What Makes a Team Player?

As a child, I tried a variety of extracurricular activities, including gymnastics, tennis, and even improv acting. None of them stuck. When I was nine years old, my parents signed up my younger brother for tee ball. I had watched the other kids warming up on the field and participating in tryouts and immediately insisted that my parents sign me up too. This was my introduction to team sports, an experience that helped me develop a healthy sense of competition, camaraderie, and teamwork.

Being a team player is often mistakenly associated with being a “yes” man (or woman). It’s misconstrued as a characteristic of fitting in and being generally unextraordinary. The phrase “go with the flow” comes to mind. I’ve found that being a team player is quite the opposite.

A strong team is made up of people whose talents are complementary, rather than homogenous. You can’t make a nine-man baseball team with nine pitchers. There are particular skills and characteristics that are more useful than others in individual positions. For example, first basemen are often left-handed and very flexible. This gives them an advantage in fielding balls that need to be thrown to other infielders without having to spin around; it allows them to catch throws to them from either the pitcher or other infielders without putting their backs to home plate. Outfielders, on the other hand, must have a strong throwing arm and be quick to cover the wide range of their territory. Catchers don’t need to be as quick and, in fact, are best made of the more solid, larger members of the team to block stray pitches and stand up against an incoming baserunner. The list goes on, with individual positions favoring certain characteristics.

Of course, there are exceptions to these general statements, but the pertinent point is that no team is made up of 9 of the same type of player. So, here is the question that every player (and team manager) must ask themselves: what unique value do I (and my teammates) bring to this team? What role do I play? What is my ideal ‘position’?

There are some unique people who, in baseball, are called “utility players.” These are people who have multiple strengths and can play a variety of positions on the team. For a manager, these people can provide either an opportunity (to fill weaknesses in the team makeup) or a challenge (vs. those who have a clear position preference). For example, I was a catcher and pitcher in my earlier years of baseball, but when I switched to softball, my team needed strong outfielders. So, I took my transferrable skills (strong arm, speed, leadership ability) and became a standout centerfielder, even earning a nod for the All-American team. Every good team member must be willing to do the same – find the position that suits their desires and strengths, and fills the team’s needs. This might even mean learning new skills that complement their existing strengths to fill a new role. It requires adaptability, not complacency.

Ultimately, a good team player will bring their own strengths to your team, a willingness to adapt to the team’s needs, and a positive attitude that will uplift their teammates to overcome challenges together. And, the strong team manager will learn to appreciate each individual team member’s contribution, rather than holding every player to the same criteria of strength and skills.

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