There is No “I” in Team

I recently observed a soccer practice. The team was playing a small-sided 5 v. 5 game, and the coach became increasingly perturbed by the play of one of the players. In a calm voice he told three of the players on one of the team’s to step off leaving this player alone save a goalie. For three of four minutes, the player hustled, won the ball, played the ball, and in one sense competed admirably against superior numbers. The coach intervened and asked, “what’s changed?”, before the player could answer, the coach added, “for you, nothing.”

The player’s game derived no benefit from his teammates. He did not connect with them in any meaningful way, and was lost in his own individuality.

I encountered a similar player today my noon basketball game. He arrived late, and I had never seen him play before. He was, by the standard of our game, a mid level athlete and played hard. He did not however play with the team. He continuously occupied the low block area precluding penetration or post ups by superior match ups. When he received the ball on the block, he saw only the option of shooting predominately by fading away from the basket. He did not kick the ball back out when doubled. When he moved away from the basket, he was muddle-minded and could not snap timely passes to open players. His performance was insidiously subversive.

Soccer and basketball, the games I love, are team games played most efficiently when the ball is shared. Movement of the ball relieves pressure brought by the defense, and is contagious to all players in the game. The knowledge that my teammate is looking for me when I am open, and will give me the ball encourages productive, even inventive movement off the ball. At it’s best this movement is indefensible tactically, and irresistible as a spiritual impetus to victory.

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