I’m a Team Captain! But There are Unexpected Culture Problems With That.

I’m captain of a badminton team! And no, it isn’t a group at my coaches gym, and it isn’t even people I know.

I’m captain of a team of strangers.

There is another Jimei Community badminton competition coming up, and the organizers grouped everyone who played last time into teams based on streets in my district. In the group chat they asked who wanted to play in the team competition.

I’ve had bad experience with Jimei team competitions. Even though we all live in a small area, this group is totally different than my coaches group. I rarely see or play with them and as such, people have never included me even when I’ve tried. So I’ve always been a bit bitter about it.

But this one was a “first come, first serve” and with only one girl playing on each team, I made sure to sign up quick. Then, apparently, we needed a team captain.

Perhaps because I was so quick to sign up, the organizer wrote to me.

“Xiao Bing, do you want to be the team captain?”

I was in class and by the time I read his message, someone else had volunteered. But I didn’t realize it. They had said my name in the chat so I scrolled up to see where someone had mentioned me, and I saw the offer, and without reading the other messages I said that I was willing to be the team captain.

“Too late,” he wrote back. I quickly read the conversation I skipped over, realized someone else was gonna be it and felt a bit relieved.

“It’s okay,” I wrote back. “No problem.” And I meant it. I have no idea how these groups are organized or what needs to go into planning this. I mean, I’ve never even participated in one of these groups before much less organized one. And doing it all in Chinese? While I was kinda excited at the challenge, I couldn’t help but be relieved.

Then the team captain wrote back.

“No. Never mind. I agree. It should be you Xiao Bing.”

“Are you sure?” I wrote back. “My Chinese isn’t very good.”

“It’s okay,” someone wrote back. “We all understand Chinese.” Har, har, har. Apparently I have a team of comedians.

So I’m captain and my lack of knowledge came not even 24 hours later when the competition organizer asked me if I organized my team. Errr…organize what exactly?

“You need to make a name, you need to submit the name list. And what about Azhi (my regular partner who wasn’t in the group), is he playing with you?”

“Can I invite him? ” I asked.

“Of course,” the organizer replied. “You’re the captain, you decide.”

So then I invited Azhi and I had to decide the team name. I was gonna ask everyone what they thought and if anyone had any suggestions when someone said, “You’re the team captain, you decide.”

So I did. I named us the Black Dragons. 黑龙队. Hope it comes off as cool in Chinese.

The competition is just a few weeks away, so someone suggested we practice. I suggested friday in a “how does that work for everyone” kinda way.

A few people said they could and one guy said, “the best would be 4-6.”

“4-6pm?” I said. “I can but doesn’t everyone else have work then?”

“I meant 4-6 people,” he wrote back. Ohhh…and that is why you don’t have a non-native speaker as your captain ladies and gentleman.

I asked what time. “You’re the captain, you decide,” was the answer.

“How about 7-9,” I said.

“Where?” someone asked. I knew if I made a suggestion I would just get the “you’re the captain, you decide” line so I made an executive decision and chose my coaches court. This tournament, and these players, go to my coaches rival’s court regularly, so I figured what good is being captain if I can’t throw my coach a bit of business?

Everyone readily agreed cause…well, I’m the captain and I decide, that’s why!

This is a small, temporary team made up of strangers. In America while there might be a team captain things would be a bit more discussed and, dare I say, democratic. Like the team name; several people would throw out ideas and maybe there would be a vote for the best name, but here it was all “you’re the captain you decide.” Or the time and place to play badminton would be discussed a bit more rather than, “you’re the captain, you decide.”

I’ve never noticed this before in groups in China, but usually I am a passive member, just showing up when and where people tell me. Because of the language I tend to miss the finer details of what I do (like how many points we are playing at a competition game) trusting that if I show up at the right place and the right time, someone will point me in the right direction.

So in this group I am really feeling the culture difference. Chinese culture tends to favor authority over the individual. It’s something I’ve gotten used to over the years with being a teacher. But school is not a social group, and I am older (and wiser) than my students, so I see that authority over them as a bit more normal. This is a small group, and basically a social/sports group with people my age (or perhaps older? I haven’t met them yet) and yet with my title of captain comes a level of authority I was not at all expecting.

But I’m excited! And more than a little proud seeing our team name in the roster and seeing my name as the captain. Now let’s see if I don’t screw it up.

My name is 龙小冰 which you can see circled.

As for this weekend, I’ll meet them friday night and play with them, then Saturday I’ll be going to Fuzhou to watch the 2017 Tahoe China Open and on Sunday I’ll be playing a club competition against another local club and monday I’ll have training with TWO coaches (and only little old me). It’s a busy few days but full of variety and badminton, so it should be fun.








  1. Autumn

    My inner German dictator is very envious. So much more efficient to have one person decide on everything, rather than a committee.

    Especially when that one person is you.

    1. Becky (Post author)

      I feel more comfortable with talking things over and what-not. But I’ll go with the flow. Dictator Becky!


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