What factors contribute to make a good leader and how might your style of leadership vary to be successful when involved in individual, team and racket activities? It is no coincidence that the teams and individuals chasing sports most prestigious prizes are led by men and women of genuine inspiration. The value of such captains and leaders cannot be underestimated whether they be a firebrand with a laser tongue and a short fuse such as Roy Keane at Manchester United or a man of few words but shimmering example such as Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira.
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The key is respect. Invariably a skipper commanding such a quality is the first name on the team sheet precisely because he is the link between the management and the team. The skipper (leader) is the manager’s eyes and ears. He is the closest to the heartbeat of the team and the inner thoughts of the manager, which is why it so often appears that a manager and his captain have been carved from the same mould. They simply have to operate on the same wavelength.
So the vocal, abrasive style of Keane perfectly mirrors the feisty, no-nonsense personality of Sir Alex Ferguson while the quieter, lead-by-example character of Vieira reflects the more intellectual approach of Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. One thing, however, is imperative. The captain has to be virtually irreplaceable. He has to be the main man, sure of his place in the side or team, secure in the knowledge that his work-rate, his commitment and his talent cannot be questioned.
It is certainly the only way a captain whose preferred method is to dish out roasting’s on the pitch on a regular basis can retain his authority. Footballers are quick to see the chink in any team-mate’s game or any dip in his standard and a captain’s words would bounce back at double speed if he let his own game drop in quality. It is a delicate, often psychologically fraught, balance. It’s good for a captain to be a hard man, to retain high standards and to possess an iron will – but he must not rule by fear, a commodity which can ruin a player’s form and confidence with frightening speed.
However, most athletes respond much better to an arm around the shoulder than to a unnecessary hurl of criticism. Young athletes and players especially look to the captain to sort out the problems on the pitch, to iron out the numerous spats and guide them through a match or game which might not be going quite to the plan envisaged in the changing room. In football, for example, it is much easier to do both these from midfield than any other position on the pitch, which is why so many top skippers seem to occupy that controlling position.
This is much like tennis in the Davis Cup in tennis where the coaches are sat right next to the players at the changes of ends. You often see Andrew Lloyd giving a word of advice and encouragement to Tim Henman when playing. In athletics, however, the coach can only act as a leader for so long and when it comes to the crunch and pressure of the race its self its all down to the athlete, unlike in football and tennis where help and encouragement is given throughout by the prescribed leaders.