The role of leadership on club teams

PHOTO COURTESY OF SMITH.EDU  Being the captain of a Smith College sport has both its rewards and challenges.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SMITH.EDU

Being the captain of a Smith College sport has both its rewards and challenges.

Elizabeth Muirhead ’20 | Assistant Sports Editor

At Smith, we’re fortunate enough to have a variety of fitness options for athletes at all levels, including for-credit gym classes, drop-in get fit smith classes, club sports and varsity sports. As someone who’s been a member of our club ice hockey team since my first year, I want to emphasize how much I love the level of competition at the club level. Club teams welcome new and experienced athletes; I’ve been playing ice hockey since I was in second grade. Our team allows me to continue improving on my skills and play against both more competitive and less competitive opponents.

Last year, I served as a captain, which helped me understand how the roles of leaders shift to fit the needs of the team. Given the wide range of skill and experience on club teams, the role of leadership is to bring along new athletes and make them feel welcome while still challenging experienced athletes and inspiring the whole team to work cohesively. Drawing from my own experience as a former captain of the ice hockey team and interviewing some of the other club sports captains, I can provide insight into this unique role.

When asked what makes a good leader, Sophie Guthrie ’21, current captain of the ice hockey team, put more emphasis on the subtlety of the role: “Leaders act as examples and guide people through support.” Leadership is about being a role model, not just commanding. Sophia Tannir ’20 of the rugby team also echoed similar sentiments, stating that a leader has to have “patience, understanding, confidence without cockiness, ability to take criticism and balance.”

A theme that came up when I talked to both of them was approachability, particularly in a space where there might be a wide discrepancy in skill. Having played sports since I was a kid, I’ve observed a type of social hierarchy emerge based on skill across different sports and age ranges. These issues can be especially heightened on club teams where the discrepancy in skill is even more drastic. An activity that's built around competition can cook up an intimidating and even toxic culture. Captains need to work to keep that culture in check and navigate the social friction of team environments.

Going back to their more explicit responsibilities, in both hockey and rugby, the captains are responsible for regularly planning and running some of the practices without their coach, which means that the captains need to schedule additional meetings and have insight into health and fitness. As Tannir said, “we have our coaches there only three times a week while the captains completely run and plan the other two practices of the week.”

When I asked them to reveal the most challenging thing about being a captain, both Guthrie and Tannir echoed a similar sentiment. Guthrie said “believing in my leadership skills and taking myself seriously [was the hardest part about being captain]”; Tannir said it was “trusting that you’re making the right choice when you have a lot of people looking towards you for answers [and] guidance.” It’s difficult to be confident all of the time, and having the added responsibility of being a captain both magnifies and tests your confidence. The advice that I would give to any future captains is that, at the end of the day, your teammates are your friends and peers; everyone wants you to succeed, and you’re allowed to lean on your teammates just as much as they lean on you.

SportsSophian Smith