Summer’s horizons are stretching thin and, as the endless sunny days trickle away, many of us have started to prepare for the new school year; a fresh start and opportunity to chase and tackle dreams. Especially for athletes, August’s first few weeks loom ominously as youth competitors, high schoolers, and those at the collegiate level anticipate try-outs, new work-out regimens, different coaches, altered team dynamics, and a meticulously scripted season training program. Evidently, there is much to consider as fall sports like cross country, football, and volleyball commence; much about which to be excited. However, this is also a period for reflection. A time to consider what you might bring to your sports team this season. How will you be the best possible teammate and player during the 2017-2018 school year?
Successful sport teams are comprised of many different factors: a dedicated coaching staff, excellent leadership, in depth and well thought-out training algorithms, and a harmonious team dynamic. This latter is especially important: no matter the sport, camaraderie between players is imperative considering the time spent together. Civility is crucial but, certainly more important, is the state of truly supporting your teammates. Putting the team’s best interests above your own. Sacrificing comfort during painful practice sessions such that a ‘greater good’ is met and end of season triumph clinched. Many youth athletes meet their best friends through competitive teams and it is not surprising support systems develop via sport opportunity. By keeping morale high and validating others for their part in a team’s whole as well as their individual achievements, we ensure the best possible experience for all involved (North, 2017).
Considering this, TOPPS has outlined some ways in which, this year, you might become the best possible friend and teammate. Again, what can you bring to the table for 2017-2018?
Know Your Teammates’ Goals: What are your friends looking to accomplish? Discover their long and short-term dreams: do they wish to make the all-state track team? Do they hope to play college baseball? Once you know what your teammates want to achieve, you can seek to help secure said dreams by providing support through tough work-outs, encouraging learning out of disappointment. Competitiveness is central to any sport; however, it should not come at the cost of peer support. Knowing your teammates goals as well as how they like to be supported leads us to number 2 on our list.
Motivate and Be Supportive: Despite the excitement and joy, sports can be difficult. They can be grueling, challenging, disappointing, and downright painful as we grind towards our goals. These difficulties are made much more manageable knowing others have your back and are invested in your best interest/success (Foster, 2015). Select a Performance Partner: this will assist in creating support and comfort following tough practices or hard-won competitions. Ask how your teammates like to be motivated and encouraged; in turn, also share how you like to be motivated and encouraged. Perhaps you develop a team hashtag or vocal affirmation to build the comradery. Understanding how to motivate your teammates is key to a supportive unit and, along the same lines, being present yourself is vital. This leads us to number 3 on our TOPPTips list.
Listen When Teammates Need to Talk: Sport is an essential part of many youth’s physical and social development. Sport aids in building many aspects of the self through the assistance of peer involvement. Previous studies have shown that the main reason youth participate in sport is because it’s, “fun” (Petlichkoff, 1992, & Visek, et al., 2015). One primary reason sport remains fun is our peer group, or support system. Having trusted teammates work tirelessly alongside you, sharing the same struggles, fosters necessary common ground upon which to bond. Being an athlete is hard work: managing schedules, school, family, and personal conflicts on top of physical/mental health exhausts. Therefore, having teammates with whom you can talk is essential to assist in coping with stressors. Did you know athletes are having a larger increase in experiencing mental health concerns? A large part of this increase in mental health symptoms is the inability to cope with demanding schedules and frequently expect absolute perfection in their various endeavors. As workload increases, so too does the pressure to succeed and maintain balance. It’s not uncommon for anxiety and depression to also increase; while these symptoms may require clinical attention, never underestimate the power of simply listening. Open ears provide the outlet through which individuals can address life obstacles. Talking is cathartic; knowing someone cares is even more so. Be a strongly supportive teammate and help normalize and validate your peers’ feelings. With that said, as we move to tip number 4, it is imperative to also hold friends accountable.
Be Willing to Call Out Your Teammates: Just as we should acknowledge when friends accomplish momentous achievements, so too must we gently note when best effort has not been exhibited. If a friend is not taking steps necessary to garner dreams, let them know. If a teammate is placing their own self above the team, let them know. Tough love is not something from which to shy. Understand your team’s values and assist each other in exhibiting goals both on and off the playing field. It is through accountability we construct unity and approach personal and team success. This leads us to the last TOPPSTip
Do It for Your Teammates: Teams are machines built of many different moving parts (a.k.a. players). To achieve success, these parts must move together smoothly. If even one piece is out of sync, trouble might unravel. Understand, when times get tough, that you are a strand in a much larger tapestry. When swim intervals get tough or the afternoon runs grow sweltering, it helps to know your battle is one fought for more than just yourself. You train alongside what is, for all intents and purposes, your family (Foster 2015).
Our TOPPSTips list is a starting point for you to build your supportive team environment. There are many ways in which you might seek to support teammates and, in so doing, create a much stronger unit. As we move toward school’s commencement and fall sports kick off, it’s smart to begin setting season goals. Refer to a couple of our previous blogs here (Goal-Setting with Intention) and also here (Goals and Grit) if you need help with goal-setting. At TOPPS we encourage, as one of those goals, prioritizing strong teammate support. Strong bonds equate to a strong team dynamic. Strong team dynamics, alongside leadership, coaching, and work ethic, equates to success. Find your success this year.
Foster, Emma. (Oct. 26, 2015). 6 Ways to Become a Great Teammate. Swimming World. Retrieved on August 10, 2017, from https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/6-tips-to-become-a-great-teammate/.
Petlichkoff LM. Youth sport participation and withdrawal: Is it simply a matter of fun? Pediatric Exercise Science. 1992; 4:105–110.
North, Cat. (Jun. 13, 2017). How Teamwork Leads to Successful Achievements. Livestrong.com. Retrieved on August 10, 2017, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/369889-how-teamwork-leads-to-successful-achievements/.
Visek, A. J., Achrati, S. M., Manning, H., McDonnell, K., Harris, B. S., & DiPietro, L. (2015). The Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 12(3), 424-433. doi:10.1123/jpah.2013-0180