So, you think you want to be a captain of a darts team (around the world, there are former and current darts team captains wryly smirking). Anyone can technically be one, but just like the dart throw itself, there is a lot of active nuance to do it well. Before you take on an endeavor you must know what you are signing up for. Even if you never want to be at the helm of the ship, it is worth knowing what goes into it, before agreeing to play for a particular captain. But first, What is a team captain? “Captain” is not just a title bestowed or taken on, it is a verb as well. “Captaining,” is done before, during and after a season.
Captain: “One who leads or supervises” and “a person of influence in a field”. Both of these definitions you will see as important towards doing the job of a team captain.
Not everyone wants to be a leader and not everyone who comes into a leadership role is cut out for it. Leadership is a tough quality. It can be learned, and the respect that comes with it can be earned, but it something nearly impossible to have someone teach you directly from a textbook. Leaders are not born, they are made by soaking up the lessons of one’s own experiences in their field.
A Personal Story:
I never sought out to be a team captain. It was never my desire to be in charge. Many years ago I was on a team of younger upstarts who all had hunger to take some larger scalps. Along the way in the regular season I had taken them, against one of the strongest teams ever to come out of the Tri-State area to play in New York City. When it came to facing that team in the playoffs, I got sat in singles 501 against that very team. Outwardly I said nothing, but on the inside I was hot. While we were not going to survive the team pummeling we took, I thought I had done what was necessary in the regular season to have earned the right to play singles against this all-star squad. The captain; a friend to this day, didn’t say anything about his decision, and I didn’t ask about it. By the end of the night I knew I needed a change. I was not upset at my friend for making a decision I didn’t agree with. The only thing that bothered me was that he didn’t try to communicate the reasoning for his decision. I likely would have disagreed with his justification, but I would have respected the effort of communication. Perhaps it didn’t even cross his mind as something that needed justification.
Maybe I hadn’t earned the right to play as a player, but I was confident that I had earned the right to hear that as a person. I promised myself I would become a player that could never justifiably be sat ever again. My first real goal was set. My incessant practice that off-season put me on serendipitous crash course with New York City’s most accomplished and enigmatic league player, James Donovan. One night we sparred for hours. After winning about 50% of the legs that evening, his exact words were, “If you keep throwing like that, we’re gonna have to put a team together.” I said, “If you put a team together, I’m IN!” He smiled, laughed, and pointed at me. I told him if he was in, I could sell the team to other players on his inclusion alone. Out of no where, I was now a captain for the next season. I had to convince players to play for me in the recruiting process. I made difficult choices and consulted James on decisions I felt were “above my pay-grade” to make on my own. He yelled at me the few times I tried to sit myself, and it wasn’t until we won the championship as a Cinderella story that I realized I was on to something. I had accomplished the ultimate team goal my first season as a captain, and checked off a few personal goals along the way. In the following seasons of highs and lows, I recognized how many hats must be worn as a captain to get the job done well, without sacrificing team success, personal growth and/or enjoyment.
Team Captain as a Recruiter:
The job of team captain starts before the season begins. Fielding a team and filling a roster happens weeks if not months before the first darts fly. This is not as simple as looking at your roster limit and filling it up with names in your division that are available. You should start with 2 keys: What type of team are you looking to field and what type of roles are you trying to fill. Is this a team of friends/coworkers having a fun night out? Is it a team that is looking for hungry players to compete for the playoffs? Is it a team hoping to destroy everyone in its path? Like any great organization, company or team it should be forged by a mission (statement). This can be as easy as naming your team something unique to rally around. I often change team names season to season as a way to refresh interest and get players talking about what exactly any of my team names mean. You can indirectly guide your teams’ behavior with a team name that is not buttoned-up. Conversely, a well-branded team name with purpose can subconsciously lead a team.
Players need to know if what you putting together, is what they are looking to be a part of. Once they agree with the path forward then the key is making sure players are content with their initial role. This is important for managing playing time expectations. Are specific players: Starters? Substitutes? Emergency Fill-ins? Even with this considered it is important to be as definitive as possible. Some Starters need/expect to play every leg. Some substitutes only want to play doubles sets, or home games or enough matches to qualify for the playoffs. Some Emergency Fill-ins only want to be called if you don’t have enough players, some need a few days notice to be available. And of course when this is all done, you have to make sure your team is registered with the league before the deadline, and sometimes make sure the league dues are paid.
Captain as a Communicator:
Whether or not you are the best talker or writer you will need to communicate early and often with your teammates as a team and individually. Despite league schedules being published online, on paper, and shared, by you as image in a group text, you will need to remind, and re-remind teammates of where you are playing and when. Weekly you will need to elicit a response from enough players to field the minimum amount of players, you will need to bother that player who doesn’t respond during the day because of work, family, school or just because they are aloof and really bad at responding to calls/texts.
You will need to adjust on the fly, as life happens, and reach out to your emergency fill-ins when someone has a family emergency or has to work overtime. In the middle of a match you will need to be a master communicator to manage against opponents’ needle, comments, and sometimes overt, inappropriate gamesmanship. You will need to communicate well with other captains, through the fog of a dart night to sort through issues in a clear-headed fashion.
Team Captain as a Politician:
DRAMA. Sometimes there is personal politics and loads of drama that you may need to become privy to. Based on who you need on your team, it may add or eliminate the possibility of certain players being included. One player hates another player, one player is dating the ex of another, one player is banned from a bar for having had a fight there. The list of these things goes on and on and is mind numbing. No team captain really wants to have to smell any of the dirty laundry, but you will have to hold your breath, sigh deeply and massage these issues to the best of your ability. It is baffling how many soap-opera-like storylines can play out in our community.
Captain as an Administrative Assistant:
The least sexy part of team captain responsibilities is the paperwork/data entry/team management. You will need to make sure if you still use paper scoresheets that they are filled out correctly and neatly and that they don’t get spilled on. It is worth carrying and extra box of chalk/dry erase marker if you still keep score that way. If you use DartConnect or a scoring app of the like for steel tip darts, having a tablet and/or charger may be your responsibility to bring. A tablet charger is a MUST these days. If scoresheets, or pics or emails need to be sent to the league, you must remember (in stupefied fashion) the evening of, or the next morning.
Captain as the Coach and Teammate:
A coach’s job is to find a way to get the most out of their players. A coach (ideally) should have a breadth of experience and be well regarded for such. A captain who does this well knows how to manage for, opponents, venues, and different personalities. Some like constant fist bumps between throws, some need to be undisturbed, some need to know that you’re watching. Not only do you need to know it, but you need to instruct the rest of your team as to how to properly support each teammate.
For the players that are newer, younger or less experienced a team captain must lead and direct. Answer questions, give direction and encouragement. There are some players that are good with the “sink or swim” approach, but some need a bit more. It was you (the captain) who included them on the team, it is your job to put them in the best position to preform well.
Team Captain as Omniscient:
Captains should know the rules better than everyone. Yes it sucks to have to be that person on the team, but in a match there are times when teams are late, oche-lines get stepped over, scorers get too inebriated and someone needs to know what to do, and how to do it. Annually rules get amended as players bend and break them. It is your job to stay on top of such amendments.
Captain as a Statistician:
It is important for a captain to know where your team is in the standings and what might be needed week to week based on different opponents. There are matches you may need your best players to compete and other matches in which you can get substitutes more playing time. Furthermore, as a season carries on it is important to keep track of your teammates’ individual stats. Are they in the running for MVP? For the Allstar plaque? Have they played enough to qualify for the playoffs? Are they in the running for single-night or single-season records? These are things a good team captain will want to grant those players the opportunity to earn.
Team Captain as a Confidant:
There are times when players will share some of their life’s dramas and traumas, and at times they should. Energy and synergy on a team are important. It is Important for players communicate and confide in their captains when/why they will be late, will not be available or are struggling to bring the right energy or game. Maybe its overtime shifts, maybe its trouble at home, maybe its illness of a loved one. Captains sadly need to be behind the curtain on your lives a bit to manage a team well and have personal compassion for what a player may be living through. With such knowledge captains and teammates can rally around their troubled brethren and forge stronger bonds.
If you are thinking about captaining a team in the future, I have compiled a handful of sentiments from fellow players and captains as food for thought:
Team Captain Sentiments:
- Do not be a captain to play yourself if you are undeserving. A captain must be selfless for the sake of the team.
- Captaining is not about being in control. It is about earning and maintaining respect. There is something magical about directing your vision of a team to success.
- A captain must be respected for making difficult and just lineup decisions.
- There are 3 types of effective captains: 1: The best player on the team. 2: A player who can fall back on their decisions as supported by the best player on the team. It is great for such a player to defer to these decisions indirectly being made by the best player. 3: A player who seldom plays, is completely selfless, who truly enjoys and prioritizes the organizing over the playing. It is hard to find such people in life, but they do exist, and they are fun, and agreeable to play for.
- Captains should look to recruit a least one player from the division below who is eager to improve. A captain should give new players opportunity.
- Captains should lead by example with how they carry themselves, their timeliness, and their willingness to chalk.
- Captains indirectly bear some responsibility of helping promote the dart league and dart bars.
- Captains should put their players in positions to succeed.
- Captaining is not always going to be fun, but it should be fulfilling.
- Captaining can adversely effect one’s own play. It is not for everybody.
- A captain needs to be comfortable being vocal with his team, to either rile them up or calm them down.
Whether you are a team captain, aspiring to be one, or a player trying to understand the decisions being made – let this be your guide.
Captaining comes with a lot of responsibility, and sometimes it can seem to be more effort than it is worth, but when all is going well, and a team is preforming in all ways as a well-oiled machine, it can also be effortless and deeply rewarding; there is no greater feeling than seeing your name on a trophy with “Captain” written beside it.
“All the decisive blows are struck left-handed” – Walter Benjamin The thing I love most about our game is that it doesn’t discriminate. Color, race,