What does it mean to be a team player?

There are a lot of articles out there on what it means to be a team player. They could be from motivational speakers, to well-educated authors, to successful business people. Today, I would like to look to one of my best sources for learning life lessons: my kids, specifically my youngest son in this case.

At the time my son was 8, almost 9. We were having him try various youth sports. One of which was youth football. The age group of his team was 9 and 10 year olds. He was not the smallest kid on the team, but he was one of the youngest and his size reflected that.

It was not long into the session when the coach realized they needed a better center. The current one was having trouble getting the ball into the quarterback’s hands without dropping the ball. The next few practices the coach had various kids try the position. Sure enough, my son, one of the smallest on the team, was good at it.  So, they started playing him as center.

One day (not long after my son started to play this position) he came to me and said that playing this position was hard. He knew it was an important position, and even at his age he felt the pressure. He knew his teammates were counting on him to play his position well…without dropping the ball. He was doing something “outside of his comfort zone”. I told him to just do his best. As long as he knew he had tried his best, no matter what the outcome, he did not have to feel bad. He could hold his head up and be proud of his effort. Slightly to my surprise, that’s exactly what he did. He consistently got the ball in the quarterback’s hands, and still got right up to block the defensive player across the line from them. He even managed the huddle. It was easy to see he was trying his best every time he was on the field. It was not long into the season before he was made captain of his team.

Thinking back on it one day, it occurred to me that this was a very good example of what it means to be a team player. When you’re part of a team, you have to be responsible for your position. You have to play your position to the best of your ability or your entire team suffers. You have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone. If your team has enough players doing this same thing, your team will win. This can easily be related to your role at any company: you are part of a team and your team needs everyone to perform their position to the best of their ability to be able to be successful. Sometimes that means working outside of your comfort zone.

Another part of being on a team is being able to rely on your teammates for help. As I said, my son was one of the youngest on the team, and so one of the smallest. There were times when across the line from him was a kid much bigger than him. Much our dismay, my son still took his role seriously and did his best to block these big kids. But, at times it was just too much for him. The coach would quickly see this, and started having one of the other linemen start to double team my son’s opponent. This worked very well. Not only did it help my son, but the entire team.

This too can be related back to being part of a company today. If you are in a situation that is more than just outside your comfort zone, but outside you experience or ability level, you should ask for help. It is more important to keep a customer happy, or not lose a sale, or not miss a deadline, than it is for you to worry about asking for help. Your ability to ask for help, and having coworkers willing to help others, are a key factor to any successful company.

My son’s team had a winning season that year. Not just because of my son, but because he was not the only one on the team that played his position to the best of his ability. As well has having many kids that were also willing to help other teammates when needed. And…yes…this is a true story.

Sometime the best lessons in life don’t come from those motivational speakers or highly educated authors. Sometimes you just need to look to children to see how we should live our professional and personal lives.