What Makes a Team?
Recently I sat through an hour or so of Colton’s ball practice. It is his first year in the minors of Little League. He has worked himself up from T-ball, through machine pitch, and now faces his peers from the pitcher’s mound. His practices have occurred on Wednesday nights, so I haven’t attended many because I’m usually with the youth group at church, but that one evening I sat and watched as they took turns batting.
For an hour, I didn’t hear one word of encouragement or support from the boys to their teammates. Not a “Good catch” or “Awesome hit” from any of them. The few comments I did hear were taunting and obnoxious when someone made a mistake. It made me extremely sad, and I wondered how they would ever win a game when they obviously weren’t feeling any team spirit.
If you work with others to accomplish an end result – in a sport, at work, with family, at church – you are part of a team. Collaboration succeeds when every member applies their strengths to the task and willingly allows others to complete the parts in his or her areas of weaknesses. It’s difficult to come up with a team that has members who works seamlessly together because humans are imperfect, and there are so many potential problems to overcome.
1) Not everyone pulls his or her weight. Although this can certainly affect adults, I often see it happen in my classroom. Some students translate “group project” into “my turn to sit back and watch” and then they expect to get the same grade as the group members who have poured themselves into the project. Obviously, this problem can lead to frustration and anger by the members who are doing the work. When I see this happening, I remind the group they will be graded based on the amount of work they contribute to hopefully nudge the sluggish member into action. If that doesn’t work, I pass out the Peer Review cards then instead of waiting until the project is complete to let them evaluate the other members of their team. Some teens understand that being interdependent is a great way to accomplish large tasks, but some are so focused on gaining their future independence (from parents, teachers, whoever), they can’t see the positive aspects of teamwork.
2) A member with leadership skills is too selfish to lead. Some people are born leaders. Others learn to be. Whether it is inherent or a learned skill, these members of a team must be willing to lead the other members. If they have the “knowledge is power so I’m not sharing it with you” mentality, the team will never succeed. Anyone who becomes part of a team has to check their ego at the door or their skills and abilities are wasted. This type of teammate sometimes has a tendency to dwell in the past. He is so busy telling everyone all he has accomplished previously, patting himself on the back, that nothing can get done in the present and it eliminates any hope for the future.
I see this problem on Colton’s team. There are many boys on the team who have been playing in the minors for 2 or 3 years now, and they should be helping the younger boys learn. I don’t think this is happening but not necessarily because of selfishness. The boys are young and maybe don’t see themselves as leaders, but they could be if they were encouraged to help the new players.
3) A member who says “that’s not my job”. I don’t think I hear many comments that grate on my nerves more than that one. I realize I’m a person who has trouble saying “no” and my busy schedule attests to that, so some people may think I should say it more often. However, I don’t think when you’re part of a team you can refuse any aspect of the job if someone needs assistance. Even if roles are assigned at the beginning of a project, team members can’t be glued to their job description. Too many unforeseen needs can appear, and someone must address them or the whole team will fail.
I think there is a vast difference between saying “no” to being part of something and saying “no” to a required task once you are already a team member. I agree I need to say “no” to some of many roles I take on in life, but I pray I never become someone who says “no” instead of finishing a task when I’ve committed myself to a successful outcome.
4) Everyone tries his or her best, but there’s no feeling of unity. I see this as a problem with Colton’s team. I’m certainly not qualified to tell the coaches how to do their job, but I tried to subtly suggest to an assistant coach that the boys don’t sound like much of a team when they are out on the field. I appreciated it when he called out, “Get behind your pitcher boys! Let’s hear some chatter!” The boys didn’t respond with much enthusiasm, but it is hard to expect any because they won’t have team spirit until they feel like a team.
Have you ever seen the movie Remember the Titans? What a classic. Now that coach knew how to build team spirit. Obviously, I don’t want Colton dragged out of bed for a many-mile run that ends at Gettysburg for an inspirational speech, but something has to draw those kids together before they will show each other support and encouragement. Colton probably didn’t even know some of those older boys at the beginning of the season. Were they introduced? Did they find out anything about each other? Do they know if they share any interests off the ball field? I realize the focus is the game, learning the skills, and improving, but there are so many life lessons to be learned right along with baseball. I keep praying Colton has a chance to learn them.
Colton and I have talked a lot about his team in the last week or so. Mark and I are encouraging him to listen carefully to his coaches and to learn from watching the older boys even if they don’t offer help. I’m also trying to get him to start some upbeat, positive chatter from his right-field position and from the dugout, but I can tell he isn’t too comfortable with that. He’s trying to fly under the radar, not make mistakes, and avoid calling attention to himself in any way that might bring on ridicule. How sad is that?