Are you a great teammate? Part I


By Kevin Hartzell
Let’s Play Hockey Columnist

Much gets written about how to skate or how to better one’s skills and how we better our game. Of course these things are important. That said, I think most parents would agree that the most valuable ideals they aspire for their children to acquire in team sports is to learn about teamwork and the many various lessons associated with those ideals. 

Being a great teammate may indeed be the most important skill one can learn in team sports. Whether it is a sports team, a work-force team or a small team like a marriage, learning to be a great teammate is a life skill that will carry one through life happier and more effective in their personal and team relationships. Being a great teammate not only enhances the experience for the individual, but creates chemistry within the team which in turn enhances the experience for everyone.

In hockey we call it THE ROOM; the chemistry amongst the teammates. When positive, it allows for great things to happen, successes both big and small. Sounds like the formula for a good life, a good marriage or any good team/personal relationship doesn’t it?

Many years ago, my junior year at the University of Minnesota, we were a No. 1 nationally-ranked team all year long and I had two great linemates, Steve Ulseth and Neal Broten. I had the pleasure of playing and practicing with them the entire year and we did well as a line. Our line led the entire NCAA in scoring. Both Steve and Neal became All-Americans and of course, Neal went on to a great pro career. Both were great teammates and a major reason we were so successful.

 One night in an overtime game in Wisconsin, I anticipated a reversal in the left offensive corner and intercepted the puck. Just as I got the puck and was about to look to the scoring areas, I heard Neal call for the puck. The second I saw him, I instinctively passed the puck right at him – as Neal was a left shot, this would allow him a one-timer, which he indeed one-timed. The puck was quickly in the back of the net and our Gopher squad would win an overtime thriller in Wisconsin.

What makes the play so very memorable for me is that immediately upon the scoring of the goal, Neal didn’t go do some “everyone look at me” celebration dance, his eyes immediately returned to me and for that short moment, it was he celebrating with me, in essence thanking me for the “helper” in making the play. This scene quickly turned into a team celebration and I still recall hearing teammate Jeff Teal yelling, “Listen to how quiet these Wisconsin fans can be!” It is a great memory for me.

The point of this story is simple: Great teammates appreciate each other. Good teammates willingly and eagerly share their talents with one another. Great teams often have as their best players, teammates that are humble and giving. For that Gopher team, it was players like Neal Broten who at their heart, played for their teammates. They sincerely prefer to give credit to their teammates and because of their humble attitude, positively affect the chemical make-up of the team.  

You show me consistently great teams, and I’ll show you consistent great leader-teammates who enjoy team success. That said, it is not as common as one might hope.

Here are some guidelines for being or becoming a GREAT TEAMMATE and subsequently developing a GREAT ROOM for your team.

BE A GIVER – Rule one in being a great teammate: give. Share your talents with your teammates for the purpose of achieving team goals. The focus needs to be on what you give, not what you get!   

Many in our society consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ. Whether you do or don’t is fine, but one of the great teachings of Christianity is to learn to be a GIVER. Christmas, a Christian holiday celebration of course, is all about giving. When we turn our basic motivation for all of what we do as teammates from “what do I get” to “how can I give, how can I serve my teammates and this team,” we create a better team and better chemical reactions naturally within the team.

Great team chemistry comes from within and it comes from a group of individuals who care more about the team’s success than that of them as individuals. GREAT PASSES COME FROM THE HEART and they score an equal point in the stats column just like a goal does.

Use your talents to make those around you better. If you want to be happy and have great relationships, learn to be more concerned with how you serve others than what’s in it for you. As the old saying goes, it is more blessed to give than to receive, or in other words, the more you give, the more you will get in the end.

JEALOUSY – Too often, jealousy infiltrates a room. Great teammates are not jealous of others. Jealousy is one of the worst emotions one can allow in their lives. Jealousy tears down a person from the inside and it hurts the team in many ways.  

Think about what jealousy is. It is a concern for what others are getting. This includes physical rewards – playing time and emotional things like attention or even love. A teammate should not be concerned with what their teammates are getting, but should remain focused on his/her task of giving up their talents to the team. It is true that often others get something they worked no harder for than you or I, nor are they any more deserving of the good fortune bestowed upon them, but when they get it, a good teammate celebrates their teammate’s good fortune.

Neal achieved more in hockey than most of us. To a teammate, I believe we were all happy for his success. He shared with us unselfishly and we wanted the same for him. His drive and God-given abilities took him further. Good for him!

If you are on a team and want to achieve a personal goal, like special teams time, it is perfectly acceptable to have a goal-setting talk with your coach. When you do, DO NOT ask why Sally or Bobby are getting so much special teams time and you are not (that is concern for what others are getting), but DO ASK what YOU can do to improve your game and become a special teams member so you can refine your talents to help the team on special teams. Then you and your coach can have a productive conversation about YOUR game and what improvements you can make to achieve those personal goals to help the team.

HONESTY – Great teammates are honest, both with themselves and their teammates. This should be standard in any relationship, but unfortunately it is not. We humans have egos and I have seen it so many times – teammates who create their own reality to protect their egos.

Relationships don’t function well on dishonesty. Be it a marriage or your sports team, you will hit bumps in the road; in the case of hockey, both on the ice and off. If teammates and coaches can be totally honest with one another, they can then work together to attack their REAL challenges, both as individuals and teams.

One must be willing to accept honest feedback from coaches and teammates and then be honest with themselves. Only honest assessment can identify the real problems and challenges.  

All players and coaches have shortcomings and that is OK as we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. It is the lack of dealing with these shortcomings honestly that can create a real problem. Like jealousy, lack of honesty hurts the individual and eventually the team. Not surprisingly, one of the best compliments a player can get is that “s/he is an honest player!” In essence, that means they understand their strengths and weaknesses very well and then play “their” game accordingly every night.