I was recruited by Michelle Ng and Without Limits to write about my experiences in my final season of College Ultimate. 2011 has many possibilities...let's see how they pan out. E-mail me (robyn-fennig@uiowa.edu)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Buy Into the Team

So I’m heading into the LAST tournament of my college regular season. It’s sad. It’s exciting. I’m stoked. But what scares me is our team hasn’t even begun to peak yet…I just hope we get to peak this season. And that we peak at the RIGHT time. Peaking at the right time is key to accomplishing  team goals.

One thing that can be detrimental to the development of a team mentality:  negativity and failure to “buy into” the team. These two traits, regardless of how small/minor they are, act as a poison that can derail the success of talented team. It’s frustrating to me to see a team like this. I have been on the other side of the coin for years: having a team of people who buy into the same thing, but we are out performed, falling short of qualifying for nationals.

Let’s break it down.

It’s really easy to buy into something at the beginning. “Yeah! Everyone wants to win nationals! Alright!!” Lou Buruss makes the great point in his recent blog post that talk doesn’t equal action. Until you start putting these words into action, you can’t achieve it. Often, this action does not make everyone happy. Everyone doesn’t get equal playing time. Not everyone gets equal opportunity to shine. What often separates a successful team from one that falls short is how teammates react to this “unequal opportunity” clause. Some take the route of getting frustrated, yelling at teammates, getting mad at themselves. This in turn affects the way they play and the way their teammates play with them. This further affects your team in a negative way. Sound familiar?

The battle is getting this person to realize that their role may not be the big play maker. However, I find that the more a teammate spends on the sideline, the more that they are seeing what’s working, what isn’t…quick in-game adjustments that I don’t see. This role is important.  Also equally important it is the vocal sideline. Having mobile, active, loud sideline participation is crucial.

People say, “Robyn, it’s really easy for you to say this. You are not that player who doesn’t get to play.” Quite frankly, I HAVE been that person. I HAVE played on plenty of teams where I filled one or both of these roles. I can honestly say, that is why I truly place a high amount of value them. I know that mentally, that role is way more challenging and taxing than playing a ton. It takes a lot to travel 8+ hours away and not see the field or court. But it doesn’t change the fact that my teammates NEED me.

Once you lose one person, you start losing many. Be a good teammate. When you see a teammate miss a routine throw, or make a poor decision that results in a turnover…my response tends to be one of “Come on Saucy, let’s get the D.” Take the focus off of a mistake. Turn it into an opportunity. There’s nothing I’d rather do than pick up one of my teammates and help generate a D. When you see a teammate bummed because she’s not playing, talk to her. Reiterate how much you appreciate her perspective. Because you do! Ask what she’s seeing on the field, what you can do differently. Does she a good match up that you’re missing?  Can you isolate a weakness on the other team that you’re not taking advantage of?

Remember at all parts of the season, it’s important to re-evaluate if everyone’s buying into it. Are you filling your role? Can you help your teammates fill theirs?  It’s easy at the beginning, but gets harder as the season progresses.

I’m fortunate enough to play on a team where this holds true (I think). I think that everyone buys into our goal of making it to nationals and doing well. I think that everyone understands how important their role is: everyone is integral to getting us there. Sometimes, I see my teammates get down on themselves…putting too much pressure to contribute to making the big play. Soon, it’s a head game. It doesn’t need to be.

Everyone gets their chance. My coach, Mikey Lun, is possibly the best example of this. I saved this e-mail for almost 3 years because it really motivates me and reminds me that everyone has a shot. Courtesy of Kevin Seiler (aka the Baron, and provocative mind behind “The Baron’s 300” on the Ultimate facebook page). Unlike the rest of my Alpha Cobra Squadron teammates, I absolutely loved Kevin’s long e-mails and saved most of them. In really In relation to play time, Kevin sent this out to the large 29 person roster of Alpha Cobra Squadron:

Mike Lun was on CLX in 2004, went to nationals and caught one disc, with zero throwing attempts.  He probably played an average of a point or two a game.  In 2005, he spent most of the season playing very little as in 2004, and then around regionals, made some big plays.  He went to nationals in 2005, made two outstanding plays, and suddenly he is a major contributor to the team and playing 10-12 points a game.  His current performance certainly dictated a need for more playing time.

Buy into it. Your team can be for real. You’ll get your chance to shine. Mikey did, now look at him. He’s “CLX Standout” Mikey Lun…Kevin wrapped up his e-mail like this:
1.     Be ready to give it your all when it is your turn to play.  There is going to be a lot of sitting around and waiting, but it will be imperative to be ready to compete when you are on the field.
2.      Don't try to do too much.  Sometimes those who play less than others get on the field and think they have to make something happen.  This has the potential to help the team, but also has the potential to hurt the team and your chances of gaining any extra playing time.
3.     If you are disappointed or upset with your time, bring it up after a game to the captains, whomever you feel most comfortable talking about it with.  In some cases, there may be things to do about it, but in others, there may be little to do about it.  Brining up such things during a game is harmful to the focus of the team.
4.     When you find yourself as one of the 22 players OFF the field, do what you can to contribute to the team, whether it means helping players with "up" calls, communicating with players on the field, taking water to timeouts, giving players back/foot rubs, etc.  Trent Troyer was a multi-year player on CLX who was most likely last on our playing time list, but he was an overwhelmingly positive sideline presence running water out, giving high-fives, and watching the game for strategies to try. 
I buy into THIS team: University of Saucy Nancy 2011.

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