University Club Leadership and Development (pt 1)

fatherly-advice

Prologue

nationals2000 Far Flung and I have been on/off lovers for around 13 years. I first met her as a fresh faced beginner, fell in love as a national champion, finally agreed to be her first team captain in my post-grad year and now have the privilege of watching our children grow in my role as coach.

These experiences have had a huge impact on my life, not just in the form of friendships and sporting achievement but in maturing my confidence and developing leadership and management skills. So I care, at least a little, about the fate of my future grandkids and seeing the club succeed and continue to develop and enrich other peoples lives. Given that I have somewhat arrogantly portrayed myself as a father figure I should back that up by imparting some wisdom to you all, or at least a few observations and useful tips to consider as the club is passed on to the next generation. I will try to talk in general terms so hopefully this applies to Dark Horses as well, although I don’t know much about your club setup and tend to think of you more as Phil’s bastard child…

Legacy

We are now approaching the time of year where those in charge should be thinking about how to pass on the reins and the up-and-comers should be readying themselves to take the wheel (that’s a stunning metaphor for progress….). Many of you will be final year students, readying yourself for the real world and moving on to greener astroturf. But spare a thought for those you leave behind; think about all the positive experiences you have taken from being part of the team and ensure you bestow your club to capable hands and allow that legacy to continue.

The Next Generation of Players

Player Development
Results on the pitch are ultimately the responsibility of the first team captain and success is frequently measured by a first teams placing at Nationals. As a result, long-term development is often sacrificed in favour of short-term goals with captains eager to secure the best results during their year in charge. I have seen Scottish clubs go from top 5 UK to 6th at regionals after one round of graduation. This shouldn’t happen if you have a proper plan in place for team development. Think about your part in the club as an ongoing entity that will exist after you are gone.

cowboy

“I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
it’s what you leave behind you when you go.” – Randy Travis, Cowboy

Well Randy, in the context of university Ultimate Frisbee, you’re half right. It’s about finding the balance between achievement and development. There is no point in constantly sending development teams to tournaments if your aim is to compete, but there is a lot to be said for providing players with first team experience. The decision to take 8 or 10 players to indoor tournaments is always a tough one but a 10 man squad can be just as competitive as an 8 man squad if managed effectively.

Unlike most sports, the majority of club members start their ultimate career at university and require opportunities to improve and develop rather than showing up ready-made. This also puts responsibility on the first teamers to ensure they are playing regularly with other club members at training and less serious tournaments. Beginners especially need to learn from these players, get to know them and understand what it takes to make the top team if that’s their goal. The added workload for later year students often makes it difficult for a lot of first teamers to commit to multiple training sessions but try to integrate as much as possible with the rest of the club and avoid becoming an elite, exclusive gang.

Impending graduation is an inherent issue with University ultimate as your most experienced players often see their final year as a last chance to claim success. This naturally, but somewhat selfishly, comes at the price of excluding developing players from training sessions and tournaments in order to focus on the top players. If you truly enjoy ultimate then this won’t be the end of your playing career and you will realize there are bigger prizes out there than student indoor nationals.

Perhaps the role of first team captain does not extend to the whole club but there should be a clear plan implemented for player development. This should be discussed by coaches, captains and other senior players to identify who is responsible for raising the level of play in the club as a whole and progressing competitive players towards the first team.

passthebaton Who is going to replace you?

Grooming. No, not like that. You are going to lose some big players at the end of the year, it might even be yourself. Someone will need to step up to the plate. You need to earmark your replacements and give opportunities to those that could replace the replacements. Traditionally many players make it to the first team in 2 ways:

  • Show a bit of athletic promise in your first year, get promoted to the first team and play as a deep, you can’t be trusted to throw just yet. Spend a few years playing in the endzone and still only know how to throw a dump pass.
  • Didn’t show enough athleticism to make the first team early on. Spent a few years on 2nd teams where you got to do most of the handling as you were one of the more senior / better seconds players. Good at throwing a disc now but lack competitive experience and knowledge.

In the first scenario a player has been brought on the first team early and forgotten about, in the second the promotion to the first team environment is too late. In both cases the players talents have plateaued due to a lack of development opportunities.

Give your developing players experienced mentors that they can emulate or accept advice from. Open up your first team doors at suitable opportunities e.g. after big tournaments or by running extra sessions for the whole club or even posting summaries of first team training to the entire club. You need to find the most effective method to pass on the knowledge you have acquired to those who will eventually take over. Expose your players to multiple positions and roles in training and at tournaments whenever possible. Give them the freedom to make big plays and learn from mistakes in the right environment. As a captain you need to lead and teach others to lead.

Who should be the next captain?

It’s time to pass the baton to your successor:

“Here’s a few cool drills and join this email group, good luck!” – Bad Captain/Committee

Not the sort of transition that will ensure ongoing success. I would personally like to see a captain that has more than one year left at university and doesn’t see it as a one year job. Ideally the captain should come in to the role with a 2 year plan, spend a year as captain, transition smoothly to the next leader and stick around as an experienced player that can offer guidance and maintain a committed first team culture that is instilled in new players.

So what if you find a great captain? Shouldn’t they stay captain? What if they decide to do a PhD? They can be captain for another 4 years right? Being a captain is a skill and an immense learning opportunity. It requires you to lead, coach, manage, strategise and speak to large groups; it can turn men in to more manly men. I believe it is definitely an opportunity worth passing on to others and not one you should deny a willing and committed teammate. In your post-captaincy year your presence will be extremely supportive and your experience invaluable. Plus there is always room for fresh ideas and innovative blood.

What should the next captain do?

Be your own captain, not in a self help sort of way, but in a non-sheep sort of way. You may have the added challenge of captaining your previous captain and more experienced players than you, but don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit and introduce your own style. It probably doesn’t make sense to radically change tactics and training if the previous team has done well, but it is important to reassess those methods, goals and strategies and adjust them to the current player pool. Make that 2 year plan; sit down with the previous captain or other experienced players/coaches and write it out.

Decide on the role you want to fill as captain. For many clubs the first team captain is an umbrella term for captain, coach, manager, transport organizer, pitch booker, strategiser, selector etc. Feel free to delegate roles; give people responsibility and they feel a stronger connection to the team. If you have access to decent (ahem) coaches then use them to plan tactics, run sessions and select teams.

Your role as captain starts the moment you are elected, not the first training session of the academic year. Take on the role immediately, groom your players for the next year and prepare over the summer. Get your tactics and training sessions planned, maybe plan a pre-season to give your team more time to get in shape. Set a team meeting and schedule them regularly, even if it’s a 5 minute chat after training.

Written by Shaun, part 2 touches on the role of the committee and other senior players. 

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