You are here

Madison Hughes

What to look for in your Captain

I’ve been writing a lot on my website about leadership lately and the qualities you look for in your captain as a coach.

In some sports the captain has a very defined set of responsibilities but in rugby the role is much less clear. It’s more about attitude than specific duties which can mean your captain’s approach is instrumental in shaping the culture of the team.

The top international coaches I interviewed for Rugby Revealed   like Stuart Lancaster, Conor O’Shea, Gary Gold, Mike Tolkin and Mike Ford all said it’s not about picking the best player on the team but the best player for the role.

I believe you want your captain to display the qualities that make the best rugby players. I’m not talking about their technical skills on the ball or their physical strength, I’m referring to the player’s mindset and how they perform in four key areas.


It’s the obvious starting point but while you may spot the qualities in a player you should ask your self do they actually want the role? Knowing when to push a player to stretch themselves and when to let them build their confidence is something all coaches struggle with so work with the player you identify to build the skills as you would with any aspect of their game.


Rugby teams stand or fall on their communication on the field and the captain has to set the tone for this. That doesn’t mean they are the loudest or most vocal, it’s about knowing when to talk and what to say. It can be a steep learning curve but these are skills that will bring results.


Leaders motivate not just by what they say but also what they do. They earn respect through their actions on the pitch, in their position, with their team mates, in training, and how they represent the team off the field. A player who skips practice or turns up late for games isn’t going to inspire his fellow players to give 100% so look for someone with the right attitude in all aspects of the game.

Decision Making

Leaders have to make tough decisions and make those calls under pressure. They have to be prepared to fail and have the capacity to learn from mistakes. Confidence comes from experience and a good leader has the support of their team, who will back their calls because they trust in their abilities to make that judgement when it matters.

Players grow into their positions and being given the position of captain is the same in that respect. It is tough with young players to expect one individual to take on the expectations associated with being captain so remind them  there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ as the saying goes and there is no one captain on the field.

The best teams have leaders throughout their ranks so encourage all your players to display those qualities both on and off the field.