Sports Opinion

Leading from the front

November 6 - 12, 2019

Gulf Weekly Stan Szecowka
By Stan Szecowka

Gulf Weekly Leading from the front

People have varying feelings on the importance of captaincy and how it affects an individual as well as their team.

Some would regard being named captain as the highest honour you can receive. Others see it as a burden, an additional and unwanted responsibility. Captaincy makes you the focal point for a team, the role model, the leader, the person who other members look toward for inspiration. Last weekend saw the Springboks beat the Lions to win the Rugby Union World Cup on the same day Arsenal slumped to a 1-1 draw against Wolves with polar opposite stories surrounding their Captains.

Variations in the ability to lead a team are to be expected. Captains are only human after all. Is there an actual recipe for making a great captain?

Personally, as a coach, when I am looking for someone who is captain material they have to excel in to at least one of the two P’s: personality or performance. My captain is someone I can trust to organise, be a positive influence, represent the team and be an all-round role model to the team members. Or, my captain is someone who will lead by example in their play, not necessarily the best performer but consistent and somebody who will execute the plan that has been given to them.

In different sports and disciplines, captains have to take up different roles and there are different things to consider. In cricket, for example, the captain is responsible for a number of on-field decisions and tactics so they have to have astute knowledge as well as other qualities. Sir Vivian Richards, the former West Indies cricket captain embodied all of these traits; during his time as captain they did not lose a single tour, a terrific batsman, tactician and motivator.

It would be wrong to skirt around the unbelievable performance of the South Africans last Saturday in the Rugby World Cup final. They absolutely pummelled England and were more than worthy champions on the day. In doing so, they also became the first team in history to lose a game in the group stages and go on to win the tournament. The most inspirational story of all to have come out from their win was that of Captain Siya Kolisi. He was the first black man to ever captain South Africa, first trialled as a player in nothing but his boxer shorts as he had no kit to play in. Any report on Kolisi is the same. He is a man who would do anything for his team, level-headed and humble and a world class athlete. Time will tell whether Kolisi goes down as one of the greatest captains of all time but he certainly has the makings of doing just that.

On the flip side of that, Granit Xhaka, Arsenal’s captain didn’t even make it to the stadium for their Premier League game at the weekend. Having been substituted the week before in the fixture against Crystal Palace, Xhaka’s slow walk off when Arsenal were still pushing to win the game caused a chorus of boos to ring around the Emirates Stadium. The Arsenal captain then proceeded to cup his ears and tell the fans exactly in which direction they should be going. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone involved and subsequently there has been much talk around whether he would continue in his role.

In fairness to him, the abuse that he has received on an almost weekly basis has been utterly abhorrent. Grown men who cannot handle themselves behind a computer screen and decide to write that they would like to kill Xhaka’s wife or hope that his daughter gets cancer are scumbags. It is such a shame that, whilst they may be greatly privileged individuals, sports people have to suffer from this abuse. Using explicit language against your own fan base, though, is probably not the most captain-like thing to do and maybe that pressure should be taken away from the Arsenal man.

Potentially then we have to consider a factor outside of the two P’s when deciding a captain. Somebody with the correct mental fortitude to do the job has to be the first one considered; they have to be able to live with that pressure. I believe that to have happier and more successful captains within sport then a holistic view of their attributes has to be considered, maybe even fluidity of captaincy should be considered.

At any level, it is difficult for athletes to be able to give their all every week without fail and, as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.

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