TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Captains and Shepherds

Last Sunday night I was at Christ Church Cathedral for the celebration of NAIDOC Week, which formed the basis of last week’s message. Tonight (Sunday) I have just returned home from Christ Church Cathedral where Choral Evensong was dedicated to Sea Sunday and the Blessing of the Port of Newcastle. 

Christ Church Cathedral really does the community connection with Newcastle and the sacred well. The bishops, clergy, community leaders, workers, parishioners, other Christians and people from the community gather regularly at the Cathedral during the year to celebrate community events, e.g. Breast Cancer Week, Mental Health Week, natural disasters and so on.

For this week’s message I would like to return to my words of a couple of weeks ago in which I was comparing our church leaders with sport’s leaders; coaches, captains and their teams. Our readings for this week lend themselves to this sharing. The focus was on ‘shepherds’. Mark’s gospel reading concludes: “So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.” (Mark 6:34)

This depiction of Jesus as Shepherd comes just after he shows great care for his disciples. After their busy mission he takes them off to a quiet place to rest. It is in this place that Jesus seeks to tend to the needs of his disciples and also to the many who followed them.

So Jesus, as their leader, heeds the words of Jeremiah: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered – it is the Lord who speaks!” (Jeremiah 23:1) The Lord promises to gather up the remnant of his flock which has been scattered. So what might we learn from some writing I found regarding the ten attributes of a good team captain.

Most sports, like basketball, soccer, cricket, league, hockey, tennis or AFL involve more than a single player. Several players combined to form a single group can be considered a team. When you hear the word ‘team’, there has to be someone who will lead them. I am, definitely, not referring to the coach of the team. What I mean is a leader among the players themselves. The player who steps up and demonstrates leadership skills, both on court and off court, is widely considered to be the team captain. So what are the ten attributes of a team captain (Modified from http://www.layups.com/10-attributes-of-a-good-team-captain/)

A team captain demonstrates the following:

1. A Team Leader
Once the referees blow their whistle, get on the court. This is the time where the team captain steps up to be the leader of the team. They will try to reinforce the plays that their coach has taught them. One can notice that, in ball games, the team captain often talks to his teammates and directs them what to do. They resemble the coach among teammates. He (or she) will be the one leading teammates in practices. He listens to what teammates have to say, compliments and respect them.

2. An Organiser
A team executes plays as a unit. It means that they should function as one. The team captain usually exerts the effort to organise the team. To organise means reminding teammates of their respective roles in the team. Members should bear in mind what their functions are. This will allow for spontaneous and harmonious movements, or rotation of players, on the field or court. It is important to deliver the ball to someone who is in good position to score.

3. Enforces positive thinking
Being optimistic means being hopeful of a positive outcome. The team captain loves to motivate the players. They give them hope to go on playing their game no matter what happens. We often hear them say, “We can do this”, or, “This is our game.” They never fail to give a positive outlook among their teammates. Positive thinking enables a player to perform at a level that was never imagined.

(Picture courtesy of matildas.footballaustralia.com.au)

4. Recognises teammates’ skills
The team captain studies the skills of the teammates. He recognises what they are capable of doing. This will give them the opportunity to familiarise their movements, and they will try to adjust to fit in with the kind of game to be played.

5. Utilises teammates’ abilities
After discovering the players’ potential, the team captain will try to organise the team wherein they can make use of their varied abilities. They will continually review the game so as to utilise the abilities of the players as part of the team.

6. Ensures unselfish ball handling
The team captain understands that the game is not about the captain. It is a team effort. He will make sure that the ball does not remain with a single player. It must be, intelligently, passed to a player who is in a better position to score the point or goal. Team members should value each member’s capabilities.

7. Steps up when needed
There can be a time when your team cannot sustain playing the game well. At these instances, it is the team captain who steps up. They take the responsibility of scoring a goal. They are, usually, the most talented player in the team. Aside from offence, they try to demonstrate impeccable defence to stop the opponents. They serve as a model to their teammates, inspiring them to do what they do.

8. Creates a harmonious working relationship
As a leader of the group, the team captain ensures a harmonious working relationship within the entire team. They will be the one to help resolve issues and relieve tensions among those teammates who are involved. A team can work as one effectively if it maintains an environment free from individual tensions.

9. Takes time to know the teammates personally
The team captain takes the time to know the teammates, individually, at a personal level. This is a way for the captain and the teammates to establish rapport among them. It is undeniably pleasurable and easy to play with someone you know and trust. Trust is a very important tool to establish in a team. The team leader can organise social outings for the team. This is a great way to start socialising among the team.

10. Mentors the teammates
The team captain resembles the team coach. He gives advice, tips and instructions on how to execute skills appropriately. Aside from being a very talented player, the team captain is also the person who is very familiar with the sport.

The team captain takes the responsibility to lead his teammates. He acts as the head of the team inside the area of play. He thinks and acts for the betterment of the whole team, and not for his benefit alone.

These ten core qualities might serve as qualities of a shepherd. During the week I attended the funeral of Fr John Woods in Scone, where he was pastor for almost 20 years and a priest of the diocese for 54 years. It was a beautiful funeral because he was so loved and accepted. This love of him came from his authenticity as a man and as a priest. He may not have had all of the ten attributes of a team captain, but he showed a genuine care for the people of Scone and Murrurundi. He was their shepherd and they were his flock. He was buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Scone and one parishioner noted that he had come home to them. Fr John was one of a kind and he left his unique mark on our world, our church and those who were blessed to know him. Was he a coach, a captain or a team player? We will leave that up to the good Lord but for me he was definitely a shepherd who cared for his people and tended his flock with love and reverence.

We are all called to be disciples, on team while needing leadership and guidance by those who have these gifts/attributes. Let’s keep praying for those who are called to the vocation of leading us in this time.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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