What Makes a Good Captain?

Vulcan sports captains’ opinions on what they believe it takes to be a good leader

Staff Writer Zac Gottlieb

Vulcans Celebrating

Not everyone is born with great leadership skills. In fact, it is hard to find a person who is a natural leader. While athletes are all expected to be hardworking and committed to their sport, we cannot rule out the fact that each has his or her own set of personal values and individual attitudes. So, what does it take to become someone who can lead a sports team?

According to Matthew Wilkinson, captain of the University of Hawai`i at Hilo men's soccer team, it centers around understanding. “Some people need an arm around them and some people need to be shouted at. Some people need to be swore at and some people don’t respond to swearing. Some people simply don’t listen to you at all, so you need to approach someone who they would listen to. You can have multiple personalities as a captain, you don’t have to have the strict one because everybody responds differently to different approaches.”

Mina Grant, captain of the Vulcans volleyball side, agrees with Wilkinson but argues it’s due to “perspective.”

“I can’t talk to my teammates all the same. Everyone responds to everything differently,” Grant said.

Amber Vaughn, captain of the University of Hawai`i at Hilo women's basketball team, disagrees. “Trust is the most important thing. Knowing that if they trust me, I can trust them back. If I go hard or do a certain move that I’ve never done before, I can trust that they’ll have my back and rotate over. Or if I hustle for a play, I know that they’ll do the same. If I trust them, they’ll trust me and it just leads to a better team chemistry.”

However, according to Lucy Maino, captain of the Vulcan’s women's soccer team, it is a matter of responsibility. “To me it means being responsible. There is trust placed in you to be selected in the role and as such, you are responsible to set a good example for the team. You have a whole team looking up to you and because of that your attitude and actions set the tone.”

It is evident that there is no salient, single trait that turns a man or woman into a captain. Rather, it is a lifetime of soaring successes and trials and tribulations that paint an individual with that stroke and that makes a captain a captain both on and off the field.

Wilkinson agrees, citing his own tribulations. “My dad died when I was eighteen. A lot of my friends’ parents or close family members started to get unwell as we grew older. I was somebody that they could go to to help and guide them through those tough times. I handled the death of my father pretty well. I saw more positives than negatives, and I led a lot of my friends through those times where they didn’t have anybody else to talk to. If they were not to have spoken to someone like myself, they could have easily gone up a path that they might not have been able to walk back down from.”

Vaughn’s tumultuous trials weren’t life or death, but they embodied what it means to be a captain nonetheless. “Last season I tore my knee and only played six games. Sitting on the bench, I could see my teammates getting down or just over it. So I put my personal feelings aside and stepped up to be there for them from the bench,” she said.

“A lot of other teammates were out for knee injuries as well,” continued Vaughn, “so I’d do the rounds and ask them how they’re feeling. We’d all work out outside of practice just to make sure we were all in it together,” Vaughn said, showing that a captain goes above and beyond both on and of the field of play.

Most athletes aspire and strive to play the role of team captain. It is both an honor and a wrecking ball of responsibility. It is honorary as it gives credence to one's credibility to play and play well. But, on the other hand, it is a large responsibility because, besides the coach, it is the captain who is in charge of the betterment of the team and the sacrifices that the role entails.

Of this responsibility, Vaughn of the Vulcan’s women's basketball team says, “I have a responsibility to make sure that everyone is taking accountability for their own jobs while having fun with it.”

Grant agrees it is a matter of accountability. “I think I’ve always been looked at as a leader, but I never gave myself that title. I just try to play the game and hold everyone accountable to a high standard, as well as myself,” she said.

Vaughn continued, saying, “At the same time I feel like I have to support everybody else when tensions get heated. If we’re behind in a tough game, I get this feeling like you’re the one that has to step up and just try to bring everybody together.”

Volleyball captain Grant says of the extra responsibility that comes with being captain: “I just try to play my best and do everything I can to help us succeed.” If she does that and does that well, everything else falls into place.

It seems, in order to be a successful captain, one must be willing to put the team’s goals and direction before themselves. The best captains lead by example and by the use of their voice; they work hard when nobody is watching. They make choices that put the team first without having to be asked. Simply put, they make a positive impact through actions and interactions on and off the pitch.

This is not just pertinent to sports; however, what makes a good captain is, in fact, what makes a good person. We can all strive to be more understanding, more responsible, and more trustworthy. It ought to be the pillars we hold ourselves up with everyday, not just on the field of play.