We need leaders, not captains.

This article was published in the Dubbo Photo News last Thursday on the 22nd of March. In the following days the Cape Town debacle occurred. To say that is disappointing is an understatement.

A few weeks ago after Dubbo Kangaroos training I was talking to one of the senior players about how I was disappointed with the fact that our training teams hadn’t been starting their drills on time.
Everything at training is now timed to the second. I have been moulded by my professional rugby experiences and environments that you’ve got to be as effective and as efficient as can be, especially with your time. More is not necessarily better. Our sessions to date have been going for 75-80 mins including team meeting, warm up, warm down and team debrief.

The longest the boys have for a hydration break is 2 minutes, which is no more than 3 times during the session and that 2 minutes includes getting from their previous drill, game or fitness and moving to their next one.


My discussion with this player was that our standards weren’t were we wanted them to be, in terms of discipline to get from one drill to the other and starting that drill on the whistle for the next rotation as opposed to arriving at the drill at that time and starting 5-15 seconds later.


As we had got everyone into 4 teams at the start of the session, we had also appointed 4 captains to be in charge of these teams. This bloke was not one of them. I expressed the need for our senior players to address this issue, and do it internally as opposed to me going off sounding like a nagging school teacher telling a young Beau Robinson to sit down for the 20th time.


His response was that it wasn’t his role, as he wasn’t appointed captain. He was by no means deflecting it, he simply didn’t feel it was his position to do this.

This was a light bulb moment for me. I hadn’t done my job in making it clear to the senior players what it was I expected from them and how I wanted them to be responsible for driving the standards. I had set the standards and they were pretty bloody high, but they were the ones that needed to drive them.

I explained to him, that it was far more important for this club, to have leaders as opposed to captains. We need leaders, not captains. So what’s the difference? A captain can be, but isn’t always, someone who likes to be in a position of power, or who likes having a title, and that is one of their motivating factors. They enjoy the benefits that can come with this title, and love the recognition they get with this title. Unfortunately, they aren’t always good leaders, sometimes they are so concerned about themselves that they are actually a detriment to the team and its culture as they prioritise their own needs over that of the teams.


A leader doesn’t need a title. A leader doesn’t even necessarily need to speak up in group situations, although in a rugby environment, they realise the importance of micro communication, in speaking to everyone around them during the team and drills as they know that lack of communication means lack of clarity, and a lack of clarity leads to a lack of confidence. But they don’t need to be doing the big bravado speeches. They arrive at drills first. They jog to get their water instead of walk, even if they are exhausted, because they know they aren’t broken, and showing that they aren’t lets others around them know that they will still go on.


They do the little things right in the drill, they go around the cones, instead of over them, if they drop a ball they don’t feel sorry for themselves they jump on it or try to make up for their mistake. If someone else drops the ball, they pat them on the back as a sign of encouragement and the “lets get it right mate” mentality, they lead from the front when they are chasing a kicked ball. These are leaders, and these are far more valuable than any ‘captain’ can ever be. They lead through their actions more than anything, because let’s face it, a leader is there to ‘lead’, from the front, by setting an example.


I explained this to him, and I could see he understood it. He was a natural leader, he just didn’t realise the effect he had on those around him and how he could influence an entire group through his natural style. I didn’t want him to be someone else. It was also important that by doing this he realised he wasn’t imposing himself on the captain of the team and his role. A good captain understand he needs leaders around him also, they are imperative to the success of the team.


After this I asked the club captain to get the senior boys to training early for the following training session. No more than 2 minutes and we had addressed the issue and told them we as a club, needed leaders and for them to lead the rest of the playing group, irrespective of whether they were appointed captain or not.


The change was phenomenal and the intensity at training was the best it had been all year. The coaches were thoroughly impressed and it was resounding when we did our coaches end of session debrief and we got their feedback.


Can someone be both? Most definitely. This is when a natural leader finds himself being appointed with the role as captain, these are the best captains. Sometimes though, even the best leaders don’t want to be captains, they don’t want the responsibility and everything else that comes with the title, they just want to get on with the job.

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