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5 Tips to Being a Better Teammate

Most of us have played other team sports since we were kids so we have gotten used to the initial period when you first join a team and you get to know the other players.

However, no matter the sport you play – hockey, baseball, basketball or ultimate – there are many commonalities between the sports as far as team dynamics go. I’ve been a member of teams since I was 10 years old and I’ve also gotten to coach sports teams so I’ve seen both sides of the coin and with that, bring a perspective that a lot of players don’t have.

In that time, I’ve learned that no matter what your background is or how good you are, you can always be a better teammate – and it can start today.

Here are 5 tips to being a better teammate (in no particular order):

1. Learn to Listen (Be Coachable)

This is a huge one because no matter who is on your team, you can always learn from them. Drop your ego, listen when a teammate talks to you, thank them for their advice/insight and think about what they said. Maybe it wasn’t good, maybe it won’t help you, but you won’t know if you don’t listen to them.

This reminds me of an example a few years at Canadian Nationals. One of our players got hurt in our first game and was out for the rest of the tournament. This player is a good player and he knows the game. He is also very intelligent and picks up things very quickly. While he was on the sidelines, he was watching the play and would observe what the other team was doing or what we were doing that we could improve on. I heard him on multiple occasions tell the captains of our team what he saw but they didn’t listen to him. I tried to talk to them myself and get them to listen to him but they weren’t having any part of it. I think it’s because it was his first year playing with us (although he had been playing ultimate for a while already) and they felt like he had to earn his spot on the team, I don’t know. In any case, it was frustrating because what he was saying could have helped our team but we went on to end up 3rd losing in the semifinal to the eventual national champions.

2. Throw on Your Own

We all know that the best team wins – not necessarily the best players. Take the 2011 NBA Finals. On paper, the Miami Heat should have won but in the end, the better team, the Dallas Mavericks won. I’m not a huge NBA fan but there was so much hype about the heat because they had 3 of the biggest stars in the NBA. However, in the end it didn’t translate to a victory.

With that being said, a team full of good players will beat a team of bad players. And with the amount a team practices, and because it’s usually always together, the best way to get better as an individual is to get out on your own and throw. I talk about getting out on your own and throwing in a lot of my videos. Why is that? Well, let’s say your team practices 3 times per week and 2 hours each practice. In those 6 hours, how much time will you get to spend working on your throwing? And I don’t mean # of throws – I mean focused, deliberate practice throwing? I’d estimate maybe 15-30 minutes tops total. And that might be generous. In order to become better, you need to go out and throw on your own (or with a buddy). You can go before or after practice. You can go on the off days. Whatever. Just make time to throw. How long? I’d aim for 1-2 hours of throwing. Make sure you start off slowly because if you do too much too quickly, you run the risk of hurting your arm.

3. Be Supportive

A team full of players who support each other will do better and have more fun than a team full of a bunch of individuals who aren’t a part of the same common goal. What I mean by supporting your teammates is that when they make a good play – tell them. Congratulate them. When they screw up, don’t get on their case. They know they made a mistake. They’re already beating themselves up about it. So don’t make it worse and call them out on it.

It’s easy to do this. You can start by reframing what you say to your teammates. Instead of focusing on the negative and telling them “don’t drop” instead you can focus on the positive and say “just catch”. Such a simple rephrasing but it makes a huge difference and it gets them focused on what they should be doing instead of what they shouldn’t be doing.

4. Be Accountable

In order to be a part of your team, it’s good to know what your role on the team is and what the team can expect from you. I’ve been on teams where they had you sign a contract – which I found useful. Basically it said that you would be at every practice and tournament and in case you weren’t able to make either, you would let one of the captains know ahead of time. Basically it comes down to  just being real with the rest of your team. Unless you have a coach and a manager who run the team, there will be tasks throughout the year which will need to be done – organizing the team for a tournament, ordering jerseys, planning practices, etc. Step up and help out as much as you can. Trying to play and coach and manage all at once will inevitably lead to one of those being comprised. So do what you can to help out the rest of your teammates.

But above all, just be honest with them and be accountable. What reason would you have to not be?

5. Set Goals

Finally, to help keep yourself committed to the team and to stay motivated, I find it useful to define some goals for yourself. You can either write these down privately or you can share them with the captains. Basically this comes down to being realistic with yourself about how much time you can commit to the team, what you can expect to bring to the team based on your skill development and what you yourself expect to get out of the season.

An example of these 3 types of goals are:

1. I will practice 3 days per week with the team and throw on my own 2 days per week for 1-2 hours each time.

2. I will bring consistency to the team because my throws will be consistent, my defense will be consistent and I will catch every disc thrown to me.

3. I expect to get better as a player, I expect our team to be above .500 and I want our team to beat our rivals XX at the end of the year in the national championship.

It’s quick, it’s simple and it’s custom to yourself as a player and your team as it relates to the season they have planned.

There are definitely other ways you can become a better teammate but I offer up these 5 tips as I feel they are the most important to improving your play, your role as a teammate and your team overall.

What other tips would you offer to becoming a better teammate?

11 thoughts on “5 Tips to Being a Better Teammate”

  1. 3.1 (A different way to be supportive) – Layout for everything close on O. Nothing worse than a thrower thinking of a receiver “you could have had that”. Just layout, eat some grass and show them that it was out of your reach.

    6. Hang out with your teammates Saturday night. I’ve played a LOT of low-level ultimate, and I’ve more than once seen half a team go to bed early, and half get shit-faced and stay up til 3 AM, only to have the drunkards outplaying the early to bed crowd all day Sunday. Team chemistry is built off the field as much as on the field, so hang out wit your team, stay at the team hotel/motel and most importantly learn to have fun with them.

  2. Rob – With regards to #3, what would you suggest as the most constructive method to address a player who keeps making the same mistake time and time again, and doesn’t seem to accept/realize that they’re making the same bad decision repeatedly? I understand not wanting to get on somebody who knows they’ve made a mistake, and I agree completely. I’m interested in what you have to say about dealing with a teammate who is NOT following tip #1. Good article!

  3. Jeff, there are 2 distinct things to keep in mind here.

    If the player doesn’t realize what they’re doing, then you need to explain/teach/educate them.

    For example if they keep cutting in the wrong space and are cutting another player off, they might not realize they’re doing that. In that case, you can explain to them the concept of space and when they’re cutting to open space, they need to be aware of the other players on their team so they’re not moving into the same space as someone else. By educating your teammate, you can help them understand how to not make that mistake. You can also explain that they are cutting someone off because they’re not aware enough. Even show them what’s happening by showing examples (when they’re on the sidelines and someone else does it in the game).And if that player doesn’t accept they’re making a mistake, then have one of the captains talk to them. And if they still don’t listen and keep making that mistake, just bench them until they do accept it.

  4. Video is very good for this as well. Have you ever broke down a video of a game. I haven’t for Ultimate (I would love to for myself and my team), but I have for football. It is very humbling.

  5. @MichaelPotter What level of football do you coach? I haven’t broken down a video but I do know others who have and they’ve found it quite useful. It’s what you learn after the game is over that counts for sure.

  6. The most important thing to keep in mind, no matter what you do, is to be a team player. That can be important in baseball, football, basketball, and just about every other sport. I really like how you touched on the importance of being coachable. I played soccer back in high school. I have to say that the best players were usually girls that listened to our coach and were willing to improve.

  7. I realize this post was written for Ultimate players, but I found it really valuable from a work perspective as well. Any books or other posts you’ve found helpful on learning to get the best out of your teammates?

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