Author John C. Maxwell wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”
On wrestling teams, leaders are assigned the role of team captain and play an important role in leading the team.
So what makes a strong wrestling captain?
“We emphasize leadership, work ethic, integrity and attitude,” said Mike May, who serves as head wrestling coach at Fairfield High School in Montana.
Captain selection process
The process of selecting team captains can vary significantly by school. At Reed-Custer High School in Illinois, head wrestling coach Jeff Sukley uses a two-fold process to select team captains.
“We have the kids vote on who they think should be captains,” said Sukley. “Prior to them voting we talk a little bit about our expectations for our captains, that they’re team leaders. They’re the extension of the coaching staff. They kind of have a pulse on the team. They can be motivators through verbal or just through the effort they show, not only in the room, but also in the classroom and in public settings. The coaches also vote on who we think should be captains. We go through that process and we usually pick two to three out of that group. Then we sit down with those athletes and talk about the expectations that we have for them as leaders of the team.”
Kyle Kleuskens, head wrestling coach at Neenah High School in Wisconsin, uses a different method of selecting captains on his wrestling team.
“My philosophy is the coaching staff selects the captains,” said Kleuskens. “Captains can be selected any time in the year, 365 days a year. We even added a captain during the offseason for his work ethic. We don’t really have a limit, but our coaching staff gets together when we feel a wrestler has met the criteria we’re looking for as far as overall leadership.”
May said he changed his process for selecting team captains. It used to be based solely on performance on the wrestling mat.
“In the past my team captains have been returning state placers,” said May. “They have kind of proven their worthiness, but I’ve changed that a little bit. What I’ve done is allowed the team to elect their team captains. But ultimately I have the final decision on it.”
Does grade matter when it comes to selection captains?
Like with the process of selecting a team captain, opinions can vary significantly on whether a student-athlete must be in a certain grade to be elected as a team captain.
Kleuskens said when he was in high school only seniors on his wrestling team could be chosen as captains. He does not subscribe to that same philosophy as a coach.
“Grade does not matter,” said Kleuskens. “We currently have one senior, two juniors and a sophomore as captains.”
May doesn’t believe grader matters either when it comes to selecting captains. He’s even had four-year captains.
“Every once in a while you’ll get one of those kids who is a standup guy, busts his ass and everybody kind of follows his lead, even when he’s a freshman,” said May.
A captain’s role outside the wrestling room
Kleuskens believes captains have an important role to play outside the wrestling room.
“We always talk about representing our program at any given point in time, holding our program to a high standard,” said Kleuskens. “We feel that our captains really need to do a great job representing our program in the community and out in the school hallways.”
Captains serve many roles in May’s wrestling program at Fairfield.
“They help promote meets,” said May. “They help with recruiting. We take our captains to help with the seventh and eighth-graders. They will work with them so they get familiar with them.”
Sukley relies on his captains to monitor the team outside of the wrestling room.
“They’re kind of the ones in charge of policing the team,” said Sukley. “They’re with each other more than we see it. If there is something going, it’s good for us to get wind of it through them. We have a kids wrestling tournament. We assign the captains to oversee everything, making sure our kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing because I’m running around doing stuff myself, so I can’t police the kids at that tournament.”
Sukley and Kleuskens stressed that being a captain is a privilege that can be taken away.
“I used to never take captains off of being captains before, but now I will,” said Sukley. “If you’re not doing something that is an expectation of a captain, you can lose that privilege. I’ll promote somebody else to that spot, or if we have three we might just go with two. They understand. We talk about that. Your peers feel you’re a leader. Now that puts a little bit more pressure on you because not only do you have to worry about how you’re doing for yourself, but what’s your persona around you? What are they seeing? That puts a little bit more pressure on you as a leader.”
Added Kleuskens, “Captains are always held to a really high standard. If they make a mistake or have some issues, we can take it away from them. They know that too.”
Types of captains
Wrestling captains can lead in vocal and non-vocal ways.
“I have had some really good seen-and-not-heard captains,” said May. “I like to have the vocal ones, but some aren’t. The guys just follow them by example. They’re busting their tail. They’re winning high-stress matches. They have a great mindset. They are leading by the example they’re setting.”
Kleuskens has both vocal and non-vocal captains leading his team.
“Last year our senior who was our first captain was more of a lead-by-example type wrestler,” said Kleuskens. “He would step up when he needed to. Some are vocal. We’re kind of grooming the captains too because we have two juniors and a sophomore as captains. Part of it is a learning process. I’m seeing a lot of the younger kids follow the examples of the leaders right now.
“I tell the team, I hold being a team captain as a great achievement. It’s better than being a team MVP to me.”
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