On Being a Team Player

Selflessness

The first rule of being a team player is selflessness: the ability to embrace being part of something bigger than yourself. You see value in your role, even if that means you sit on the bench, and you feel grateful for the opportunity to sit on the bench. You want what's best for the team, not necessarily what's best for you. Your personal desires are not a priority. 

John Clark, an infamous rugby coach, taught his players to embrace the brilliant mindset of "Entitled to Nothing. Grateful for Everything." Entitlement and ungratefulness bring out the worst in anyone. Trust me, it's not a good look. When you truly are grateful for everything (even the difficult stuff), you don't feel like someone owes you anything. That's the perspective you need to be a selfless team player. Make Clark's quote your mantra. Chant it, scream it, live it. Also, listen to what Louie C.K. says about selfishness.

Commitment 

For the love of god, take your commitments seriously! You can't expect your team to be taken seriously - or even this sport to be taken seriously - if you don't. Spend a lot of time, and I mean a LOT of time, thinking about whether or not you can commit to the team requirements. Think about how your potential commitment will affect the people you love or how it will affect your job or other important things. If you back out, you not only let the team down but you disappoint your teammates and make it hard for them to trust you. 

Before each season, the team should have an honest conversation about goals and what each team member is willing to sacrifice to reach their goal. Everyone has to be fully committed in order to succeed.  The team leadership should specifically spell out the minimum requirements (preferably in a contract), and everyone must be committed to fulfilling at least the minimum. Examples of possible team requirements:

  • Attend every team practice and team meeting.
  • Attend team-building/bonding events.
  • Cross-train at least 2-3 times a week, with a list of approved activities (walking your dog is not cross-training)
  • Analyze 30 minutes of high-level game play every week.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Spend 30 minutes every week reading about elite athletes (provide a list of books and articles)

A team player never wants to let the team down, but uncontrollable circumstances happen. It sucks. There's no way around it. If a teammate has to break a commitment due to uncontrollable circumstances, the team should support that teammate. I'm sure she's probably devastated to have let the team down, so being shitty about it won't help.

Be Your Best Self - Physically and Mentally

A better you makes for a better team. Be dedicated to self-improvement. Set a goal for yourself and constantly meet and raise your standards so you are always improving. When you are at practice, continually challenge yourself and your teammates. Take advantage of every moment. If you show up to practice ten minutes early, spend that time honing a skill. During drills and scrimmage, practice how you want to play. Bring 100% every single time. [ Sidenote for my own sanity: No one can bring more than 100%. Please stop saying 110%! ]

In addition to being on top of your physical game, be on top of your mental game. Your attitude and mental state affects everyone. Make sure you build up your teammates with a positive attitude, rather than poison them with a shitty one. Read more about mental game here, where I address common issues and the solutions to developing mental toughness: build your confidence, don't expect perfection, learn to let go of mistakes, get in the zone and stay in the zone, develop a love of challenge, and understand team mentality.

Trust and Respect Your Teammates

Assume that everyone is doing all they can for the team. They signed the contract, right? How is it helping anyone for you to judge your teammates and/or accuse them of not living up to expectations? If you think they aren't, approach them with concern. Ask how they are. Find out if there's something going on and if they need help. Sometimes people won't reach out to their teammates when they need something for fear of burdening them, so take the first step and reach out with compassion instead of judgement.  

Exercise patience with your teammates. Helping them improve = helping the team improve. Challenge your teammates during practice, but understand that everyone learns at a different pace. Have patience and empathy when your teammates are struggling. Getting frustrated does no good for anyone. 

You don't have to love and adore all your teammates, but you should take pride in their successes as if they were your own. Support your teammates and celebrate their greatness. 

Trust and Respect Your Leadership

Seriously. I don't care if you think you have better ideas than your coaches or captains, you need to trust them and treat them with respect. You're not always going to agree with the leadership. It's fine to question leadership, but not in the middle of practice and not in front of the team. Do that shit in private like a respectable adult. 

Trust that your leadership has spent an incomprehensible amount of time thinking and planning what's best for the team. Be willing to take calculated risks, even if you weren't the one who calculated. Just do what's asked of you, and do it as best you can ( and don't half-ass it just because you don't like it). I recognize that not everyone is a good leader, and some teams may not realize until it's kinda too late that the coach they thought was going to be super-mega-amazing is not super-mega-amazing, and in fact, just the opposite. That's a whole other blog. Still, you need to be respectful. Always.

Squash Shit Immediately

This is so fucking important, I don't think I can possibly express it without telling you horror stories of the drama and team-gutting that occurs when you don't squash shit. You and everyone has to be fully committed to confronting issues immediately. For the sake of the team, it's absolutely necessary that everyone deals with conflict directly, openly, and quickly. I know it can be extremely difficult to do that, but it'll only get worse. Allowing issues to fester is toxic, and it will give your team full-blown AIDs. 

 

There are many other qualities that make a team player: reliability, consistency, accountability, coachability, humility, and the ability to receive and implement feedback. Those are pretty self-explanatory, so I'll move on to unacceptable behavior for a teammate.

Unacceptable Behavior

I hate to bring this up, but douche-baggery is a real thing, and it must be stopped. This is a list of behaviors that is unproductive in the least and downright destructive at worst. This is not a complete list, as I'm sure there will be someone who behaves in a new-and-impressively-horrible way that tops every shitty thing on this list. 

  1. Talking shit about your teammates. 
  2. Defensiveness, blaming others, and/or not taking responsibility for yourself.
  3. Complaining about about playing time. 
  4. Feeling jealous of the accomplishments of your teammates.
  5. Being dishonest and/or not communicating directly with your teammates and the team leadership.
  6. Yelling at teammates when they make mistakes.
  7. Making demands instead of having discussions.
  8. Being passive aggressive and/or being a basic bitch.
  9. Refusing to participate in team activities (regardless of how corny they are).
  10. Being a humorless fuck. If you don't think this is funny, I don't know how to help you. Okay, #11 isn't thaaat important, but you've got to be able to laugh at yourself.  

Read more about the responsibilities of being a team player from Elektra Q-Tion, author of the blog You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel and skater for the Carolina Rollergirls. We collaborated on writing about this topic, and the lady wrote smart things that you need to read. Subscribe to her blog, too, so you can read all of her goodness. 

Please share what you think are qualities of a team player. I love hearing from you!