Bob Fiorio has been an adult hockey team captain for more than 30 years in suburban Chicago, so he’s uniquely qualified to provide this perspective on what it’s like to hold that post.
Namely: it’s a thankless, often frustrating job – and he never wants to give it up.
It sounds like a paradox, and maybe it is in a way. But it also underscores the type of personality and perseverance required to do the job.
“It’s like herding cats,” said Fiorio, captain of the Chicago Tops since 1985, with a chuckle. “It’s very difficult. You have all these different personalities, and everyone wants to get something different from being on the team.”
The Art of the Job
Fiorio, who is also a board member for the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, serving as that organization’s adult hockey coordinator, believes there are many traits of a successful captain.
“You have to be a good listener. You also have to be good at negotiating,” he said. “You need to be able to tell guys: I’d love to see you play forward, but we have 15 forwards on the team and we need a couple of guys playing in the back, too.”
Being able to delegate and put others in leadership roles can also bear fruit, he says.
“There have been situations in the past where other players have wanted to take more of a leadership role. I gave a guy the chance to be assistant captain and we took it from there. I like having networks,” Fiorio said. “Every team or society has factions. I like to tie them all together – a leader for the younger guys, a leader for the older guys. A triumvirate, like Caesar.”
Fiorio, who referees games in addition to playing, also has seen from both sides of the equation the important role captains play in communicating with officials.
Organization skills, too, are important. This will not come as a shock to anyone who has ever played on an adult team at any level, but players don’t always tend to be on top of things.
“A lot of these guys are not really reliable,” Fiorio said. “You need to stay on top of them with emails, texts, reminders when the game is, when the playoff starts, when they have to have their money in.”
That last part – money – is where most of the aggravation from the job of being a captain comes from, Fiorio said. Hockey is expensive. Leagues are expensive.
“I’m always putting my money up front for the team,” said Fiorio, who works in sales. “If my wife knew I was putting up thousands of dollars for these guys initially, she wouldn’t be happy. You always have the good core of teammates, and if everyone was like those guys it would be fine. But everyone is different and everyone has different money problems.”
Chasing down teammates who don’t want to pay or aren’t reliable is no fun.
“It’s a ton of time,” Fiorio said of being a captain. “It’s all your own time, and it’s a lot of trouble. It’s really a thankless task. These guys take it all for granted, and they have no idea how many resources you commit to it.”
Geez, Bob, it sounds like a job someone wouldn’t want for 31 minutes let alone 31 years. So why bother?
First, there’s the sense that he’s the patriarch of a family.
“It’s a family affair. We go to each other’s events in their lives – weddings, everything else. We stick together and we’re good friends on and off the ice,” Fiorio said of his teammates. “It’s about the camaraderie, the exercise, and just being able to go out and play a game competitively and see how you match up against other folks.”
Second, there’s the satisfaction of a job well done. Fiorio has a basement full of trophies that speak to the success of teams he’s helmed over the years.
“I get to run things the way I want to run them,” Fiorio said. “I’ve been on other teams and some captains do the bare minimum. Our team travels. We’ve been to Canada, Vegas, even the Netherlands. That’s the kind of thing I like to do.”
And there’s this: when you’re the captain you always know you have a spot on the team.
“I always want to have a place to play,” Fiorio, 55, said. “So I’m going to keep running it. Rarely do I get praise, but the guys who say it really mean it and that makes it worthwhile.”
So even with all the aggravation and headaches, it’s worthwhile. In fact, one of the last things Fiorio says about being a captain is simply this: “I don’t ever want to stop.”