By Dale Hierlmeier
Give me a ‘T’! Give me an ‘E’! Give me an ‘A’! Give me a ‘M’! What does it spell? Team! Team! Team!
At nearly every athletic event, cheerleaders remind coaches, players and spectators of the concept of “TEAM.” Mesmerized by the soaring scoreboard or ravaged by sagging win-loss records, coaches frequently leave any miniscule dream of team philosophy in the locker room. Or, once the game starts, push the team-concept to the end of the bench, playing only the athletes thought capable of restoring coaching glory, fame and pride.
Later, anticipating anxiety from player neglect and parent complaints surrounding playing time, coaches fumble through the team-concept rolodex searching for new approaches to incorporate all players into the mix and re-establish the acclaimed team model. The following ideas strive to incorporate team involvement, help to boost morale and encourage the team approach to better coaching.
Rather then using elite players to demonstrate skill drills, conditioning drills, weight lifting technique or new plays, coaches may choose to integrate developing players into practice schemes when appropriate. Emerging players will gain an enhanced feeling of team bonding and team contribution, and grasp a deeper understanding of the learning process. Obviously, correct mechanics and technique demonstrations are best suited for the naturally skilled, and have their place; however, distributing personal attention supports team morale, builds team chemistry and accomplishes the mission of team involvement.
Working with up-and-coming athletes individually or in a group, before, during or after practice is a great way to show undivided attention, improve skill level and build team unity. Athletes appreciate individualized attention, the opportunity to strengthen weaknesses and the tips a coach can provide.
Coaches must search for hidden skills and abilities athletes possess, and take advantage of the individual talents that athletes present to a team. Specialized skills, such as an exceptional vertical jump may translate into rebounding aptitude in basketball or jumping ability in track. Extraordinary speed may carry over to basestealing potential in baseball; or a strong kicking leg could be advantageous in soccer or as a punter in football. A baseball player may struggle in hitting, however, be a prime baserunning candidate in crucial game situations. Coaches must be cognizant of individual strengths and attempt to utilize team-wide abilities as game situations arise.
To allow more athletes to participate, coaches must take advantage of game situations whereby the score may call for substitute players to enter a contest. To the casual onlooker or especially a parent, emptying the bench in the last minute or two of a decided event misses the opportunity to utilize the entire lineup.
If the opportunity presents itself, host an open house, occasionally attend eighth-grade practices or attend junior-high events.
Camps and Clinics
An excellent way to include players who were unable to squeeze out playing time minutes during the season is to invite those athletes to participate in sport camps or clinics as instructors. Placing developing athletes in a position of authority as camp leaders and instructors builds the team bonding process, inspires self esteem and self confidence, and instills feelings of enthusiasm and accomplishment.
While star athletes receive most press coverage, newspaper articles or radio interviews featuring supporting team players is a superb way to gain overall team coverage.
Featuring all athletes in program brochures, athletic programs or clinic flyers is an exceptional way of promoting athletes whose playing time is compromised during the playing season. Athletes whose talents are yet to be seen in contests can be showcased as camp leaders, clinic instructors and team representatives.
Traditionally, awards are earned by the athletes carrying the bulk of the load on the statistical path of success throughout a sports season. Statistically objective awards, such as most valuable player, leading offensive and defensive player, and several “most of anything” categories blanket award festivities. Keeping in mind that most players already receive a varsity letter award, coaches have the flexibility to present a trophy, plaque, certificate or other award to deserving players. A “Coach’s Award,” underclass MVP awards, hustle awards, most improved, mental attitude or clever awards are alternative methods of acknowledging achievement by athletes who might not otherwise expect to be recognized.
Suffice it to say that talented players normally have a strangle hold on starting positions, and winning is the object of the game. Two-time winning Super Bowl champion and hall of fame coach Vince Lombardi said, “If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?” However, Lombardi also recognized the element of teamwork, stating, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work.”
The savvy coach realizes that the team with the most talent isn’t always crowned the victor. There is more to winning than shuffling X’s and O’s, and intangibles, such as team chemistry, mental toughness, the will to win and player attitude, can influence a team dramatically. The team approach to better coaching, which requires planning for ways to involve all athletes and team personnel in competition, is an invaluable asset that can create an enjoyable winning season regardless of the final season record.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dale Hierlmeier, RAA, teaches nutrition at Ancilla College, Donaldson, Indiana. He is a former athletic director at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Indiana, and Saint Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Indiana. He is a 30-year veteran of the teaching and coaching professions, is currently officiating track and swimming and is a freelance writer.