Before solving the issue of what to do when one of your athletes isn’t a team player, we must first address some of the traits of what a team player is.
- Being a player that leads by example both on and off the playing field
- WE not ME
- Knowing how to adapt to different situations both physically and mentally
- Able to communicate with teammates and coaches
- Passionate about practice just as much as they are about playing the game
- Sacrifices for and encourages the team
These are just some of the many examples that define a team player. What is essential for coaches and sometimes parents to consider is that not all athletes have every one of these qualities, and remember if this is the case that they aren’t bad people or team members.
Examples Of Athletes Not Being A Team Players
- Consistently being absent or late for games, practices, and team meetings
- Constantly disrupting coaches, teammates during key moments
- Showing little or no interest in taking part in team activities away from the field of play
- Blaming the team and coaches for lack of success and not including themselves as part of the reason.
So what should you do as a coach when you have that one bad apple in the bunch? Depending on the age of the team you are coaching, the answer could be one of many. Ultimately you want to give them a chance to straighten things out as there could be something going on in their personal life that they may be having trouble dealing with. It is reflected in their role on the team. However, it is also essential that you do not allow this behavior and attitude to drag on too long. It can easily and quickly impact your entire team synergy, causing upset and anger amongst players and derailing your season.
The longer a team allows athletes with a bad attitude to continue, the likelihood of any forward progression by the team becomes less and less, as the negative behavior will take away from the individuals on the team for the right reasons. Ignoring behaviors such as harmful gossip and selfishness can derail any positive individual and team production.
Create A Culture
Setting out the expected behaviors at the beginning of the season and possibly revisiting them or resetting them midway through the season is essential. Letting the athletes know that the locker room, playing field, and any team-related activity are part of a safe environment is key to helping build a unified and successful group.
Explain Why Teamwork Is Important
Not everyone can be a superstar, but the most successful teams are made up of players who play a specific role well. Quite often, people see the result, not the effort that was made to make it happen. Some examples are:
- When a batter hits a sacrifice bunt
- Hit to move the baserunners
- Score a run or when a basketball player gets a defensive steal that leads to a transition hoop
- Offensive linemen block long enough for a quarterback to scramble for a touchdown pass.
Steve Nash was considered by many to be one of the greatest team players in NBA history because he made everyone around him better, which resulted in team success and eventually a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Sports are filled with emotions, whether you are a player, coach, or fan. The numerous highs and lows that one goes through both physically and mentally can play a toll on even the strongest individual. Managing one’s emotions, especially after a tough loss or not playing well is a skill in itself. Some players will deal with this roller coaster ride better than others, which means it is essential for coaches to help players reflect on their feelings during the tough times and how to be successful that they have to stick together as a team.
It is important to take time to sit down with your troubled athlete to explain how their attitude and negative behavior are rubbing off on their teammates and impacting the team’s success. Calling them out in practice or a game for their poor approach isn’t necessarily the best as the negative behavior is doubled with being embarrassed in front of their peers and fans.
As a coach, it is important to build relationships with players on and off the field of play. Spending some extra time helping rebound or additional batting practice or going over the playbook shows that they are worth your time. However, while this is taking place, check-in to see how their school day has gone or how home life is. Getting to know your players as more than an athlete will help to build trust and understanding.
As important as it is for the troubled athlete to get feedback from their coach, it could be more impactful if the comments come directly from their teammates. Knowing how much their negative attitude and behavior is affecting their teammates and the ability for the team to have success may be received better from their peers. As teammates, there are countless times on road trips or in the locker room or weight room in which players have the opportunity to open up to each other about things that are happening with the team and away from the game.
Equal Treatment for Similar Actions
It’s often easy for coaches to let some negative behaviors slide, especially when it comes to the better players on the team. Being late for practice, talking back, or having a poor attitude after a game often gets brushed aside when dealing with the “superstar” players, but the treatment isn’t always the same when it is the”supporting cast.” San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has always been known as a coach who treated all of his players equally. Whether it was Hall of Famer Tim Duncan or the last man on the bench, he made sure that everyone was held with the same expectations.
Whether in the gym or away from the game, creating team-building events is important to help create and strengthen relationships among players. From fun events like bowling nights or talent shows to warming up with a different player each game and practice, setting up the environment for your players to build on their relationships with each other is essential.
It’s important to remember that while the attitudes and behaviors that some of these troubled athletes show are not the most ideal for working with. There is an opportunity to help them improve or change their outlook with a little bit of extra help and time. As a coach, it is essential to help athletes excel at their sport, but it is even more important to help them excel at understanding that successfully being part of a team will also help them excel at the game of life.