“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”– President John F. Kennedy, January 20th, 1961
Flash forward fifty-five years. We would be wise to hearken back to that great inaugural speech. We live in a day where those who run for public office, regardless of political slant, pander to our selfish desires. How will their policies affect us as individuals? What kind of free benefits can I obtain without working for them? Times have changes indeed.
Our sports world has reflected a microcosm of the culture at large. While much of what is witnessed on the fields, courts, and rinks is positive, a toxic cesspool of narcissism permeates our current youth athletics landscape. The pettiness of every perceived slight can trigger a phone call or visit from mom and dad to the coach, athletic administrator, or highers up. Players have quit, sometimes even in the midst of a tournament run, when they are not given what they feel they are entitled to.
In light of our present environment it would behoove today’s players and their parents to remember this one thing: the program you or your child is participating in existed long before you or your son or daughter became involved. It will likely continue to be around well after you or your offspring leaves. Think for a moment of all the players who came before you and the many who will proceed following your exit. In the overall history of the program, you are just a tiny speck, regardless of how inflated your perceived worth may be. Therefore, your value and worth is only found in relation to your contribution to the team at large.
While the focus for most is the eighteen or so games in which the bright lights shine and the stands fill, game nights are just a part of the overall team experience. There are the team meals in which members are just able to relax a bit and enjoy each other. There are the grueling practices when teammates help and encourage each other when individually some may wonder how they will ever get through those last few wind sprints. There is the empathy shared when one of the members is going through a difficult time in their life.
Being part of a team accomplishes much, both for the individual member and for the collective whole. It is the realization not everyone can have the lead role but each participant has a part to play. Whether a starter, a first or second sub off the bench, someone who may not get in unless the team is up or down twenty, to the team manager, each member’s duty is important. You may serve as someone who just works hard in practice, pushing the better players to improve. Being part of the group allows one to become a cog in something so much larger than oneself. Being part of a team is tremendous preparation for the rest of your life. Unless you work by yourself with no employees, you will be part of a team at some point in your life.
There has been a growing trend of athletes specializing in one sport. I’ve had a number of kids in recent years tell me they are going to forego a season to concentrate on another sport. Now, I’m not advocating all athletes play three sports. If a youngster doesn’t have a love for the game or is willing to make a certain commitment to it, perhaps they shouldn’t play. I’m talking about those who for whatever reason have been led to believe they will go on to some grandeur in one particular sport if they forsake others. In my humble opinion they will gain much more by being part of a team with their schoolmates then they would be concentrating on that one sport.
In this era where the emphasis on self esteem has become epidemic, the true measure of someone’s worth is in how they impact others. By being part of a team, the individual is also able to reap much more than they could on their own. It’s a lesson that should be allowed to be learned now, which in turn will help later on in life. Players and parents, to paraphrase from President Kennedy: Ask not what your TEAM can do for you, ask what you can do for your TEAM.