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Traits of a Good Football Captain

Being chosen as the captain of a football team is a unique honor and privilege — one that comes with a set of responsibilities and expectations just as unique. Not all captains will be the same, nor will they (or should they) be chosen for the same reasons. However, there are several characteristics that all football captains should have. This guide features three examples of such qualities.

1. Leadership

The ability to lead — or more specifically, to inspire others to follow — is definitely a rare quality. Again, when it comes to the vast majority of football-specific decisions (play-calling, formation choices, etc.) the coaches will make the calls. With regard to the captain specifically, however, leadership refers more to the players wanting the captain to lead them; to be able to look to the captain for direction. Here are a few ways that the captain should be able to lead the rest of the team:

  • Ensuring players get to practice on time
  • Making sure the requisite equipment is on hand
  • Behaving appropriately outside of football (school, social events, etc.)
  • Maintaining good study habits and grades
  • Making sure everyone works hard at practice, in the weight room, during the offseason, etc.

There’s a common thread that connects these instances of leadership and the many others not listed above: They all involve leading by example. That’s the most important leadership-specific quality a captain should have.

2. Motivation

The ability to motivate is directly related to the ability to lead; specifically, when players are motivated, this energy is direct evidence that a captain has actually led the other players in some way. Whether it’s inspiring players to burn that last morsel of energy during wind sprints at the end of practice, or encouraging a single player who’s having trouble with a certain skill, a good captain can push players without browbeating them. In return, the players want to live up to the captain’s expectations.

Regardless of what movies and television shows would have you believe, a captain’s obligation to motivate the other players doesn’t only happen before the game-winning drive or on a last-minute defensive stand. While such melodramatic instances of motivation do occur, they happen less frequently and are less important than the everyday opportunities for motivation, like those listed above.

3. Work Ethic

I don't know any other way to lead but by example.

Don Shula
Two-time Super Bowl Champion, retired NFL Coach

If there’s one absolute and irreplaceable quality that a captain should have, it’s work ethic; the captain should be the hardest-working player on the team — period. He may not always be the most talented player, nor the fastest or strongest on the team. He should, however, always be the hardest worker.

This trait is also linked to the two aforementioned characteristics; it’s much easier to both lead and motivate others when they see first-hand that the captain puts every ounce of effort into practice drills, sprints, weight lifting, etc.

A Higher Standard

There’s no magic formula to becoming a team captain. Those who want the captaincy know how hard they have to work to get the honor, and they need to willingly put in the effort. That’s why you don’t see a football team with 20 captains — not everyone is cut out for it.

Though the coaches are technically in charge, the captain should be the leader of a team. This guide features three characteristics that a football captain should embody.
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