Monday, August 01, 2011

Go, Team!

I got a birthday blog request from my friend Gerardo. His theme request? "High School soccer and how team sports prepared you for 'real' life."

By 'real' life I assume he means life outside the Matrix.

Before I get into the thick of this, I'd first like to say happy birthday to Gerardo. Happy birthday! Second, I'd like to thank Gerardo for making me realize how fat and lazy I've become. Just thinking about playing soccer makes me winded.

It's a great theme, though, and I want to do it justice. I've thought long and hard about it, and although I could write about this topic for weeks, I've consolidated things down into one central theme:


Here are my top five aspects of being a great team member.

1. Enjoy playing with your team

You will work with your team almost every day, whether it's your high school soccer team, your department at work, or your family. If you don't get along with your teammates then your time at school / work / home is going to suck, and you won't be very productive. When you enjoy being with your team, you want to show up early, stay late, and put in the extra effort. And all that extra time with your team makes you all better teammates. The teams that communicate the best are the teams that usually win, and you're not going to communicate well with someone you don't enjoy talking to.

2. Surround yourself with people who are equally as good or better than you are at what you do.

I was a captain of my state championship-winning high school soccer team. That's not to say that I was the best player on the team - far from it. I think most of the other players were better. But I looked best with the armband, so they picked me to be captain.

During my senior year, our school was nationally ranked 3rd in the country. That's pretty damn good! That wasn't just a ranking of our individual team - it was a ranking of our school's program throughout the years. In our eyes, we were standing on the shoulders of giants.

We won a ton of games, and I'm happy to say that I scored in many of them. But we didn't win because I scored. We won because the other team had to get past every other member of my team, and my teammates didn't take crap from anybody. They were individually great, but as a team, we were unstoppable. I wouldn't have wanted to play against them.

3. Diversify your talents!

If we had had a thousand Bobby Tanory's playing for my team, we would have lost. Sure, I had my good qualities: I was pretty fast at short sprints, and I've already mentioned that I could rock an armband. But I had no endurance. I couldn't sustain my speed for very long or over longer distances.

Now, imagine a team with a bunch of people who can sprint, but can't last the whole game. That's sort of the worst team you can possibly imagine for a soccer match.

I played my part for my team, and the other guys - those who could run farther distances, or shoot more accurately, or dribble the ball around our opponents - made up for my deficiencies.


I'm a software developer, and at work we have guys who love to get into the gory details of the latest and greatest technology. They love to build new stuff, but hate to have to maintain it. That's where the maintenance guys come in. They succeed in tracing the system to find the smallest yet most annoying bugs, when sometimes it seems like there's no possible way to figure out what those damn Feature Developers were doing when they wrote the system. Without both types of people (plus the people who like to review code, compile it, deploy it, document it, etc), we wouldn't still be in business today.

4. Way to go!

I love to get positive reinforcement. It can be in the form of a "good job!" or a back slap, a bonus or a thank you letter. Doesn't matter. I just like to be recognized.

What, you didn't know I was an attention whore?

But I also love to give positive reinforcement. I especially love when someone that has a lot of heart does something amazing. Encouraging that person makes me want to try harder for myself. I become inspired by my teammates.

And last, but not least:

5. Celebrate Success

My dad coached my baseball teams most of the time, and one year he drafted two kids at the end of the draft: a boy named Adam who was deaf, and his brother, Matt. None of the other coaches wanted Adam. It didn't look like he had played baseball before, plus it was difficult to communicate with him.

Well, I stutter (in case you didn't know), so my dad had experience communicating with the communication-disabled. (I made that term up, unless it's already a real term.) My dad didn't care that this boy was deaf. He put him on the team and treated him as if he were an equal and an integral part of our team - because he was. He didn't play every inning of every game, but he got his fair share of playing time.

Adam had gone the whole season without a hit. I think he struck out every time he was up at bat, except once. On that one occasion, Adam swung with all his might and hit the ball right in between the second baseman and the shortstop. Our bench exploded! We all jumped up, started hollering with all our might and were shaking the dugout fence as Adam sprinted off to first base. The shortstop made a great play for the ball and threw it to first, but Adam beat the throw by a hair. We all started cheering, hugged each other, and stormed the field like we had just won the college world series. It was an amazing experience. I've never seen a kid smile that big before.

I don't remember what the final score of that game was. I don't remember who we were playing, if we won, or even how old I was when we were playing. But I remember being so incredibly happy for Adam, and I was proud of him for sticking through it even though I know it must have been hard for him to play a team sport when he had difficulties communicating with the team. I was also very proud of my dad for giving Adam a chance to play.

And I like to think that every other coach who passed on Adam missed out on their team having this very same experience. They may have had better records, but we have the better memories.

In conclusion, not every person that you'll work with will understand what it means to play on a team, will be personable, or will even like you. I work in the IT industry where a lot of people are introverts. It can be difficult to apply team concepts to people who have never been on a team or wanted to be on one. But when you find a group of people who are willing to work their butts off for a common goal, you will end up having more fun on the journey than reaching your destination.

Happy birthday, Gerardo! I hope you like your blog, and hope you are kicking ass in the "real world" just like you did on the soccer field.

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