Becoming a great soccer captain is one of the most aspirational goals for any soccer player out there. It also, however, happens to be the most difficult. To simply be a good player you need athleticism, skill, and awareness. However, to become one of the great captains you need more than just ability – both on and off the field.
In this article we will discuss what makes a great soccer captain in this day and age, and tips you can use to up your own game. We will also have an FAQ section where we answer some of your most burning questions.
From the all-star captains like Beckenbauer and Gerrard, to the lesser known yet just as important leaders De Ligt and Henderson, good captains come in all shapes and forms. These players are all great players, yet they all possess a next level awareness and skill when it comes to leading a team. Below we will discuss the main attributes that make these players great captains, and how you can begin to train these areas and improve yourself.
Become A Leader Off The Field
When watching games in and out each week, we tend to forget what happens before and after the match. The time spent training together, exercising, hanging out, eating, going-out etc. is what makes a squad really gel together. As a captain, it’s important to be at the heart of these and always making sure the other players are content and satisfied. If there are any disputes or arguments, the captain will be the first to put himself in-between and seek a resolve.
It is easy to assume that some lucky individuals are born with these innate characteristics, however this is not always true. There are lots of famous examples of players who had their own downs before coming captain, and certainly gave nurture a boost in the much-heated debate. Lionel Messi, arguably one of the greatest players to ever live, endured a tough start to football. Much smaller in stature than his teammates, he had to take growth hormones in order to compensate, which at first had affected his confidence. But with time he grew from strength to strength, and subsequently inspired those around him after overcoming his adversaries. The rest now is history.
How can you become a leader on and off the pitch?
Getting involved and being part of the gel that holds the team together is what makes a captain a leader. It’s not just about organizing social activities though. Creating a competitive environment in training is a good start. Also consider reaching out to some of the more reserved players and help to involve them as much as you can (without making them too uncomfortable).
No great captain ever lets his head down, even if his side are trailing 3-0 towards the 60th minute mark. Whilst other players get frustrated and distracted, a great captain focuses on keeping his own game at the highest level. It’s through his persistence, he inspires the players around him to up their own game even in face of unlikely odds.
No doubt there have been some remarkable comebacks in the history of soccer, but one in particular highlights the importance of enthusiasm from a captain. At the half-time mark of the 2005 Champions League Final, Liverpool FC were trailing 3-0 to the all-star AC Milan side, who at the time fielded one of the strongest squads in history. Yet within 10 minutes after the re-start, Gerrard scored the first, and rallied his team to push on until the very end. Liverpool ended up winning the final during penalties, after clawing it back to 3-3 in normal time.
How can you keep up your enthusiasm during the game?
In terms of your own skills, you must be able to manage your emotions well on the pitch. You can feel frustrated but let this pass and look to doing the best you can every moment. Your team-mates will notice, and after a while will look to you when in doubt.
Yelling at your team-mates before defending a set piece. Telling your players to get up. Moving on from celebrations quickly. These acts can be forgotten quickly during the game, but a great captain makes it his duty to shepherd his team throughout the entire match.
He is always reading the game, almost from a director’s point of view. He can see where a team-mate may be struggling and can swiftly communicate this to other close players. A great captain will also organize his team well during set-pieces and be at the heart of a counter-attack whilst motivating his team-mates to make up the ground.
How can you become an excellent communicator?
Practice taking a step-back when you are on the field. Stay focused of course on your own responsibilities but try to view the game more from a director’s point of view, in a more objective way. This will help you to observe blind spots and pick up on things that other players may not notice. Its then up to you to voice these and work with your team-mates to improve these areas.
It’s only natural that sometimes you will become frustrated and worked up in certain situations. Especially if it is a big game and your team are just not performing on the day. However, what makes a captain a great one is being able to separate himself from his emotions, and keep a level head. This is important for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, by being able to manage his own emotions, he can keep making rational decisions for his team even if under more pressure than usual. This will also help him to maintain a good performance and keep a more balanced awareness of the game. Secondly, his standards will ripple throughout his team. Imagine a captain shouting and behaving poorly towards the referee. What is likely to happen after? His teammates will probably follow suit, and he will no longer be able to tell them not to.
A strong example of a mentally disciplined captain was John Terry, who was previously the captain of Chelsea. Even in tough games he kept his cool, was able to make tactical fouls when needed and always had awareness of his team and what was needed to be done.
How can you become more mentally disciplined?
There could be a whole discussion on this topic alone! It is really about repetition and exposure therapy, and slowly being able to improve your reactions to different situations. Being observant of your own behaviors is a good start, and spending some time reflecting after a performance may give you some insights to what you may need to improve.
Peak Physical Performance
Of course, it would be difficult to not include one of the more obvious characteristics. A great captain also happens to be one of the fittest and athletic members of the team. His standards and work ethic will influence those around him to improve themselves and be the best players they can be.
Take Cristiano Ronaldo, who simply needs no introduction. Considered a genetic freak by many, he is actually a self-made player through years and years of self-tortuous work. He is one of the quickest and technical players out there, even though he is a lot older than most of his competition. When he scored the infamous goal for Real Madrid in “El Clasico”, he took off his top and revealed what was an extraordinary body with just about every muscle highlighted in fine detail. You can only imagine how his teammates view him, and in fact many admit that they use him as a model to train harder and improve themselves.
How can you improve your Physical Performance?
This is quite simple and revolves around your work ethic. What happens after you finish training? Do you grab a couple of drinks with friends, or do you stay on for another hour? David Beckham, former Manchester United player once told how he would stay after training for hours and practice taking the same free kick again and again. The result? Dozens of stunning free-kicks that have rightly so earned him a place in the soccer hall of fame.
How To Be A Good Soccer Captain - Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to copy these exact characteristics to be a good captain?
Absolutely not. The characteristics displayed above are just examples of what makes a great soccer captain. The truth is that there are a wild variety of personalities that successful captains have had throughout the ages. Take Luis Suarez for example. He currently leads the Uruguayan National Team and has a reputation for being quite a dirty player and hot-headed. It’s not every day a player bites another player! However, regardless, he inspires his team-mates and is the first to rally his fellow countrymen on.
I play as a Goalie or Full-back. Is it not harder to become a captain from these positions?
Again, the answer is no. Whilst we tend to idolize the forward and midfield players of our generation, there are plenty who play more defensively who have just as strong as an impact.
Matthijs De Ligt, who played for Ajax before heading to Juventus was a great example. Playing as a Centre Back, the youth Dutch player was one of the most commanding captains seen in an Ajax shirt, with his great leadership and communication skills. All this and he was only 19! It is key to remember that it is not just your skills, but a lot of it has to do with your personality and your ability to positively affect those around you.
Does this mean I have to be the most loud and assertive player to become captain?
Yes and no. In the traditional sense, simply being the most boisterous and audacious player will not automatically grant you the captain status. In fact, there have been many infamous cases where players were not handed the armband for causing too much chaos. On the other hand, more reserved players have gone on to become extraordinary captains.
Alexis Sanchez, captain of the Chilean National Team lets his playing show his capabilities, without the need to constantly be on edge and loud. If you are naturally an assertive person, then use this to your advantage, to help inspire players around you. If you are not, then let your football do the talking, do your best to stay enthusiastic and look to improve the players around you.
So from what I see, being a great captain is being the best player out there?
By definition, a captain is someone who leads others. Whilst it is easy to focus on the quickest, technically gifted and hardy players, what really makes a captain great is his ability to put his team-mates first.
This means sticking up for them, communicating clearly and bringing individuals together as a team. So, whilst it may always look like the captain is the best player, it is usually the fact that he is the best person out there, able to set high standards and help those around him grow. Remember that being a great captain is different to being a great player – the captain put the badge on the front of the shirt first, not the name on the back!
Being a great soccer captain is more than just pure ability, but you already knew that.
In this article we have looked at some of the most important traits that make a great soccer captain. We have looked at some key examples, who were defined by their leadership qualities and not simply the position they played on the field. We also looked at how you can up your game with these attributes, which you can improve over time with consistent repetition.
Next time you are out on the pitch, remember one of these attributes and try your best to implement it. With consistent repetition it will become a natural extension of your play.