However you found yourself in this position, you’ve got the “C” and may be in over your head. Perhaps an old captain left and you stepped up, or a bunch of your buddies from open hockey want to get into something a little more competitive. Or maybe you’re filling in for a season or two. Either way, we here at the Stick Guru are here to help. I have run a team for many years and learned a few things I’d like to share with you. One thing a captain needs is patience, which you are going to need lots of. We are going to cover the basics and let you learn from some of my mistakes over the years. Today we will start with the most important part of running a team; the players, where to find them and some challenges.
In order to have a team you need players. If you inherited a team you’re off to a good start. You may have had guys drop out which will need replacing. The easiest way to find players is to ask your friends, or people you play with at pickup. Your first team doesn’t have to win the championship in the first season. You’re just here to have fun. There is plenty of time to get better. Plus the longer you play together the more chemistry you build, so ironing out the kinks in the first season isn’t so bad. If you only need 1 or 2 players many leagues have “free agents” or players who wanted to play but didn’t have a team. Check with your league if that’s something they can provide for you. My team has done that many times and gotten some great teammates and friends. Be mindful of you and your teammates skill set. Although winning every game 10-0 is fun, you may not want to half your team comprised of former college or junior players. Plus they wont shut up about their time in Junior B. You may get in trouble with the league, so be honest and choose a division that closely matches the skillset of your players. Having one or two guys who have played competitive hockey in the lowest division is okay as long as they either play Defense or tone it down. The same goes if your team is your buddies from college and want a guy just starting out. They might not have a great time.
One you have your roster you are also going to need subs. Having spare players is a must because not everyone can make every single game. Especially in the summer months! You don’t want to be stuck with 7 or 8 players for a game. Having regular fill-ins are great because although they aren’t at every game they may have some chemistry with the team. Learning your subs play style only helps them play better. Some guys may want to play but can’t afford a whole season, so adding them to the sub list is great for them and the team. We will share some player management strategies later on.
Charging your subs can be a controversial topic. On the one hand, the extra money can help supplement league fees and other team needs. But on the other hand charging guys who help you fill your bench can be tacky. Personally I used to charge my subs unless we are desperate for players. I captained a team of young, college students or recent grads where money was tight. Some players wanted to play but didn’t have the money to commit to a full season. So I broke down the cost and charged them about what each game cost. So they paid the same as everyone but only per game. That was more for regular subs or guys who wanted to sign up for half the season. There are sometimes where you just want bodies because otherwise you wouldn’t have enough. I didn’t charge in that situation. It was dependent on the situation. By the end of the season you maybe left with a few hundred dollars. I would use this money to reduce the league fees for the next season. Which not only lowers the cost for returning players but also encourages players on the fence, to sign up. Depending on how much extra money we had I would also use it to help purchase new sets of jerseys, water bottles, pucks, practice slots and other things that the team was happy not to pay for. One season we were able to get a new set of jerseys for $4 per player which my team really appreciated. So it’s really up to you whether you want to charge or not.
Apps and tools
Communication is key when it comes to running a team. You need to let your team know when the games are, practices, hangouts and other team specific things. I’m a big fan of Bench App which is an app that allows you to post game schedules, keep stats, keep a list of players and subs, set lines and communicate easily with your players. The team don’t even need to download the app for it to be effective. All they have to do is accept an email invite. You can set it up so your team gets an email a few days before the game (you get to choose how many days before). The email has voting buttons with “In” or “Out” so you know who’s coming or not. There is also a list of subs so with a few clicks you can invite them to games as well. Get it on the AppStore or Google Play Store from your mobile device.
Another app I recommend is GroupMe which is a chat app. Instead of texting individual players or creating massive group texts you can use GroupMe. While some find it annoying, I like group texts because you get to bond and share memes with your team outside of games. You can also talk about previous or upcoming games and strategies. The advantage of GroupMe is you also don’t need to download the app; although it does help. You add your whole teams phone numbers and each person can choose to mute it if they like. I found that it helps to build camaraderie when you communicate regularly. Check them out here.
Common problems with being captain
Being a captain can be challenging. Here are some issues and solutions.
Lack of players
A lack of players is one of the biggest issues your team can face. Not only to start a team but to have players actually show up. No one wants to play a game with only 3 extra skaters on the bench. A solution is to keep a long list of subs. We talked about how to keep your sub list current earlier. I tend to be on the annoying side, asking players if they can make the game far in advance but it in the end it works out. I found that people tend to forget when games are so email or text reminders go a long way. Stay strict with having players check in, and they will get in the habit. Then if you do need subs, asking them a few days out, they are more likely to come than with a few hours notice. Sometimes shit happens and players have to drop out at the last minute, so be prepared for that. My team regularly had 12-15 players every game. 2 or 3 lines per position, so everyone get some ice time.
Too many players
The same problem goes for adding too many players. Any more than 3 lines, and your players might be upset with the lack of ice time. Check the expectations of your players. Some prefer the extra rest and some don’t. If your regular players are sitting too long because you brought too many subs they won’t be happy. Especially if they are taking 2-3 minute shifts. So try to manage the amount of players per game. We had an issue where players couldn’t afford to play unless we had around 15 rostered players to supplement costs but on games where everyone showed up, ice times were cut down. Just do your best!
Players not getting along
As the captain you don’t really want to be the mother of the team but sometimes it’s necessary. When managing 10-20 people, not everyone will get along. Make sure that the team knows that they can come to you with any issues they have with other players. You should deal with these problems in a professional and discreet way. Unfortunately you have to become the HR department of the team. If one player is causing problems you have to make sure you do what’s best for the team. For example, we had a goalie on our team who was the nicest guy, really great locker room guy but an awful goalie. Many players on my team expressed concern about him. Although he was universally liked, they were concerned about us losing games because of his incompetence; and they wanted him out. So I had to tell him that he wasn’t welcome back as a goalie. Since we wanted him on the team we encouraged him to try to skate out. He was very understanding and eventually came back a few seasons later as a forward. We were happy to have him back! You may also have toxic players on your team that may need to be dealt with. We had a situation with a player who was out for a fight every game. While we appreciate him having our back, there’s no need for an enforcer in beer league. So we had to let him go.
Many beer leagues are coed which can cause some problems within the locker rooms. As many of us guys may not mind our fun bits out in the locker rooms, the girls may not be so keen on that. Many rinks have separate female locker rooms if they so choose. They might not feel comfortable showering with us guys. If thats something they request let the league and/or the rinks know that you’d like that option. In my experience, the girls on our team didn’t mind sharing a locker room or yuking it up with the boys. Like I said earlier, you do have to play HR in some situations. Let your female players know that they can come to you with any problems in the locker room and you can deal with it as you see fit. Use your best judgement and make it known that you wont tolerate any abuse to the girls on your team. The same should go for abuse to the boys as well. Let them know they can come to you with issues, and keep it private.
Paying on time
Last but not least, is getting your players to pay. You can’t play if you don’t pay! Getting players to pay on time is also a pretty big challenge. Many young players have student loans, kids, other more important expenses than hockey so they are less inclined to pay on time. Or not even able to afford it at all. Like I said earlier we kept a larger roster to keep cost per players down, but you have to manage the expectations of your team. My team was always happy when I could bring the price down. You can use the sub money to reduce the cost of your league fees for regular rostered players. And it motivates your subs to consider a full time spot the next season. But you still need them to pay. Set deadlines earlier than you need incase they need more time. Try to calculate the costs as earlier as you can so your team isn’t surprised. Some leagues offer discounts for payment in full before the seasons starts. But you still have to pay to play. No matter how good or well liked a player is, they have to pay. I’ve had a situation where a teammate was going through a divorce and his money was tied up. For me, Hockey is a great way to relax and escape reality for a few hours. So we didn’t want this player to suffer. We all chipped in and paid for half his league fees.
Good luck and stay tuned for some more tips and tricks of wearing the C.