How to Be a Good Team Captain With Kim Oden

Video Transcript - 5 Keys

Kim Oden was the captain of the 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams as well as her Stanford volleyball team. After winning a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992 she went on to coach Division I volleyball and in 2001 was an assistant coach for Stanford's national championship squad. She won two state championships as the head coach of the St. Francis volleyball team in Mountain View, California where she is now the head of the Guidance Counseling Department. In this video, Kim talks about what it takes to be a good team captain. Below is the transcript of the video.

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Hello, my name is Kim Oden. I am a former Division I collegiate athlete at Stanford University, a two-time Olympian in 1988 and 1992, a two-time state champion volleyball coach at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, CA and a former assistant coach for Stanford University, where in 2001, our team won a national championship. I was fortunate enough to serve as captain for a number of the teams that I just mentioned including the 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams and for Stanford University in my senior year. Today I’d like to talk to you about how to be a good team captain.

  1. Be a good example for your teammates on the court, in conditioning & strength training and also in the classroom.
    This doesn’t mean that you have to be the best player on the team, the fastest person in sprints, the strongest person in strength training or even the person that gets all A’s in the classroom. But it does mean that whatever your best is, you do that. That is a great example to your teammates.
  2. Little things add up to big things.
    Helping your team to focus on how to get out of a tough rotation, every six-on-six drill, every day in practice. These things need to be done consistently and the team needs to be helped to do that consistently and I think the captain is a big part of that.
  3. Always believe in your teammates even when they let you down.
    Now I don’t mean to ignore bad behavior or condone it or God forbid emulate it. But I do mean that when your teammate gets her act together, that the slate is clean. You allow the teammate and the team to move on. You hold no grudges.
  4. Be courageous enough to rock the boat when needed.
    When a teammate is behaving badly, you don’t have to give a dissertation on why the behavior is bad, or berate the person or condescend to the person or single the person out in front of the team. You don’t have to do that. Sometimes it is as simple as saying, “Your behavior is hurting the team. Please stop it. We need you.” You may need to repeat this statement to the person several times before they actually get it. Even if the player continues to behave badly, you can sleep soundly as the captain because you’ve tried to confront it, you’ve spoken your piece on behalf of the team and the rest is going to be up to the coach to help you out.
  5. Be a good liaison between the coach and the team.
    This doesn’t mean telling the coach everything that’s happening with every person on the team. We all know that situations with girl’s teams there are many and I know some boy’s teams can have some drama too. It doesn’t mean that, no one likes a tattletale. But what is important is that as the captain if you become aware of issues on the team that can destroy team chemistry, then it is your responsibility to make the coach aware of these things. Now in most cases, as a student athlete on a team, it will not be your responsibility to fix these issues, your coach will have to step in and help the team with it. But it is your responsibility if the coach is not aware, to help the coach help the team.

What is the hardest thing about being a team captain?

If you are the captain or you are the department chair or you are the coach, you have to do the right thing for the team. You have to do the right thing for the group. There is no easy way to do it and it will not always be comfortable, but that's OK. Because the bottom line is that the team comes first. What the team needs, that’s what a captain has to do.

How do you know if you would be a good captain?

You don’t have to be perfect at it, there is no perfect captain. I was certainly not perfect and I don’t know any captain who was. But what I do know is that they were willing to take a risk and communicate honestly and directly when they knew something needed to be said. If you are willing to be that person, you can be a great captain.

What did you learn from being a captain that helped you in later life?

Well, I think as a captain one of the things you learn also is how to talk to different people on the team. There’s some people who you can be very direct in your communication with. There’s some people that you have to employ what I call the velvet hammer, where you let them know you are there for them, you’re their friend. You go ahead and tell them the thing that is bothering you or you think is bothering the team and you follow that up with a nice comment. Those kind of things I think help with some of the people that are defensive sometimes or very insecure about their place on the team and what they are doing.

What do you do when your team doesn’t accept your leadership?

So leadership – managing people, that’s basically what you’re doing as a captain – it is not easy. And as I said before it won’t be comfortable. There will be times where the team may not be very accepting of your captaining or your captain’s management style. But one of the things you have to do is be responsive to the team. But you also have to know that there are certain times when maybe not the whole, you might not have the whole team behind you as a captain and in employing what you want to do with the team. But if you have just enough, sometimes four key people are enough, sometimes six people are enough, sometimes eight people are enough. If you can get enough people moving in the right direction, you could save the season of the team. It doesn’t have to be everybody. You hope it is, ideally it is. But even if it isn’t, if you can get just enough people to buy into what you are trying to get the team to be and you can sell them on your vision of what you want the team to be, that may be just enough.