Whether you're an athlete at the middle school, high school, college, pro or even international level, you need to work to get better, and the attributes you need to improve daily do not change. The influence you can have on your team, as a starter or a role player, can be immense when you follow these five tips.
1. Commit to the Team
A locker room full of teammates who are willing to work hard and work together every day at practice, even when not under the coach's eye, is crucial to having a successful season. Realize that a good teammate doesn't try to be the best player on the team; he or she focuses on being the best player for the team.
2. Put in Extra Time
Spending 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after practice working on your game will give you an advantage over the competition. Some players choose to talk about their day while they slowly lace up their shoes, or duck out of practice as quickly as possible. But realize that being different is just one level away from being great. Twenty minutes of additional practice six days in a row adds up to another full practice during your week. Work on your game and be ready for your big moment; or don't and be ready for a teammate to take your spot in the lineup. Your choice.
3. Know Your Teammates
How you work with your teammates when things are not going as planned, as well as when things are going well, strongly influences how successful you and your team will be, and how far you will go as an athlete.
Great teammates are positive, supportive, understanding, forgiving and passionate about helping those around them achieve greatness. Learn about your teammates. Enjoy being around them away from practices and games. Sit with different teammates on road trips. Strike up conversations to learn about what motivates them. The time, effort and energy you put into reaching out to your teammates will come back to you many times over.
Being a good teammate isn't a big thing; it's a million little things.
4. Protect Your "Brand"
You may not be getting paid to play, but you can always act as if you had a one-day contract worth $1 million. How hard would you work to have your contract renewed tomorrow? Would you eat healthier, hydrate more often, sleep better, practice harder, listen with more intent, be a better teammate, and not be a distraction when away from the team?
Realize that regardless of whether you are playing in a middle school tournament, have been invited to a high school invitational, or get selected all-conference in college, people are watching. You are a brand, and you want to be seen in a positive light. You have to become a brand worth investing in.
5. Understand the Process
"When you are not getting better, you are getting worse" is a cliché that may intimidate many athletes. Be prepared to practice better, improve just one rep each day, and push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you are lucky enough to be around a coach who pushes you, holds you accountable, and may even be demanding at times, consider it a gift. He or she probably see something in you that you don't yet see in yourself.
Stay positive and believe in the process. No successful athlete ever started out that way. They all found it in themselves to make their bad days better and draw confidence from the days when they did well. You are never as bad as your worst day, and you are never as good as your best. Find it in yourself to stay level-headed and hungry to become more for your coaches, teammates, family and yourself.
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Editor's Note: Check out Coach Taylor's SMARTER Team Training Audio Interview Series here.