I was a senior in college and our team was really struggling.
Physically, we were facing injuries.
Mentally, we were weak.
Emotionally, we were unstable.
When you combine these things it makes for a losing season and an unpleasant experience.
As a senior, I was over it. Ready to be done. I wanted to end things on a high note I just didn’t feel like I had the time left to make an impact on the program like I envisioned. As someone who invested a great deal of energy and positivity into a season, truthfully, I didn’t feel like I got the respect from some of my teammates that I deserved. But I wasn’t innocent in this whole ordeal. I could have done more.
At around the peak of this slump, my coach ended practice early one evening and called us into the team room. She was silent, and of course – we were scared. At least I was.
Other girls rolled their eyes. They were annoyed. Thinking she was going to give us a big ‘whoo-ra’ ‘you’re better than this’ type of speech.
But she didn’t, at least not how she typically would.
She quietly handed us all a piece of paper and a pencil.
She asked us to think about the best teammate currently on the team, in our opinion. Not your best friend. Not the girl you always sit next to on the bus. Not the most talented, or the best shooter. But the girl on team who you believe is the best teammate, and to write it down.
And by best teammate think about these attributes:
Note that none of these attributes require any form of physical talent.
I thought about it, and I wrote down the name of the girl I felt was most deserving.
Coach collected the pieces of paper.
I thought… is she going to write them on the board? I immediately started to think about myself and if I had the faith that any of my teammates wrote my name down.
But, to our surprise Coach didn’t write them down. She threw them away.
And then she asked, “How many of you are confident, 100% confident that one of your teammates put your name on that piece of paper? If you can’t be 100% sure that you are on one of these pieces of papers you need to do some serious self-evaluation. Be a better teammate.” And she ended the meeting.
Immediately following that, I didn’t take the lesson too deep. I felt like I was a good teammate. Right? I mean good enough. Good to most.
But ‘good enough’ isn’t enough- something I didn’t realize at that moment. But now that I am a little older and wiser, and can maturely reflect on my career as a basketball player, that lesson truly resonates with me. I was never the best at anything. I wasn’t the best ball handler, wasn’t the best shooter (I giggle to myself at that one), was never the high scorer, never that go-to player. I was maybe the smallest at times, but that wasn’t really a plus side in basketball.
But the silver lining for me was that I know I was the best teammate to at least a few of the girls I played with over the years. Not to all of them, and not always – I definitely had my moments where I could have done more, I could have been better. I should have been better. And, I wish I had the chance again.
But I also know that those girls I was a great teammate to, will remember that. Sure- they will remember who was the best player on the team was too- but how much did that teammate impact your life positively and make a difference? Pick you up on your bad days? Make you a better person as a result of the relationship? I will always remember the girls I deem the best teammates I played with, they taught me a lot.
I wish I could tell the 10 year old, scrawny, wanting-to-be-better Emily that it’s okay to not be the best athletically. Not that she shouldn’t try, she’s gotta put in the work to see change. I’d tell her that she will play college ball, but the time to prep goes fast and that what she should strive for equally is to be a good teammate.
Being a good teammate in sports is a life-long trait that doesn’t take athleticism. At the end of the day, being a good teammate translates into being a good person. Which will flow into all areas of your life – from being a good sister to being a good friend, a good co-worker, a good parent, a good spouse…
Maybe one day even the best.