Chapter 57: BEING A TEAMMATE – ROOKIE: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer
We were playing a match with some pretty heavy postseason implications. Our team was blessed with a very talented freshman midfielder who, on this night, because of her ability, may as well have been wearing a bulls-eye on her jersey. The opponent had clearly decided to target her, and they kicked her every chance they got. Early in the second half, our midfielder got tangled up with an opposing player who basically wrapped her in a headlock and slammed her to the ground. As soon as that opponent got back to her feet, our left back, Nikki, ran in and gave the opponent a pretty good two-handed shove that sent her back to the ground. It was a risky move. It could’ve gotten Nikki kicked out of the game. So… why did she do it?
Because that’s what teammates do. They protect their own.
Being a teammate can be boiled down to one very simple phrase, a phrase that might just be my most favorite one of all: I’ve got your back.
The second-greatest gift of being part of a team is in knowing that your teammates have your back. The greatest gift is the opportunity to also have theirs.
Yes, there is strength in numbers, but that strength is magnified by a common bond born of the shared misery of giving oneself over to the greater good. As a team, you can have power! As a team, you are much stronger than any one person standing alone. And as a team, you can stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for that in which you believe. It is a bond like nothing else you will ever again experience, and my advice to you is to squeeze that orange for every drop of juice it has to offer.
As a rookie, your willingness to have backs can fast-track you into the team’s social fabric, because if you have their backs, they’ll in turn have yours. It doesn’t always require something as dramatic as the example above; it could be as simple as speaking well of a teammate when she isn’t in the room. It could be helping a teammate bag the balls when it isn’t your turn. It could be giving up your window seat on an airplane. Let me give you another example that you’ll most certainly have the opportunity to capitalize upon.
Preseason is a physically and emotionally grueling time, and because it is, you and your teammates will experience the deepest sleep you’ve ever known. And I guarantee you that if you and all your rookie classmates don’t make an arrangement to look after one another, someone is going to sleep through a training session. Believe me it will happen.
When you rise from that bed, make sure your roommates are up; then go make sure the other rookies are up. Don’t leave that dorm until your entire class is accounted for. And if one of your teammates can’t seem to pull herself from the covers, dump a bucket of cold water on her head. She might scream bloody murder, but she’ll be thanking you for years to come.
Having backs comes in many forms and fashions. It’s really just about making your teammates’ lives better. It’s about being unselfish and letting someone else have the first shower, or picking up the equipment when it’s not your turn. It’s about deflecting the praise onto your teammates when the student newspaper reporter asks you about your game-winning goal. It’s about showing everyone that you don’t stand above the team, but that you stand with it.
When Nikki shoved that opponent, she was making a statement that if you mess with one of us, you’ll have to answer to all of us. She took a physical risk by engaging that opponent, but she took that risk because of the faith she had in her teammates to protect her the way she was protecting one of her own. Isn’t that the same sense of camaraderie we’d all love to experience in our own teams?
To have great teammates, you must first be a great teammate. When you give yourself to the team, the team will then give itself to you.