“I love you guys!” my daughter said as she hugged each teammate that walked onto the basketball court. She didn’t always feel that way. I’d know as her coach.
Still, throughout the season, she’d learned to connect with her teammates truly. Was she besties with all of them? No, but they had all learned to care about and understand one another, which helped them develop into a powerful team that went undefeated in their league and place in the state tournament.
If you work to become close with teammates, the group will be stronger, and you might even make a new friend for life. But fostering a bond is never easy. Know that going in.
Maybe you have a teammate who goofs around all the time or one who is way too serious. Perhaps one of your teammates teases you or doesn’t make you feel included. Or maybe you’re lucky and get along fine with your teammates, but you feel like you don’t share anything in common.
There are many ways to find common ground, and a good way to start is to earn their respect as an athlete and as a competitor.
How to Earn Respect
As a coach, I told my players that they didn’t need to be best friends with their teammates, but I hoped they would learn to respect and care about one another.
One way to do this is to work hard during practice and show your teammates that you care by the way you treat them. A simple kind gesture, or comment, can make all the difference.
Show love, say thank you. Let them know you appreciate their effort by telling them or looking them in the eye and pointing in their direction. Give them high-fives when they do something good and when they sub in and out of the game. Give them support when they make a mistake. If that happens, encourage them and assure them that they will make the next play. Kindness goes a long way in earning your teammate’s respect.
Find Common Ground
Reach out to your teammates before and after practice. Locker rooms are a great place to connect. Ask a teammate about their day, how classes are going. Open the door for conversation with teammates you don’t know very well with simple questions, and you’ll be surprised what you’ll learn about that person.
You may find you have more in common than you think. Maybe you’re both Lady GaGa fans, or you both love a specific hobby. You might learn that you both have little brothers who drive you crazy or that you both have a parent from Italy. The connection is often something simple but can be the start of a new friendship.
As you get to know and understand one another, a change will happen in your relationships with your teammates and how your entire team communicates. You might begin to realize that your teammate makes jokes or quits trying when they’re nervous, giving you insight into how to quell their nerves and support them. Your teammates might recognize that you get after them to hustle more because you want them and the team to succeed. And as a team grows closer, there are often fewer jealousies among teammates. Understanding one another makes the team stronger.
Spend Time Together Away From Sports
It’s fantastic if you can get the whole team together outside of the time you spend competing. That can mean having dinner together, going to a movie, or enjoying some other event as a group.
Offer a teammate a ride home after practice, see if one or two would like to grab lunch or tea, or try studying together. It doesn’t have to be something extravagant. Just find time to enjoy one another away from your sport.
As my daughter’s team got to know one another, they learned to trust in one another.
If they got beat on defense, they knew one of their teammates would be there to help. If they sprinted long on a fast break, they knew their teammate would pass them the ball. If they had a bad day at school, they knew that they had someone to talk to, someone who cared.
As players connect, they became more than teammates. They learn to trust and care about one another and become friends.
The next time you go to practice, think about how you can connect more with your teammates. Then take a chance and reach out.