Captain of the ship

By: Elite Soccer

To be a captain is in many ways to referee the fortunes of a team through motivation, aggression, empathy, passion and no small amount of fortune. It’s a role that, when made a success of, heralds a reasonable amount of praise, but nothing on the scale of the criticism that can be faced when things do not go to plan – the man pulling the strings is suddenly the man being strung up.

The psychology behind captaincy is something many philosophers, writers and commentators have tried to explore. It’s a role that requires ultimate tact, bravery and organisation, while often still requiring the leader to tend to his own playing performance. While some in sport can effortlessly take on such a level of responsibility, for others it’s a distraction from the norm that they scarcely welcome.

In his book ‘The Art of Captaincy’, Mike Brearley explores what creates and motivates a captain, and offers valuable insight into how  the personality of the captain can ultimately shape the personality of the whole team. Brearley was one of England cricket’s most successful leaders of all time, and in another summer where the modern Three Lions have triumphed against Australia in an Ashes series win, it seems fitting to give credit to a book that uses the sport as a backdrop for a wider discussion on leadership and inspiration.

In truth, the subject matter could be cricket or soccer or rugby or lawn bowls, because what Brearley extracts from the realities of leading a team is the value of having a dominant character taking a match forward from the front. He uses numerous examples of where sides he has played in have won and lost because of the actions (or lack of them) of a captain. He explains why in modern sport the finer elements of diet, preparation and physical state can be completely undermined unless there is a dominant voice on the field of play, and offers insight for coaches looking to shape their own captains of the future with sound advice and guidance.

He’s also keen to point out that, while advice may be far, wide and full, there is ultimately no blueprint for captaincy because what we are talking about are leaders being shaped in their own character.  Ultimately, it’s a role that fits some and not others, which is probably why some will run from the responsibility while others embrace it.

Excerpt

“Captaincy is difficult. A man said to me recently, ‘Motivation is basically simple; it’s a matter of bringing the best out of people.’ Batsmen may be over-coached; it is said of Ian Botham that he is a wonderfully natural cricketer. As Kapil Dev remarked recently, ‘There is no room for copying anyone else’s play at Test level’. Without doubt we have to be natural to be captains, too; we must be ourselves.

Every good captain leads his side in his own way, as suits his own personality. He must be willing to follow his hunches. The captain, like the batsman or the mother, is impeded and stilted in his performance if his head is constantly cluttered up with heroes.

The trouble is that not every spontaneous response is appropriate or valid. How can a mother ‘behave naturally’ if what she longs to do is strangle her brat? Or is a batsman if, whenever a slow bowler tosses one up, irresistibly tempted to slog it over mid-wicket? It is true that captaincy is at best often a matter of intuition; but only if the intuition has been honed and trained and developed along the right lines. The heart must be in the right place, but so must the mind and its attention to detail”

Excerpt

“Captaincy is difficult. A man said to me recently, ‘Motivation is basically simple; it’s a matter of bringing the best out of people.’ Batsmen may be over-coached; it is said of Ian Botham that he is a wonderfully natural cricketer. As Kapil Dev remarked recently, ‘There is no room for copying anyone else’s play at Test level’. Without doubt we have to be natural to be captains, too; we must be ourselves.

Every good captain leads his side in his own way, as suits his own personality. He must be willing to follow his hunches. The captain, like the batsman or the mother, is impeded and stilted in his performance if his head is constantly cluttered up with heroes.

The trouble is that not every spontaneous response is appropriate or valid. How can a mother ‘behave naturally’ if what she longs to do is strangle her brat? Or is a batsman if, whenever a slow bowler tosses one up, irresistibly tempted to slog it over mid-wicket? It is true that captaincy is at best often a matter of intuition; but only if the intuition has been honed and trained and developed along the right lines. The heart must be in the right place, but so must the mind and its attention to detail”

The Art of Captaincy: What Sports Teaches Us About Leadership, Mike Brearley.