Team Captains: How to Initiate and Lead Team Meetings

At The Captain's’ Coach. We believe that games and championships are won outside of the playing field. The game is far bigger than the X’s and O’s of the game. The discussions, ideas, strategies, cohesion, and events that happen off the field are crucial to influencing what happens on it.  This is one reason why I feel that it is important for team captains to lead their own meetings with some influential members of the team. It is something that should happen systematically in your program and the coach should have no real say in it other than helping develop the team captains to be able to run them effectively.

When I was in high school. Our baseball team was the number 1 team in the state. We were a public high school and had 13 D1 athletes on the team. It was going to be our year to win state. I was not much of a leader, but I cared so much about the team and was willing to do whatever it took to make sure we won. So, before the season started, I called a meeting with about 7-8 of our most influential players at Buffalo Wild Wings. It did not go very well at all. First off, I had it at Buffalo Wild Wings, so 99% of our time consisted of us just watching sports, eating, and goofing off. I had never really led anything before, for the most part, and running a meeting was certainly not one of the tasks I had ever done before. Although I had good ideas, I didn’t know how to start it or what to say. The intent was to figure out how we were going to lead our team this year and figure out who was going to be in charge of what. We had a lot of seniors that year and I had a feeling that we needed to figure some things out before the season so that it did not become a problem (power struggle). Regardless to say, about 5 minutes before we were about to leave someone asked me what we were going to talk about and I just kind of froze. It was about 10 years ago so it is hard to remember all of the details but I remember questioning myself on if what I was doing was right and asking myself what right I had to force anything to happen for the leadership of the team. Our team had all of the talent in the world. Yet, there was something missing. That missing link was me as the captain of the team and my inability to do what was necessary.

I think these meetings are vital for a team captain to be able to initiate and lead effectively. It can be difficult to do if you have never done something like this before. So, I have taken some time to walk you through some of the things that you should be thinking about when initiating the first meeting as a team captain. Every situation, team, and leader is different. You will have to utilize your wisdom to know how to go about it the right way. Let me start by discussing why these meetings matter…

Firstly, it shows a lot about the buy-in on a team, when you have select individuals who are willing to take the time and effort to try and problem-solve current issues and foresee and navigate through potential ones. Leading meetings amongst your peers can be a daunting tasks. We believe that your willingness to be vulnerable is directly related to how much buy-in you have within the team and its mission.

Secondly, this is an excellent experience to go through as a leader. It is not easy to present, communicate, and maybe even argue certain points. It takes a lot of skill and wisdom to navigate through. The more you do it, the better you will get, and it is a very useful skill to have.

Thirdly, many captains and athletes will skimp their duties and make excuses for why they aren’t reaching their goals but real leaders get outside of their comfort zone and collaborate with their teams.

There are three main steps to initiating the meeting: the planning phase, the execution phase, and the review phase. Each one brings with it different questions and issues.


Planning


The first question is what is the purpose of the meeting?

  • What is the one question/ issue that you want to have solved by the end of the meeting.

    • It is vital that you have this answer and figure out if it requires a meeting or not.

    • There are not much worse things than a 2 hour meeting that was a waste of everyone’s time and nothing gets accomplished.


Who all do you want to have there?

  • Too many people can be inefficient, too few and you might not get the true feel or opinion from the team.

  • If you are initiating the very first athlete-led team meeting I suggest that you keep it between 3-5 people.

  • What happens when others hear about it?

    • Will it affect relationships on the team if they were not invited?

  • Should you influence someone else who is more influential than you to initiate it?

    • Some individuals at a young age find their calling to lead. However, stepping on the feet of the current senior leaders can be a mistake. If you feel it needs to be done, it might be wise to influence another one of the leaders of the team so that you can both run it together. You certainly want to have someone on your side going into the meeting.


Where should it be at?

  • The location of the meeting is very influential to communicating what type of feel the meeting will have. If you want a serious one, find a classroom with a whiteboard. If you want a more relaxed setting, go to a restaurant or someone else's house.


When should it take place?

  • It can take place in-season, pre-season, before or after practice, after a win or loss. I would recommend that you do not hold meetings only after things are going poorly for your team. It should be consistent regardless if you are winning or losing. If you are losing, then there is great reason to have it. When you are winning, it is just as important because, as a team, you are just as vulnerable at both the highs and the lows.


How long will it be at a minimum?

  • This will depend on what you want to hit. Your initial meeting will set the stage for future ones. You should always try to keep it shorter rather than longer. It will all depend on what your situation is but your goal should be to make it productive. Keep going until you have lost that.


What are the questions that you want the group to try and problem-solve together?

  • Depending on the situation, I recommend focusing on 1-3 main questions or problems that you want to solve. If you have a whiteboard, write the question on there and it should help keep you on track as the collaboration goes haywire.


What resources do you need?

  • Do you need a white-board? Pen and paper?


Do you send out all of the information and expectations beforehand? Along with the questions?

  • If you are having meetings consistently with the leaders on your team, I would say that each meeting’s agenda should be sent out ahead of time so that people can begin to think on their answers and be able to defend their positions and thoughts they have on the issue.


What are some of the things that could go wrong from having this meeting?

  • Try to think about what bad things could happen from initiating the meeting? Project some sort of risk assessment by understanding your audience. Do the other leaders on your team have big egos? Get angry and slighted easily? Are they petty? Do they hold grudges? Utilizing the questions you are going to ask, try to foresee how the conversation might go and where it could possibly turn for the worst.


Execution


There is a high percentage that the meeting will go to an entirely different place than what the intent is. More questions will pop up, more problems, etc…

  • What is your plan when this happens? Will you just let it happen and see where it goes? For how long should you stay off topic?


What can you do to stop it from getting emotional? Is it possible that the meeting to get emotional (pride, anger?)


How is the meeting going to end?

  • Will it be an awkward ending?

  • Try to summarize what the consensus has been on the points of discussion.



Review


At the end, you could have a formal after action report. This is where you go around the room and ask for feedback on how the event went. 3 sustainments and 3 improvements need to be made.


If you don’t feel like its appropriate then just reflect on it yourself and figure out what went well, what went poorly, and why.


How to give a pre-game speech

The pre-game speech is all about energy. Energy is critical for a team to stay united, to perform at peak levels, and to defeat an opposing team. What you are essentially doing during the pre-game speech is infusing energy into your team. It is Newton’s first law of thermodynamics in motion. The language that you use, and the way that you present it to your team, has the power to literally heighten their energy, focus, and performance. The following are a few points that will help you prepare and think differently about your approach to this aspect of the game.

The first step is to realize it’s necessary. Emotional and mental control is key to victories. To be clear, emotional control does not mean less emotion. “The calm before the storm” cliche that some teams use is a copout for about 95% of teams out there. Your job as the coach is to bring out their best. Language is powerful and directly connected with feeling, meaning, purpose. Language is POWERFUL. THe Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that our language literally affects a speakers world-view and cognition. The right words said the right way can infuse individuals with motivation, and energy to wake your team out of its slumber.

The second step is to realize that it is an art. A theatrical performance. Rhythm, tempo, inflection... it all matters.

The third step is to connect. Remember that it’s not about you, you have to have other-consciousness to connect with others. Be in the room, kook your team in the eyes, feel the emotion, power, energy that is created in moments like this and if you are only centered on yourself, your fear, your insecurities, you are going to miss the true power that a speech can give.

The fourth step is to incorporate the team. Don’t be the pastor...people want to be a part of something, the goal is to get everyone else on the rhythm that you are on. Find your voice, say your part, and then get them involved.

The fifth tip...don’t copy it. Make it original. This is not a law but highly recommend it. If people have heard it before it loses its effect and power. The few times this might be possible is if everyone on the team wants you to do it or if somehow it fits the team’s personality perfectly or is a part of a tradition.

The sixth tip...only certain people should give it. Make sure you are one of those people. If the team doesn’t respect you or what you have to say then spare yourself and the team the painful experience.

The seventh tip...practice, practice, practice and have a plan. Being a great speaker takes time  but being able to give a great pre-game speech is a very difficult skill to master.