What Makes a Great Team Captain

Tommy Spaulding

25 April 2017

I write this blog at 5:36 a.m. in a freezing cold ice rink. My nine-year-old son, Tate, gets up four days a week, before school, to practice his passion — ice hockey. Passion is not the word. Obsession more fits the description. He's been playing since he was three. Tate can skate more comfortably than he can walk. He often asks Jill and I, at bedtime, to read him all of Wayne Gretzky's (the greatest hockey player of all time) NHL hockey records. And every time Tate says, "Now I know all the records I'm going to break." Our dog is even named Gretzky. The kid sleeps with his hockey stick! 

A few months ago, Tate asked me on the morning drive to practice, "Daddy, what does it take to become a Captain?"

My brain half-awake, I replied, "Many people think the Captain is the most talented player on the team. That is not always the case. The Captain has the biggest heart on the team. And not just a heart for the game. But a heart for others. Being a Captain, Tate, is making sure your weakest teammate becomes the strongest." 

"I want to be a Captain one-day, Daddy!" 

Tate's coach is a Russian guy who was a National Champion back in his home country. He makes old school look old. He is tough. He is demanding. And he has a beautiful gift of pushing and teaching kids beyond their born talent.

There is one kid on Tate's team that struggles. If you had to pick the weakest kid on the team, it would be him. Good kid. Sweet boy. But he clearly does not sleep with his hockey stick. 

Kids can be mean. I think this young man gets teased by a few of his teammates. OK, maybe more than a few. 

Two weeks ago, Christian's mother came up to me after morning practice and asked if Tate was available on Sunday afternoon. She was planning Christian's birthday party. I told her I think Tate has his first baseball practice and for her to connect in with Jill - the CEO of our family schedule.

That weekend I found out that Christian's mother changed the time of her son's birthday party to accommodate Tate's schedule. I had never heard of such a thing. Who rearranges the timing of a birthday party for one kid?

The following week this mom came up to me after practice. She had tears in her eyes. And then she told me something that I will never forget. "We invited a few of Christian's hockey teammates to attend his birthday party, but Tate was the only one who came. You have no idea how your son makes my son feel. Tate is always building him up. What a special kid you have."

When Tate and I got in the car, I started to cry. I told him in all his nine short years, I've never been prouder of him. "You are a Captain, son. You are making the weakest kid on the team become the strongest. You just broke one of Wayne Gretzky's records in my book!"

I can't stop thinking about this. I look at my son differently now. At such a young age, he understands love. He understands empathy. He understands compassion. He understands that a captain is a heart-led leader.

It has me thinking about relationships — all the people in our lives that choose to follow us. Are you making the weakest into the strongest? Are you pouring into people, helping them become the best versions of themselves? Are you investing in the lives of others? And most importantly, are you doing this in such a way that one of your teammates or co-workers would change the time of their birthday party so you could attend?


Tommy Spaulding

is the founder and president of Spaulding Companies, a leadership development, speaking, training, and executive coaching firm based in Denver. To learn more about Tommy and The Heart-Led Leader.

Subscribe to our newsletter