July 15, 2009
There are players and there are team players.
Ask any good coach. He can spot the difference at the first practice of the season. Players are kids who are participate for the sole purpose of showing the world their amazing abilities–even if they aren’t really so amazing. And team players are athletes who play because they love the game and understand the idea that they are playing a team–not an individual–sport.
It’s not easy being a team player. As humans, our natural tendency is to be concerned only about what’s good for me. But a team player sees the big picture and knows that sometimes what’s best for the team is not always going to agree with what’s good for me.
How can you help your child be a team player?
First of all, teach them to spell. There is no “I” in the word team. It’s not about how many points I score, how many tackles I chalk up, how many rebounds I pull down. It’s about how the team performs. I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep stats for your kid. I do it all the time just because they like to know how they do and if they are improving, and once you get to high school, colleges look at stats, so you have to keep them. But players should not be obsessed with them. My son played basketball with a player whose first impulse was to look over the bookkeeper’s shoulder after the game to see what his stats were and then brag about them. He may have scored a lot of points, but he also lost a lot of friends.
Second, teach your child to count. There are 5 players on a basketball team, 11 on a football team, six on a volleyball team, 11 on a soccer team, and 9 on a baseball team. Remind your child that they are on a team; no matter how good of an athlete they are, they cannot play all the positions at once by themselves. Take the other 4 players off the basketball court and watch the star player get spanked. Doesn’t matter how good he can dunk. And how’s a quarterback supposed to throw without a line to protect him or a receiver to catch?
Third, teach your child to read–people, not books. Kids are never too young to learn how to be sensitive to their peers. Hurt feelings, miscommunications–they will happen in any game. But instead of ignoring these hurts or brushing off people, my husband-coach has always told our kids that they should seek to understand, rather than to be understood. Yeah, it’s tough for kids, who naturally are consumed with me,but it can happen. On more than one occassion, my high school junior has come home disgusted at how a negative player’s words have affected fellow teammates. She has read the situation and knows that this kind of behavior is just not right.
Fourth, teach your child to speak another language, the one of humility. To many children, the language of humility is as foreign to their vocabulary as Spanish or French. How many kids do you know who take responsibility for their mistakes? When our QB son would throw an incomplete pass, we reminded him that sometimes the mistake was his and encouraged him to admit that to his receiver. And our daughter learned to acknowledge to her teammates when a bad pass resulting in a turnover was her fault, not theirs. At the same time, remind them that the secret to a healthy sports humility is to be humble and admit mistakes, then shake it off and move on to the next play.
And last, teach them science. Putting together a team is often as tricky as conducting a chemistry experiment. Mixing and matching players for a winning combination is definitely a science, admits my husband-coach. And what’s best for the team may not be what your athlete wants. My collegiate daughter has played softball since she was 8 and has been a catcher since 7th grade. When she went away to college, she played catcher for two years and then in her junior year, was put in the outfield because another catcher earned the starting catcher spot. Instead of complaining to the coach, Cristi told him that she understood that the other catcher was better at that position than her and that she would do what was best for the team. She moved to the outfield and after starting and playing great defense in the outfield all season, she was named defensive player of the team. That was a team chemistry lesson that we she will never forget.
As athletes, our children enter a learning environment whenever they step onto the court or field. Let’s teach them that being a team player will earn them a passing grade every time.