Team players fit the mold of unselfishness. They put the needs of the team first. They are willing to give up some of their own individual needs for the good of the team. Some of those things may be personal stats, personal glory, recognition for individual accomplishments, playing a role that they are not thrilled about, etc. In other words, their attitude is, “If that’s what the team needs from me to be successful, I’m willing to do that.”
However, being a team player does not mean you still don’t have personal goals and needs. It just means those are secondary to the needs of the team. It is not about just deferring to others. It is not giving UP yourself for your team. It is giving OF yourself to your team. In other words, you do not change who you are and what strengths you bring to the team, you maximize the strengths you possess for the good of the team. So goalies need to score, mid court players need to pass, defenders need to defend, bench players need to cheer, and so on. Of course, those aren’t the only things each of them need to do. They need to do ALL that they can to help the team. But because those are the things they are best at, they need to be their best at those things.
The Selfish Player
Now, here is the fine line and the problem that line can create. If the thing you do best is the only thing you try to do for your team, you may be hurting your team. Of course, this depends upon the sport, the team, the situations within the team and certain games, etc. But if you are only focused on performing the thing that is your strength and nothing else, you are not helping your team in all the ways you can help.
Let’s take scoring for example. If you are a goalie, you need to do the things you can to score and help your team win. But if you do only things for you to score and you do them to the detriment of the team, then you are not maximizing your strength; you are minimizing it and hurting your team.
When we think of selfish players, we think first of what are commonly called “ball hogs.” These are players who will shoot or attempt to score themselves no matter what the situation is. They are the players who chase the ball all over the court, when they can be creating space. They will think only of themselves and no one else. The more they think this way, the more they hurt their team. They need to be addressed in some fashion by their coach and by their teammates.
If we can work with the “Selfish Player” to become an “Unselfish Player,” everyone wins. This is not something that will happen overnight. These players are so wired to think “Score!” or take the pass, that to get them to think differently takes time. Reward them with praise every time they make the right pass in the right instance. Correct them when they force a bad shot, but also explain to them why it was a bad shot and what would have been a better alternative. While you don’t want to be a “nag,” you must hold them accountable for their actions. At times, they may have to come out of games if they are not getting the point.
Be persistent and consistent with this, and remember this is not the easiest thing for them to change. But if they do change or improve at it, reward them for it. Again, you are not trying to quell their ability to score or be in the play. You are trying to maximize its effectiveness by teaching them the best places and ways for them to do it.
This “Selfish Scorer” is not the only one who can hurt a team by being selfish. Ironically, the unselfish player can be selfish in many instances, too. This player is so unselfish that s/he passes up good scoring opportunities that s/he may have in order to give up the ball to someone else. This is especially frustrating when this person is also a good scorer. This person may have every bit the same talent as the Selfish Goalie, but because s/he is so unselfish, we never look at her that way.
We know what these types of players are capable of when it comes to scoring, and we want them to be aggressive looking to score because they are good at it. However, they are so unselfish that they become TOO unselfish and they start deferring to others, often to the “Selfish Scorers.” They are usually “pleasers” who try to please others – their coaches, teammates, friends, fans, you name it – pretty much all the time. Because of their desire to please, they are extremely unselfish. Coaches love coaching them because they want to help everyone feel better and have a great experience on the team. Teammates love playing with them because they are willing to do anything to help the team and help their teammates have success.
However, this great strength of theirs can be a detriment as well because they inhibit one of their own great strengths – scoring – by being so unselfish. Therefore, they limit the team’s chances of success because they don’t look to their own scoring opportunities as much as they should. Paradoxically or ironically, their unselfishness makes them selfish. They are so unselfish and they defer so much that they hurt their team by not taking advantage of their ability to score or create scoring opportunities for themselves.
Just like a coach and teammates need to address the “Selfish Scorer,” they also need to address this “Unselfish Unscorer.” But this should be an easier conversation to have. Who wouldn’t want to be told by coaches and teammates that they want you to shoot more?! Who wouldn’t want to be praised for their unselfishness, while at the same time being told that they need to look for their own scoring opportunities more?
There is a double benefit when coaches have this kind of conversation with these players. First, the team will have a better chance at success because this player’s strengths can be maximized to offer the greatest contribution to the team’ success. Second, when these players hear this praise and validation of their attitude and abilities, it gives them the jolt of confidence they need in order to feel that their coaches and teammates won’t consider them selfish if they look to score more. It tells them that their unselfishness is great, but “we want you to shoot and score more because we need that from you.”
When the “Unselfish Unscorer” and the “Selfish Scorer” both become “Unselfish Goalies,” everyone wins. They maximize the team experience and the chances for team success for all. This is when you ultimately have the “Consummate Team Player” – the person who maximizes ALL of her/his skills to help the team succeed. That should be one of the main goals of every player on any team.