Time Out — With Coach Little (11-4-17)

(With more than 55 years as an athlete, coach, official, parent and spectator, I’ve gained some insights and perspectives regarding athletics. In this weekly column, I share what I’ve learned about sports from these multiple points of view.)

"Teamwork: Part I"

Teamwork can affect the outcome of many games. 

Individuals may stand out because of their position or skill level. The players and coaches share in the cohesiveness of the team. Coaches cannot possibly know the motivation of all their players; players may also not know what’s in the minds of their teammates. 

This week, I will be focusing on how individual players, unknowingly, can affect teamwork.

In 1966, in Hermiston, Ore., the Bulldog basketball team went 10-0 in the first half of league season. One player was getting all the newspaper headlines. The other Bulldog players got jealous; they wanted credit too. So, they kept the ball away from him and went 1-9 in the second half.

There was lack of teamwork in both halves of their league.  The players did this and I don’t know what the coach could have done to reverse this situation.

In 1964, while my brother and I were at the movie theater, an eighth-grade player came and sat next to me looking for a fight; his friend was the backup quarterback.

My brother stepped into the situation and there was a fight, during which he broke his wrist. As a result, three days into football practice in my seventh-grade year, I was moved up to quarterback the eighth-grade team. The eighth graders did not want me there. Especially the eighth-grade player and his friend, the back-up quarterback. After talking with my Dad about the situation, my choice was to play up and challenge my abilities.

Instead, I was subjected to cheap shots during practice. But still, I would get up and play anyway.

Where was the teamwork needed to improve as a team? 

It simply didn’t exist. To this day I cannot remember any football games I played that year.

Again in 1964, I scored 27 points in my first seventh-grade basketball game. There was very little teamwork in that game. The coach placed four players on the left side of the court and I went one-on-one on the right-hand side. Four players watched me score. I am sure their parents were not happy about their sons not being included in the offense.

Once again, I was moved to the eighth-grade team and, much like the football team earlier that fall, the eighth graders made it impossible to build teamwork — this time by playing “keep away” from me on the court.

Until the coach implemented wind sprints and other disciplinary measures to convince my “teammates” to include me in the offense, I seldom had the ball.

I sometimes think it would have been better to stay with my own friends on the seventh-grade team. The only memory I have of that year was playing Lewis and Clark junior high and being behind 48-2 at halftime — and knowing no amount of teamwork would have changed that result.

In college, I was a good handball player. In 1974, there was a co-ed handball tournament. My partner and I reached the championship game after playing as a true team throughout the preliminaries; she played her half of the court and I played mine. But in the finals, the other male player was taking all the shots. His female partner was relegated to a spectator as they won the first match. Between matches, I asked my teammate how important it was to her for us to win.

She said told me she wanted to win and to make any of the plays necessary in the next two games. It was virtually a one-on-one game instead of a co-ed doubles championship. “We” won the next two games and the feeling of teamwork was lost on our opponents.

When an individual in a team sport has superior skills team success may be dependent on them. 

But this skill may be limited without team support and the best all-star players recognize the importance of their teammates.

Most importantly, they understand that with team success comes individual success.

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