T.E.A.M. First

Written By Aaron Weintraub

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T.E.A.M First

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Together Everyone Accomplishes More

To achieve potential, the team must be greater than the sum of its parts.

Ubuntu: I am what I am because of who we all are.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.
-Michael Jordan, Basketball Hall of Famer

Teamwork is the beauty of sports. You become selfless.
-Mike Krzyzewski, Basketball Coach

The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.
-Phil Jackson, Basketball Coach

For an individual to fully tap into her personal power, she needs support from others. It is the way humans operate. Positive energy is more than just an idea. Proving the mechanisms for this to academic standards is difficult, but the proof is in the effects. What works? Teams (sports, business, familial, or any teams) full of mutual respect for one another and teams with a culture of excellence, enthusiasm, and forgiveness work. Teams with great chemistry work.

Leaders in every industry want to put their finger on how to build chemistry. The answer is analogous to pursuing a peak performance in that there is nothing that can guarantee it will happen, but it is appropriate to pursue anyway. By following certain principles, chances are maximized. This starts with a shared goal; team members have to care about the welfare of the team as a whole. If winning is not a universal priority, problems arise.

This book promotes the philosophy that “doing your best,” in and of itself defines success. It is important to notice that being successful maximizes the chances at winning. Leaders do their best to get better, faster, to promote winning. They also want to see their teammates get better, faster, to promote winning. They do not carry any resentment for the progress of teammates. They pursue, support, and celebrate learning. They also want to be healthy, stay out of trouble off the diamond, be in good standing in the classroom, and be part of a team that others would want to join. They want these things in large part because they promote winning.

Leaders not only have a vision of the goal of winning, they also have specific ideas about how to achieve this goal. They do not know the future, so specifics will vary, but they know that industriousness, positive energy, teamwork, and consistency are fundamental building blocks of success. They are like a rock; they do not get blown over by the shifting winds of circumstance. Their core beliefs about what is right are constant.

The next step for a leader to build chemistry is connecting with teammates. Teammates do not have to all like each other. Respect, however, is a requirement. Respect requires acknowledging the other person's value; leaders make each team member feel important. Every member has an important role in making the team better, and their success is something the leader needs to help her reach her softball goals. For example, the last players on the bench are needed both to make teammates better and to be ready to perform when they get an opportunity.

Leaders communicate their appreciation of other people's value in many subtle ways every day. They smile, celebrate successes, and share struggles. They will not be betrayed in a moment of weakness, which is important since respect can be lost in a hurry, because their appreciation for teammates is sincere.

Many people lose respect for another when they disagree with her. This is avoided by remembering that either party could be wrong or partially wrong and if it does happen to be the other person, by forgiveness. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” leaders recall. They realize that the past had to happen exactly as it did. Had they experienced the same things in life as another person, they are just as likely to be behind where that person is in life and softball as ahead of it. However, the future is unwritten, so they hope and work for perfection in others (without expecting it), just as they do for themselves.

When respect is present, the critical pursuit of empathy naturally follows. Empathy is the ability to understand and be sensitive to the thoughts, attitudes, feelings, desires, and actions of another person. It is a skill like any other: some people are naturally better at it than others, but all people improve their skill with quality practice. Babies are incapable of empathy. They are only able to think about what they want, not the motivations of others. People with Attention Deficit Disorder have a disadvantage for learning empathy. It is very difficult for them to think about both what they want and another person's point of view at the same time. Empathy is a challenging skill for everyone. It is impossible to see the world exactly as another sees it because everyone brings a unique set of experiences and DNA with them to the present moment. But leaders get closer.

The simplest way to practice empathy is to listen. Listening and hearing are different. Listening requires attention to what is being said rather than waiting to speak. Leaders care about the welfare of others and they also have the confidence necessary to let their current thoughts about what they want go. They know that if these released desires are important enough, they will have no trouble retrieving them from memory later. This allows them to focus on the task at hand: listening. Just as a hitter sees the ball big by being undistracted from the task at hand, effective listeners have a singular focus- figuring out what the speaker is trying to communicate.

Another component for developing empathy is curiosity. Being empathic is relatively easy when two people's motivations are similar. It is when there is disagreement that curiosity becomes critical. Rather than judging others, leaders attempt to figure out why someone would hold a different opinion or point of view. Curiosity leads to questions and questions lead to answers. Leaders connect because they are focused listeners and because they ask the right questions to figure out what the speaker is attempting or needs to communicate. Doing (or saying) nothing is easier than doing something. Superb leaders are rare because they not interested in what is easier, just what is better.

But how can a leader respect a teammate who does something contrary to her core values? Perhaps the leader values hard work and the offensive behavior is to not run out a pop-up, despite knowing that there is a chance the defense will make a mistake? The assumption is that the batter does not care about the team. She is too selfish to hustle. Curiosity leads to a different conclusion: the lack of hustle likely comes from the precise opposite of not caring enough. It is caring too much. The pop-up disgusted the hitter so much that she had an emotional reaction that led her to forget to do her current job of sprinting to second base. Is this selfish behavior? Yes. Is it laziness? Not at its source. Armed with empathy, the leader is able to connect with this teammate, maximizing her chances of helping.

Often, mistakes are clear, but their sources are complex and hidden, even to the offending party. In his classic book, The Mental ABC's of Pitching, Harvey Dorfman tells the story of a young professional pitcher who came into a minor league championship playoff game in the ninth inning of a tie game with a runner on second base and two outs. The first two pitches were strikes, but the next two were wild pitches that allowed the winning run to score. Afterwards, Harvey asked him what happened. The college graduate did not want to make excuses for himself, but he finally revealed that his college coach had a rule against giving up hits on 0-2 and 1-2 counts. The rule was this: allowing a hit means the pitcher will run “until he dropped.” Dorfman: “Psychology 1 01 : stimulus-response; conditioned reflex.” All the pitcher thought about in those counts was, “Don ‘t throw it anywhere close to the strike zone.”

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aaron Weintraub Aaron Weintraub holds a B.A. from Emory University (1993) and a M.Ed. from the University of Virginia (2000). He served as an assistant baseball coach for 13 years before starting www.CoachTraub.com, a consulting business whose mission is to over-deliver value on goods and services designed to help you win the mental side of the game. He works with teams and individuals, adding clarity to help them get what they want for their sport. CoachTraub.com also runs camps and clinics and has an online store.Weintraub is the author of Coaches Guide to Winning the Mental Game (Coaches Choice, 2009) and An Elite Athlete’s Manual for Training Mental Skills (self-published, 2011). He lives in The Colony, TX with his wife, Nicole, and their four children.

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