This season, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a sounding board for a number of college captains. (I say privilege because I don’t take their trust lightly, and listening to their struggles also means that I get to see their victories.) I definitely don’t have magical solutions for them, but I’m always happy to give them an outside perspective, help them frame their situations positively, as well as just listen, because often, all they need is someone to talk to.

All of these conversations have caused me to reflect quite a bit on my own captaining experiences. I’ve captained two college teams (Cal and Texas) and two club teams (Slackjaw and Showdown), for a total of five seasons. In high school, I captained the boys’ varsity baseball team, so the transition to captaining a team of women was quite a challenge. Who knew that so many feelings could be involved?

I have learned a lot captaining over the years. I have had the privilege of captaining a team at Worlds, have led teams to both College and Club Nationals, and have lost heartbreaking games to go. I will be the first to admit that I’ve learned so much because I have made many, many mistakes. One of my deepest regrets in this sport was being an absolute taskmaster when I captained Texas. I was so focused on our team goal of qualifying for Nationals that I lost sight of a lot of important things along the way. While ultimately we achieved our goal of qualifying for Nationals that year, if I could go back in time, there are a lot of things I would change about the way I led that team.

When I talk to struggling college captains, I try to broaden their perspective a bit. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you can spend an infinite amount of time trying to address your team’s problems. No amount of stressing about people’s behavior, setting team expectations for attendance and attitude, or engaging in one-one-on meetings with difficult players will be enough. While it’s important to spend time addressing your team’s problems, I believe strongly that you must also invest time and energy into cultivating positivity. Spend time on the teammates who are focused and engaged. Grow their love for the team and the sport, and don’t lose sight of these people by overfocusing on the negatives.

I believe that the role of a college captain is so much bigger than about just teaching a bunch of people how to play ultimate. A college team is a family away from home during some of the most formative years in a person’s life, and a captain shapes this entire experience. A huge part of being a good college captain is investing time, energy, and love into your teammates. If your teammates know that you’ll do anything for them, that will go a long way. Be the first one to practice, the last one to leave, and the person who will always make time for them.

I have two college rookies still playing college ultimate. I ran Women’s College Centex with one of them, a second-year Texas captain and Showdown player, two weeks ago. I saw the other one at Keystone Classic last week– she is playing her fifth year as a grad student at Cornell. A third former rookie is on the Showdown core this year and works a FT job in Austin. Another one of my rookies just graduated from Air Force Basic Training last month. And my last rookie graduates from National Guard Basic Training tomorrow. I am extremely proud of their accomplishments on the field, which includes trips to both College and Club Nationals and All-Region accolades. But more than that, I am proud of what they have accomplished off the field– that is my legacy.

This group of rookies had spunk to say the least. When I asked them to pick up cones after practice, they’d refuse until I invented cone races and made it into a game for them. They’d show up on my doorstep unexpectedly, friended my little brothers on Facebook, and would do things to aggravate me like wearing a glove while playing. Despite the many mistakes I made that year as a captain, the one thing I am proud of is the amount of love I poured into that group of rookies. I cooked them dinner, let them study on the floor of my room, wrote them encouraging emails on a regular basis, and even after I graduated, we’d meet for a weekly Bible study. I even went so far as to accompany one of them to an appointment with an academic counselor to ensure that she could stay enrolled in school.

Captaining is a huge privilege, as well as a huge responsibility. With the season winding down, what can you do to make a difference in the lives of your teammates?

Written by Michelle Ng

Michelle currently captains North Carolina Phoenix, and has captained five other seasons at the college and club levels. She currently serves as one of the Women’s Division representatives in the USA Ultimate Club Working Group. She is a 4-time Club Nationals Qualifier and 2-time College Nationals Qualifier. She was also a Callahan Top 3 finisher in 2006, an All-Region selection in 2008, and won the Kathy Pufahl Award in 2010.

Michelle started running tournaments in Fall 2005 out of a desire to create more playing opportunities for her college team. When she moved to Austin in Summer 2006, she saw a huge disparity between the number of opportunities she had on the West Coast and the opportunities she now had in the South Region. With the help of her college teammates at the University of Texas, Michelle strove to change that. Michelle’s efforts have continued to grow over the years and she has run dozens of tournaments and clinics all over North America, the majority of which have been fundraisers for college teams. Michelle also works as an Events & Relationships Manager for VC Ultimate.