment than Ultimate and gained a lot of respect for him. My fearful view of Shane quickly changed into more of a bro-relationship. I understood that he was the leader of the team on the field, but off the field he was a regular guy.
I try my hardest to let it be clear to my team to not take anything personally on the field. When it comes to Ultimate, it’s all business. If I sub you off for someone who you think is worse than you, don’t get mad at me; I’m doing what I believe is best for the team. Ever seen LOST? Think of what Jack Shepherd does when he gets scared. He allows himself to be scared for five seconds, and then he goes back to doing the task at hand. If you’re a player and your captain does something to piss you off, give yourself five seconds to be really mad at the captain, and then forget it and be loud on the sideline. (If you haven’t seen LOST, I need you to log into Netflix, watch all six seasons, and then come back to finishing this article.)
8. Make the game enjoyable
Ultimate is a fun sport. One thing I’ve noticed is when someone graduates high school after playing a sport for the previous four years, they’re basically done with it. When someone plays Ultimate, they’re either not interested at all, or they’re in it for life. It’s contagious. If you’re as addicted as I am, I plan to play for as long as possible. None of this would be possible if I never had a good first impression of what Ultimate was about.
It’s our duty as captains to make the game enjoyable for the team. At the end of the day, all of this is technically voluntary. No one is forcing anyone to be on the team. They can quit whenever they want – but no one enjoys when someone quits their program. So because Ultimate teams are kept afloat by their own members, they want to have fun. Obviously, different teams have different definitions of “fun”. But if the members of the team aren’t enjoying the sport, why should they support the organization with their participation? At the end of the day, Ultimate is a tool we use to entertain ourselves, the captains need to make the team’s experience enjoyable.
9. Humble Yourself
So you’re captain now. Big whoop. According to USA Ultimate, there are more than 700 registered college teams. Let’s say each team has a minimum of two captains, that equals out to at least 1,400 captains for USA Ultimate – and that’s just for college. What makes you so special? One of the biggest pet-peeves of mine is when the opposing captain for the other team thinks they’re all that. I understand that you’re “the man” on your team, and you might be one of the best guys in the area at Ultimate, but there comes a time when you have to humble yourself and play the game the way it was made to be played.
One of the most interesting captains I’ve seen play is Texas A&M Dozen’s captain, Matt Bennett. I’ve watched him play for his club team, HIP, and most recently with A&M at Centex in Austin, TX. Bennett is an extremely talented Ultimate player. But what makes him so great isn’t the fact that he’s a baller, it’s because he’s humble. Bennett is always looking to win, while still respecting the spirit of the game. Joking and messing around with the opposing team, earning respect not only with his 30-yard scoobers, but with his likeable personality. Bennett could easily be that douchebag captain on the field we all know, but he doesn’t play for that. He humbles himself and plays for the sake of playing.
10. Prepare for the future
Attention: You’re not going to play for your team for forever. Sorry to break this news to you. But it’s true. There has to be a time where the team starts to prepare for the future.
Right now my college team is in a tough situation. We have two seniors, Joel Smith and myself, who are two extremely good players in our region. Our backs hurt from carrying our team so much. We have an 18-man roster, 13 of them being brand new to Ultimate. Despite me and Joel’s talent, this year isn’t our year. It sucks because I want to make a run at Regionals, but this year isn’t the year for that. It took us a while to accept this reality, but when we did, we began looking to leave behind a successful team. We began teaching the fundamentals, giving the rookies plenty of playing time, taking ourselves out of the situation and giving them opportunities to succeed. Nothing hurts as bad as losing does, but with every loss our team takes, we seem to gain an immeasurable amount of knowledge from the game. Joel and I are preparing this team for a huge future. It’s painful, but it’s the best thing to do for this roster.