WHAT KIND OF TEAMMATE ARE YOU DEVELOPING?
In the fall of 2009, I walked into the basketball offices at Butler University to meet with Brad Stevens. I was a young coach looking to learn from someone I knew and admired, and Coach Stevens fit the bill. Today, as head coach of the Boston Celtics, he is widely regarded as one of the top basketball minds in the game and one of the best leaders in all of sports, but in 2009 he was preparing to start just his third season as a head coach. He was the same smart, talented coach back then; he just hadn't yet led Butler to back-to-back national championship games, been named the coach of an iconic NBA franchise, or become the popular coaching superstar he is today.
Looking back, it was a memorable experience I’m fortunate to have had. He and I sat and talked basketball, coaching, and leadership for an hour or so in his office. Like Coach Stevens himself, his office was pretty humble compared to the ones you’d find on most college campuses. Around the room hung different pictures, posters, and personal photos that all helped illustrate what Coach Stevens thought, believed, and valued. As he sat as his desk, there was one sign in particular that caught my attention. It hung in the prominent spot directly behind him, and it was impossible to miss.
The sign contained a quote from former New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly. It might seem strange to think that a college basketball coach would hang a quote from a baseball guy in the marquee spot in his office – especially a baseball guy many of his players might not even know. But Coach Stevens has proven that he doesn’t do much by accident. I’d guess there’s a specific reason he stationed Don Mattingly’s words right there where everyone, especially his players, could see them. Today, I’ll put those words right here for you to see, too:
“Team sports are usually difficult things. Sometimes your team wins because of you, sometimes in spite of you, and sometimes it’s like you are not even there. That’s the reality of the team game. Then at one point in my career, something wonderful happened. I don’t know why or how, but I came to understand what a ‘team’ meant. It meant that although I didn’t get a hit or make a great defensive play, I could impact the team in an incredible and consistent way. I could impact the team by caring first and foremost about the team’s success and not my own. I don’t mean rooting for us like a typical fan; fans are fickle. I mean care, really care about the team…about ‘us.’ I became less selfish, less lazy, less sensitive to negative comments. When I gave up me I became more. I became a captain, a leader, a better person, and I came to understand that life is a team game. And you know what? I’ve found most people aren’t team players. They don’t realize that life is the only game in town. Someone should tell them. It has made all the difference in the world to me.”
Those words speak to an important understanding that Don Mattingly developed in his life as an athlete, an understanding about what it means to be a teammate. It’s an understanding that all champion athletes develop. I think that’s why Coach Stevens hung those words there behind his desk, where his players could see them, so they could develop it, too. I’m passing it along to you for the same reason today. If you’re serious about helping your child become a champion, in sports and in life, then you need to develop this understanding about what it means to be a teammate, so you can help your child develop it, too. As a champion sports parent, you see clearly that despite the challenge that comes with team sports, developing your child’s understanding of what it means to be a teammate is one of your most important responsibilities.
As a champion sports parent, you see clearly that despite the challenge that comes with team sports, developing your child’s understanding of what it means to be a teammate is one of your most important responsibilities.
I want to encourage you to become relentlessly intentional about developing your child’s ability to be a teammate. He cannot and will not reach his full potential without your help in this area. You’ve got to help him see what Don Mattingly came to see, that even if he doesn’t get a hit or make a great defensive play, he can still impact the team in an incredible and consistent way. You’ve got to help him become less selfish, less lazy, and less sensitive to negative comments. You’ve got to help him understand that when he gives up himself, he actually becomes more. You’ve got to help him become a captain, a leader, and a better person. This is the mindset of a champion teammate.
Remember, as a sports parent, what you choose to emphasize is what your child will learn to value. If developing your child’s ability to be a teammate is important to you, then how he interacts with those around him must be a part of your perspective. If you see him doing what Don Mattingly did – impacting the team by caring first and foremost about the group’s success instead of his own – then don’t let it go unnoticed. Appreciate it! After all, what you appreciate appreciates. If you see that he hasn’t met the standard you’ve set in this area, then hold him accountable for it. The daily process of teaching, training, and emphasizing what you value will help him learn, grow, and improve for himself.
Most importantly of course, if we want our kids to be their best in this area of life, we’ve got to be our best, too. We can talk to our kids all day long about the importance of being a teammate, but how we model that responsibility in our own lives will speak more loudly than our words ever could. We’ve got to show our children what being a great teammate looks like. Both personally and professionally, in every area of our lives, we’ve got to put others first. We’ve got to become less selfish, less lazy, and less sensitive to negative comments. When we do that – when we give up ourselves for the betterment of our “team,” wherever it is – we become more. We become captains, leaders, and better people. We become champions ourselves, and then we help our children become champions, too.
When Brad Stevens hung that poster over his desk at Butler all those years ago, I know he didn’t do it to make me better, but those words from Don Mattingly did exactly that. They made me better. Today I’m passing them along, hoping they'll do the same for you. I hope they'll inspire you to do the work - to hunt for ways to teach and model what it looks like to be a champion teammate for your child. As he develops that understanding, it will separate him from those he’ll be competing with and against forever, in sports and in life. As Don Mattingly said, most people aren’t team players. They don’t realize that life is the only game in town. It's your job to make sure your child realizes it. If you do, it’ll make all the difference in the world.
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