Some coaches create a culture of competition where players with similar skills battle it out each day to get better. Other coaches (like the one I work for) recruit complementary parts instead, where each player brings a unique skill set to perform a role that complements those of her teammates.
I like this philosophy because it promotes the value of cooperation, one of the blocks in Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Cooperation is working together for the benefit of all. It greases the wheels for teamwork to flow easily.
Creating cooperation on your team begins with clearly defined roles. Most coaches meet with players early on to share expectations and to outline that athlete’s role. The one-and-done approach will not suffice, however. You must communicate regularly to each player what role you want her to perform for reinforcement and because you may tweak roles as the season progresses. Over communication beats under communication!
In order to have a cooperative team, your athletes must:
- Believe their role is important. Athletes tend to think that if they’re not in the limelight, their role or function is not as important to the team’s success. Baloney! Create a culture where the last person on the bench knows why her role matters. Applaud when your non-starters make a great play. Cheer athletes on when they fulfill their roles with excellence and they will start to realize that their job—regardless of what it is—keys team success.
- Believe they need each other. Even studs like Michael Jordan and LeBron James couldn’t win championships alone. They never got the ring until they learned how to use their strengths within the framework of a team. When athletes humble themselves and acknowledge that they need each other to reach the team goals, they fuel a cooperative spirit.
- Celebrate each other. When each person embraces her role and understands that her contribution matters for the team to become successful, it’s easier to celebrate a teammate’s success. Cooperative teammates aren’t threatened by another player’s success. Rather, because each player’s role has been uniquely defined as a complementary part, they can more freely celebrate. Teams like this are more about the “we” than the “me”.
A team is just like the human body. Every organ in the body has an important function, even though we may not see it or even know what it does! In fact, many times we don’t realize the importance of an organ or muscle until it’s not working correctly! But when all the parts function properly, the body can do what it’s designed to—perform beautifully.
The same is true for your team. Whether visible or invisible—every part matters! When each member cooperates with the others, your team can perform to it’s capabilities.