I have coached hockey teams (my daughters) for the past 9 years. Anyone who has coached kids knows the pure joy involved – camp staff have the pleasure of “coaching” kids every day, all summer! In a sports environment, you combine their desire to improve, to be part of the team and the element of working hard and competing. It’s not for everyone but it can provide such an incredibly positive experience for many.

Over the years, I have struggled with a specific concept – naming captains and assistants. For those uninitiated in the hockey world, captains and assistants are prominently identified by wearing a ‘C’ or ‘A’ on the front of their jersey. In the beginning, when they were young, it appeared to result in so much disappointment for those not selected and very little benefit to those selected. I had seen many teams just choose their highest scorers. Was that what made for good leadership, the ability to score a lot of goals? To me, it just did not seem worth it. So, I avoided the topic and did not assign any. One year, I shared the responsibility amongst everyone, each player having an opportunity throughout the season. The girls saw the lack of true meaning in it and that concept did not fly very far.

Finally, I stopped avoiding and trying to come up with different schemes and just chatted with the team. I explained my reasoning for not wanting to specifically name captains and assistants:

Over the past 5 years, I have pretty much coached the same group. They know we will not be naming captains and assistants for the team. It is certainly different – pretty well every other team we face will have players with a C or A on their jersey. I have noted that some of the girls have taken leadership of the pre-game routines, others are more vocal and enthusiastic in the dressing room, others are quiet and demonstrate their commitment and leadership on the ice. Leadership can be exhibited in so many ways and each person will have their own style. Being quiet and more introverted does not inhibit someone from leading. I believe the key is to acknowledge and highlight the different leadership contributions the players make.

Translating this concept to the “real” world, I wonder if we provide enough opportunity to lead or if titles and job descriptions limit contributions. We need some hierarchy in organizations (some would likely argue this point) to enable organization and division of work, to enable training and some layer of supervision. But, I think we should resist the temptation to add too many layers, too many titles. What matters more is the group’s vision, their short and long term goals. While sports may not be for everyone, most people love to be part of a team, one that they like and believe in. Let’s resist putting walls up around a person’s ability to lead and contribute and remain focused on the idea that we are all chugging towards the same goal. There will be various opportunities and times in the year for different people to shine, to lead. Organizations cannot just rely on their “captains and assistants” to solve the tough issues, come up with the big ideas….our outcome will be better if everyone feels accountable and responsible for contributing to our goals.

What do you think? Am I missing an opportunity to acknowledge and reward someone’s superior leadership by not naming captains and assistants? Do you have a method you have used in the sports realm or camp world that has worked well?