My daughter and I helped at Ballard High School’s basketball camp this summer. We talked to the campers about what it means to be a good teammate. When I posed the question to the girls, they came up with lots of great ideas: encourage your teammates, cheer for your teammates, high-five your teammates. I agreed, all great ideas. Together we came up with a bunch more, and in the end I emphasized one I feel is extra important, thanking your teammates.
When I was coaching at West Seattle I encouraged our players to say thank you out loud or simply by pointing across the court to their teammate and making eye contact with them. Whatever it took to thank their teammate for a good pass, an important block out, for their help on defense, or for anything deserving of a thank you. Showing gratitude for teammates on the court helps build a strong team, as it’s a step toward developing respect and trust between players.
Building trust is not easy. We are all so different and come from different backgrounds. I used to tell my players that they didn’t have to be best friends, but I hoped that they would learn to respect and trust one another, and I believe that over time it was the trust factor, that made a difference in the way the girls played. My last season as head coach, we were undefeated in league, and then, without our point guard (who went down with an ACL injury in our last league game), made it through metro, district and regional playoffs and placed 5thin State. Hard work, and belief in one another and the concept of team, gave us the opportunity, and it started by learning to trust one another.
We spent a lot of time getting to know one another, on and off the court, by doing simple team-building activities like Two Truths and A Lie. In this activity teammates sit in a circle and take a couple of minutes so that each player can think of two truths about themselves, and one lie. (If you have time you can have the entire team do the activity in one big group, or you can break the team up into a few smaller groups and spread them around the gym.) Players that have played together for a while may need to dig a little deeper to think of things that their teammates don’t already know about them, but honesty it doesn’t really matter what the players come up with, because this activity is really about starting a conversation.
When helping at the girl’s camp recently, my daughter and I organized Two Truths and A Lie, and the hardest part of the activity was stopping it, because the kids find so much to talk about. Each player takes a turn, and on their turn they share three “facts” about themselves, and their teammates try to guess which is the lie. In the end, the group learns a couple of new facts about their teammate, and during the asking, and questioning, and banter that takes place while searching for the truths, they often learn much more. And as they unearth facts about their teammates, they understand more fully that their teammates are human, that in many ways they are alike, and also different, and that’s okay. Often players that have been together for a while, will find that their teammates are both strong and vulnerable, and with this knowledge comes understanding and caring and even, on occasion, needed forgiveness.
As the West Seattle team got to know one another, they learned to trust in one another. If they got beat on defense they knew one of their teammates would be there to help, if they sprinted long on a fast break they knew their teammate would pass them the ball, if they had a bad day a school they knew that they had someone to talk to, someone who cared. Some of the players became close friends, but more important as far as the team was concerned, they learned to trust and care about one another.
It’s amazing how over time, even the most basic team-building activity can help players bond, encouraging them to open up and share with one another. It can teach them to empathize with their teammates (at a time when young athletes often think only of themselves), and in that process, they often see themselves more clearly. I have found that this mindset is not only important on the basketball court, but in life. There are people who I might not ever be the best of friends with, who are amazing human beings and have qualities that I truly respect. Having this knowledge can strengthen relationships and help a person to see the world from a slightly different angle.
How can you build trust in your relationships? How well do you know your teammates or the people around you? How can you learn more about them? Is there more that you can learn about yourself?