Almost every aspect of the game takes hard work, discipline, long hours of practice and repetition. There's one aspect, however, that you can improve over night...
And that’s being a good Teammate.
Let me clarify that I was not a very verbal player on the field. I was not that player who would turn around and flash the number of outs in a creative way, jump around, run to the catcher and do a customized hand shake after a called third strike. By no means am I saying that you need to become one of those players especially if that’s just not your personality, or if it ends up making you feel like somebody you’re really not.
I was a pretty subdued player, who performed best when I was in my mental zone—my own space where I could concentrate and visualize. Most coaches and players accepted that from me, some did not. I didn’t play for those who didn’t accept me for me for longer than a season, and that’s ok. It’s important to find coaches and players who get to know the type of player you are, but it’s also important for you to make an effort to be the type of teammate coaches and players gravitate towards.
I can tell you that one aspect of the game that’s just as important as having skills and talent, that reflects on your character, and will make you proud looking back on your career, is simply, being a good teammate.
Theres a handful of ways that you can be seen as a good teammate besides the constant cheerleading, and hooraahh’s that you often see, and it’s also something that you can start doing, today!
'I got you.'
One of my all time favorite things a player can say to another player, is 'I got you', as in, 'I’ve got your back'. Simple, yet powerful.
See a player hanging their head after an error or strike out?
I got you.
See a player who was the last out of the game?
I got you.
A player who is having a rough practice and coach is riding hard?
I got you.
It’s something you can say that let’s the player know that you trust her, support her, and by golly if the next ball is hit to you, or when your next at bat comes up, you’re going to do your very best to pull your teammate up and make her error seem less magnified.
It’s a simple way of going about it without having to ask her what’s the matter? What’s your deal? Pull your head out. Tell me what your problem is so we can play better, or whatever the situation is.
‘I got you’ is a mutual understanding and connection between the two of you. And dang, is it meaningful and powerful. Three words can turn mentalities instantly, just knowing that your teammate is there for you regardless of whatever happens during a game or practice.
Take care of what you need to after striking out or making an error, but get right back into it
Walk to the end of the dugout, take a few deep breaths, pace for a little while, do what you need to do to take a few moments to yourself, but do not sit down and drop your head.
Divert your attention away from something bad you did, to the teammate who now has the opportunity to pick you back up.
The teammate who hit the homerun you didn’t; get out on the field and meet them at home plate to pat their back.
The teammate who can make the next play for you; give a little nod or a little point and say ‘here we go, we got this’.
Stand at the dugout fence and simply watch the game or cheer on your teammate. Just stay in the game.
Team sports are hard for the reason that sometimes you have to realize and trust the person wearing the same jersey as you, will pick up your slack. And that’s ok, because you’ll have the same opportunity to do the same for her in the next game, play, huddle, etc.
Set ‘you’ aside on occasion, and take a back seat. There’s 8 other players that play the game along side of you and have the same shared responsibilities each time she steps in the batters box or needs to make a play at her position.
Listen and provide valuable input during team huddles
You know what I’m referencing, it’s the huddles all teams do out in left or right field after either a win or loss. Coaches take you out there to reflect on the positives and negatives of the game, things to work on, things to recognize, or make you run because you played terribly, etc.
Do your teammates and coaches a favor: leave the grass in the ground and listen. Reflect. Refrain from speaking out of turn, and give your coach and teammates your undivided attention by making eye contact and make some indication that you’re listening by nodding, smiling, etc.
Fellow players are watching you whether you want to believe it or not, so if Suzie sees you acting a certain way, she’s going to think it’s ok to act the exact same way you are. Nudge a player picking at the grass and point out she needs to listen. Set an example, raise the bar. Think about something valuable that you can bring to the conversation, point out an awesome play a teammate made, or what you think would help the team out as a whole, as opposed to just complaining or pointing a finger. This goes along the same lines as establishing yourself as a team leader, but it also shows your teammates your commitment to them and your ability to bring value off the field.
The Big Picture
Coaches notice this stuff. Especially college coaches. They’re watching potential players not only on the field, but they’re also paying close attention to how players are acting off the field, in dugouts, during interactions with parents, and especially how a player carries herself after a loss. High school coaches and travel ball coaches know who the leaders are on a team and who are in it not just for themselves. Your coach will reward you by talking about you to those college coaches the way you want to be remembered and talked about.
Teammates will remember you as well, and you’ll realize that some of the best, lifelong friendships, come from great teammates.