The Power of Team – If you watch most professional athletes compete, one thing you won’t learn a whole lot about is class or character in sports. Too many of our so-called role models, (sorry Sir Charles, you’re a role model whether you like it or not!) don’t give a hoot about anything except themselves. To them, the “team” is nowhere near as important as the “me.” “What’s in it for me?” “I want more playing time. I should be starting instead of them!” “My average”, “My stats”, “My salary”,etc. With all this “me-whining,” it would be easy for aspiring young athletes to miss the boat and never learn how very important “team” really is to success in sports. However, if you look carefully enough at televised sports, you can still find a few class acts, (Mia Hamm and the 1999 US Women’s Soccer team, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, John Elway, Jim Kelly, John Stockton, Moses Malone, etc.) who truly understand that being a real winner is not about “me”, it’s about “we!”
“So you really want to impress the coach? Here’s how!”
I’ve worked with thousands of coaches over the years and one of the many things that they’ve taught me is what is really important to them when they recruit an athlete. Far too many athletes mistakenly believe that what a coach primarily wants in his/her players are talented individuals that will help that coach win. This is only true with the newer, less experienced coaches. When you ask the coaches who have been around for a while what they look for in an athlete, they won’t just talk about superior skills, unbelievable talent, strength or speed. What they are ultimately more interested in is the athlete’s attitude and”coach-ability!”
The successful coaches today want athletes who are coach-able. That is, athletes who listen, who are open to new things, who take constructive criticism, who respect the coach and their teammates, athletes who are always looking for ways to improve, who are “team players” and who choose to deal with their conflicts and problems constructively. The vast majority of Division I college coaches would much rather have an athlete of average ability with above average attitude and coach-ability than a superior skilled athlete who acts like he/she is God’s gift to creation. You may frequently see that kind of obnoxious garbage in pro sports, but coaches at every level hate it. If you act like a primadona, then you’ll quickly turn your coaches and teammates off.
What I’m saying here is important if you really have dreams of playing on the high school varsity, getting that college scholarship or going as far as possible in your sport. Your relationships with your teammates and how well you play together with them is far more important to the coach than just how you perform. The heart of having a winning attitude and being “coach-able” is being a team player. You have to surrender your need for individual glory for the good of the team. You have to get into “we”, not “me!” It’s very interesting that Michael Jordan never won an NBA Championship until Phil Jackson convinced him that he had to involve his teammates more and that he simply couldn’t do it by himself. When Jordan bought into Jackson’s program the Bulls took off and a powerful dynasty was born. What’s sad for me is that as I talk about the importance of teamwork it seems like such an old fashioned, outdated concept. Don’t kid yourself! It’s not! You can’t be on a winning team unless that group of athletes has learned how to get along and play together.
I’ve seen too many incredibly talented teams regularly beaten by less skilled opponents because the athletes on the more powerful team didn’t get along. They didn’t play as a team. They played as a group of individuals competing against themselves for playing time, the coach’s attention and the limelight. The weaker team? Well, they supported each other and worked together! Why is teamwork so important? Very simply because the whole is always greater than the sum of its’ parts. Because Together Everyone (always) Achieves More. Winning and success always come from a total group effort. Total Effort All Members! This is what coaches talk about when they discuss “team chemistry.” When you support your teammates, are direct and honest with them, readily accept your role on the team even if it means that you don’t get as much playing time as someone else, then you’re making a significant contribution to a winning effort.
So how coach-able are you? What kind of a team player are you? Are you a team builder or team buster? Do you bring your teammates up or drag them down? Are you the kind of athlete that a coach will look at and say, “I gotta have that kid on my squad” or do you act like your strarring role should be preceded by a coronation ceremony and everyone kissing your toes? Let’s find out! How many of these behaviors do you recognize as your own?
ATHLETE TEAM-BUSTING BEHAVIORS
- Talking behind others’ backs
- Blaming others – Refusing to accept responsibility
- Scape-goating or picking on certain teammates
- Complaining about playing time
- Having a negative attitude
- Bad mouthing teammates or coach
- Being dishonest in your relationships with coach & teammates
- “I’m the greatest and you’re pond scum” attitude
- Yelling at teammates when they make mistakes
- Not communicating directly/openly
- Being defensive
- Dogging it or giving a half-hearted effort
- Being a poor sport
ATHLETE TEAM-BUILDING BEHAVIORS
- Being supportive
- Dealing with conflicts directly and openly
- Being understanding
- Demonstrating respect for coach/teammates
- Being encouraging to teammates when they mess up
- Accepting your assigned role on the team
- Having a positive attitude
- Having an open mind
- Understanding that everyone on the team is important for success
- Not allowing team-busting behaviors to occur
- Taking responsibility for your actions
- Going full out/trying as hard as you can
- Being a good sport
Understand that you can’t turn team-busting behaviors around until you can label them clearly. You have to first be aware of when you or your teammates
are engaging in them and then put the brakes on. Don’t worry if you find that you sometimes get into these destructive behaviors, just make an honest effort to stop them! Take some responsibility today, right now to begin to develop a winning attitude. Start practicing team-building behaviors. Be a leader on your team. Be a role model. When teammates get into these “team-busting” behaviors do not join in! Do not turn the other way and pretend that you don’t see them happening! Take responsibility! Make your teammates aware that by engaging in these behaviors, they hurt themselves and the entire team. If it feels funny or awkward at first to act this way, do it anyway! Try on these team-building behaviors and before you know it, you’ll be catching the coach’s eye, making a significant contribution to your teammates and helping your team move towards a championship season!
If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!
“Are you a team busting or team building parent?”
As her daughter’s exciting swim race ended, the mother could no longer control herself. She exploded from her seat and began to jump up and down in the stands, pumping her fist in the air and yelling for all to hear, “Yeah!!! You beat her! You finally beat her! Way to go baby!” Who did her daughter just beat that would trigger such an explosive display of enthusiasm? No one special, except her daughter’s friend and teammate…..Minutes before the U-12 soccer match Billy’s father approached the coach and politely asked if he could have a word with him. He explained to the coach that Billy was upset with his lack of playing time and felt that he was good enough to be starting. The father then added that he had to agree with his son and listed several players that his son was better than who were playing in front of Billy…..After the ball game Mike went home and began to bitterly complain to his parents about the coach benching him after he had made that second error in a row at shortstop during the third inning. “Ya’know, he’s so unfair! He didn’t give me enough of a chance! (It was Mike’s 4th error of the game and it had already cost the team 3 runs)…And furthermore he put in Rafe instead of me. Rafe sucks! He can’t even play the position. Just because he made a few good plays doesn’t mean anything!” His parents, who were both at the game, joined in to support their son and trash the coach and put down his teammates. Mike’s father added that Mike was the best infielder that the team had and that the coach didn’t know what he was doing.
Here we have three wonderful examples of parents who are “team-busters.” They are engaging in behaviors that will ultimately undermine the formation of a close-knit team. Their actions pit their child against his/her teammates in a competitively unhealthy and immature way. It’s one thing to support your son or daughter, to come to their aid when a coach has been inappropriate and saying or doing things that are hurtful or damaging. However, there’s a big difference between support and sabotage.
It’s not simply enough that an athlete be a good sport and a team player. Because of the powerful influence they have, parents have to also. As a parent you need to be able to maintain a sense of perspective when dealing with the coach and team and continue to emphasize to your child the importance of teamwork. This means that everyone has a role to play on the team and for success to occur everyone must play their assigned role to the best of their ability. Your child may not like his/her role on the team. He/she may think it is unfair. However, you need to help them understand the way that teams work.
(The “playing time issue is a tricky one. I am not talking about younger kids having to sit on the bench for most of the game here. I have very strong feelings that up until 13 or 14 + children should be given ample opportunity to play. It’s ridiculous, for example, in Little League to have children not getting to play an entire game because they are supposedly not good enough.) Bad-mouthing the coach or putting your child’s teammates down in front of him/her does not help them understand and value the importance of teamwork.
Parents need to model teamwork by being good team players themselves. What this means for you as a parent is that you must get into cheering as hard for your son or daughter’s teammates as you do for your child. While this is not always very easy to do, it’s the mature and healthy thing to do. Remember you’re teaching important life skills here. This is not just about some insignificant basketball or softball game. Your children are going to immediately pick up on your behavior. If you want to teach them the value of teamwork then you had better model it for them!
Review the team busting and team building behaviors that I have listed for both the athletes and coaches. Many of these behaviors apply to you as a parent. I might also add the following special “team busters” for your consideration.
Parent Team Busters
Yelling from the sidelines at your child. Criticizing your child’s teammates during or after a gameArguing with parents from the other teamYelling at or criticizing the refs during a game Coaching from the sidelines Putting the coach down in front of your child or other parents Losing emotional control on the sidelinesLosing perspective that this is just a game played by kids, for kids Being jealous of your child’s teammates Fighting with other parents on the sidelines Remember, your child’s experience in sports is heavily influenced by you. Make sure that you help them keep things in perspective and understand the importance of playing together to achieve a common goal.
How to build a winning team
“It’s not the best team that always wins, but the team that plays best together.” How’s that for an overworked cliché? Except for one minor thing…It’s absolutely true! How many times have you had an incoming class of such unbelievably talented athletes that you immediately started dreaming of all the glory that awaited you during the championship part of the season?
Perhaps you can remember “waking up” some time in the middle of that same season to realize you were in the middle of a nightmare. As good as the players were, they didn’t get along. They wouldn’t listen to you. They fought with each other. In short, they just couldn’t seem to get their act together and play well as a team, which left you long on frustration and short on fun. It’s interesting how a season that started out with such promise and anticipation could end on such a sour note. Perhaps you even remember counting the days until you could say good-bye to this group of athletes. Then there are those unexplainable seasons where you get a group of players together that aren’t that outstanding physically, yet time and time again they seem to come together and win. There’s a closeness and chemistry present that everyone seems to get caught up into that carries you through the entire season. You find yourself having the time of your life with this group of overachievers. They’re easy to be with and coaching them is effortless and enjoyable. These are the teams that you win with. These are the situations that make your coaching both rewarding and meaningful. If only you could take out your chemistry set and whip up this same brew over and over again….
Unfortunately building a winning team isn’t all that easy. Frequently it is directly dependent on the types of players and personalities that you have on your squad. Poor attitudes and selfishness are tough “team-busters” to combat as a coach. There are, however, some important things for you to keep in mind as you go into the next season that can get you off on the right “team building” foot:
YOU ARE THE ARCHITECT & BUILDER OF A WINNING TEAM
Understand that teamwork begins and ends with you. Regardless of the kind of athletes on your squad, you have the power to shape the kind of team that you want. How you go about doing this depends upon three things:
1. How you interact with your athletes
2. How important you make “being a close knit team” as a season goal
3. The kinds of player behaviors that you tolerate and reinforce. Let me explain.
#1 As the coach, your single, most powerful teaching tool is modeling. How you carry yourself with your athletes will significantly affect how they carry themselves with each other. For example, if you are direct and honest in your communications with them, they will be more likely to be direct and honest with their teammates. If you yell and scream at them when they screw up then chances are good that you’ll see some of your players “aping” your behaviors when their teammates mess up. If you’re insensitive and demeaning to them, you can count on seeing these behaviors going on between players. If you scapegoat them don’t be surprised when you see them doing that to each other.
All too often coaches fail to take into account how much powerful teaching, (positive or negative) they do in their everyday interactions with their athletes. Coaching isn’t just simply transmitting your knowledge of the sport. How you communicate that knowledge is the key. Your primary vehicle or this communication is the relationships that you develop with your athletes. When you develop the proper relationships your athletes will grow and develop in the sport as athletes and people. When you set up destructive relationships with your charges you’ll turn them off and teach them the wrong lessons about the sport, life and themselves.
I recently spoke with a Division I athlete who was struggling with a decision about whether to return to her team for her senior year. Her reluctance to continue to play a game she once loved was a direct result of the coach and the hostile environment that she had created for all the players. As a coach, take an hour out of practice in the beginning of the season to highlight those behaviors you want and those that will get the team into trouble.
Next, take a risk! Ask the experts! Just as there are athlete behaviors that are “team busters”, there are also coaches’ behaviors that undercut teamwork and sabotage the overall performance of the group. Are you secure enough in yourself that you can ask your players to label coaching “team-busters.” In team workshops I also encourage athletes to list all the behaviors that coaches get into that cause problems for the team. Write those down on a black board and then discuss them. I’ll list some of the more “popular” ones here. However, my list won’t be nearly as valuable to you as the one that you can generate by asking your own players. You don’t even have to directly ask them to label yours or your staff’s behaviors. Just ask them to make a list of “coaching team busters” in general. If you’re smart, you’ll use their list to get even better as a team builder.
COACHES’ TEAM BUSTERS
- Showing favoritism
- Playing mind games
- Being dishonest
- Lack of, or indirect communication
- Linking athletes self-worth with their performance
- Being negative
- Acting apathetic and disinterested
- Never giving positive feedback
- Failing to challenge your athletes enough
- Failing to stop negative, inappropriate behaviors
- Being a lousy role model
- Shows a lack of respect
Finally, ask your athletes what behaviors from the coach foster or build a close team. This feedback on “team builders” should give you and your staff some great ideas as to exactly what’s needed to build a winning team. Some typical responses that I’ve gotten over the years:
COACHES’ TEAM BUILDERS
- Positive attitude
- Provides constructive criticism in useful way
- Open communication
- Respects all team members
- Sets appropriate limits on inappropriate behaviors
- Positive role model
- Cares about the athlete as a whole person
- Easy to talk with
- Treats everyone fairly
- Walks the talk
#2 Make “building a close-knit team” an important goal for the season. Let your players know that one of your priorities is that they all get along, support each other and work together. Emphasize that success can only come when everyone works together. If you as the coach continually stress the importance of teamwork soon your players will begin to value and live it.
#3 Do not collude with or indirectly encourage team busting behaviors. Just because something goes on in the locker room out of your sight doesn’t mean it’s none of your business. As a coach you should havezero-tolerance for any of the athletes’ team busting behaviors. Enlist your captains to help the team maintain an awareness of what behaviors are appropriate and which ones aren’t. Be ready and willing to set limits and provide consequences for those athletes who continue to violate these team-building rules.
If you want to have a winning program you must remember that you can’t get there without a total team effort. This places the ultimate responsibility for building such a close-knit unit squarely on your shoulders. You are the architect and builder of a winning team.
DR G’S TEACHING TALES
A 78 year-old man is on his death-bed. He has lived a long and satisfying life. He has accomplished great things. He has amassed great wealth. However, he has struggled with one major frustration and, in his mind, one significant failure. For his entire life his 11 sons and daughters have never gotten along. They have bitterly fought amongst themselves, shared petty jealousies and held grudges. Many have not spoken to one another in years. This has caused the old man great pain and suffering. So he calls his eldest son to his bedside and instructs him as follows. “I am dying my son and have little time left. There is, however one thing that I wish you to do for me. Contact all your brothers and sisters and have them gather in my bedroom Tuesday next. I wish to say goodbye to everyone together. And one more thing my son. Be sure that each of your brothers and sisters brings a stick four feet long and one half-inch in circumference.” The eldest seemed puzzled by this last strange request and thought sadly that his father had already lost his mind. Nevertheless, being the dutiful son that he was, he contacted all his siblings and gave them his father’s instructions. On Tuesday they all gathered by their dying father’s bed awkwardly holding their sticks. The tension in the air was quite palpable given the hostility that existed between the brothers and sisters. The old man asked the eldest for his stick. In the silence of the room, he wrapped his bony hands around the stick and began to bend it. His hands shook as he applied more and more pressure to the wood until there was a resounding snap in the room as the stick broke. He then instructed the eldest to gather up all the remaining sticks and bring them to him. When he had all 11 sticks in his hands he slowly bound them together with a leather strip. When he had finished he asked his strongest son who worked in a rock quarry to please take the bundle of sticks in his hands and attempt to break them. This very muscular son wrapped his massive hands around the 11 sticks and began to apply pressure. Soon the bundle began to bend ever so slightly. The man’s muscles began to bulge as he continued to apply pressure. However, as hard as he bent, the sticks would not move beyond their initial bend. His face began to turn red and the veins in his neck began to bulge but the sticks would not budge. Minutes later and sweating profusely the strong man gave up exhausted.Everyone had watched this demonstration in silence. The old man faced his children and said I have a parting message for you and hopefully a life lesson. All my life you have been fighting amongst yourselves. You have not supported each other and have not acted as a family. When you do that understand that you stand alone. You are weak and anyone can break you, even someone as frail as myself. However, when you stick together, when you support each other not even the strongest can break you.
If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!