Monday, January 23, 2012

Team Chemistry: Still Learning After All These Years

Singing the CU fight song after a W.

  As the team bus was pulling up to the gym Saturday night for our game against La Roche, I had an interesting thought: every Winter, since I was nine years old, I've been a member of a basketball team (that dates back to 1990 for those of you doing the math).

  And I thought, each and every one of those years has been like riding a roller-coaster.

  No matter how much experience you have, you never know what to expect because no two teams are ever the same.

  Even after 22 years (?!?!), I've yet to tire of being on a team. The basketball is roughly the same year in and year out, but the dynamics of a team are always changing, and always keeping you on your toes.

Learning Experiences 
  Basketball aside, you're constantly learning about yourself, and learning about your teammates. So that's why, to me, being a part of a team (any team), can be one of the greatest learning experiences you can have. You don't learn just about basketball, you learn about people, and through that, you learn about life.

Easter 2001 with my Buffs!
  I can still remember my first uniform ever--purple t-shirts from the YMCA. I'm sure everyone remembers their Y-ball days. My dad was our coach, and he taught us the basics about the game. You know: the fundamentals (how to dribble, shoot, etc.), spacing, the pick and roll, give and go.

  But we also learned the basics about teamwork, and how to be a good teammate: sharing, communication, encouragement, working together.

  Of course, as we get older, the game gets more intricate, and the personality of a team grows more complicated. But the most-important aspects of playing on a team never change.

  If you don't have the basic fundamentals of basketball honed and sharpened, you can't play the game at a high level. The same goes for being on a team. If you forget the basics of what goes into being a good teammate, chances are, your team won't be as successful as it could be.

Team Chemistry 
  You can never predict what a team's chemistry will be like. Just like you can never take it for granted. Team chemistry to me, is basically how well people get along on AND off the court. It's unrealistic to expect every person on a team to be best of friends. Personalities will clash; that's only normal. When that happens, it's important that differences are put aside for the betterment of the team.

  Many times, a team's chemistry is what allows it to overcome its opponent. Chemistry is immeasurable, but it might be the most-important intangible a team can have.

Having fun with my teammates in Sweden!
  Each team I have been on has been drastically different in that regard. But I've always found, the closer a team is off the court, the better they play together on.

  You'll go that extra mile, and work that much harder next to someone you like and have a mutual respect for, versus a teammate you don't necessarily get along with.

  The same way you can bring friendships and chemistry onto the court, you can also take what happens in games and practices, off the court. You can grow your friendships with teammates through the difficult, funny, or memorable situations that you face together on the court.

  Some of my favorite memories with teammates and friends have come after re-hashing particularly difficult practices, and being able turn those moments into things we can laugh about.

  By comparison, bad team chemistry, would be when you take a negative experience off the court and bring it onto the court, and vice versa. It's not rocket-science, but it's important nonetheless.

  Two of the most successful teams I've ever played on were extremely close off the court, and I believe it led to us working that much harder together, and that much better together on the court.

Close Team = Successful Team
Team dinner in Como.
  My Colorado teams from 1999-2003 grew from being a tight group of friends that lost more often than not (my freshman year), to a team that could get through almost anything together.

  We advanced as far as the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, my junior year, and the Sweet 16 my senior year.

  The same can be said for the first professional team I played on in Como. Even though we came from all corners of the world, we enjoyed spending time with each other off the court, and we enjoyed working together on the court.

  What started out as a difficult season, losing games we necessarily shouldn't have lost, resulted in a team (that wasn't the most-talented in the league) that won the Italian Championship at season's end.

  Here are some other valuable lessons I've learned through participating on basketball teams throughout the years. Things I will always take with me, in every aspect of my life:
  • I've gotten better at learning how to lose (that doesn't sound right). Maybe learning from failures sounds a little bit better. Losing is never easy, but it used to consume me. Now I try to learn from it.
  • Win graciously. Act like you've been there before, act like you've done it before.
  • While you learn from failures (losing), success (winning) is what keeps you going. You need to experience the positives along with the negatives to keep pushing yourself.
  • I've learned what you CAN, and CANNOT control. Usually all you can control is yourself! You can try to lead your team to change, but a leader needs people to lead! Kind of sounds like the old adage: 'you can lead a horse to water...'

NCAA win -- nothing better!
  I've said over and over again, that being part of a team is one of the greatest, most-special experiences you can have.

  The friendships and camaraderie are the obvious benefits. But what you will learn from your teammates, and will experience is probably the most-rewarding benefit of them all.

  Do you think team chemistry can be 'fixed'? Or is just a natural thing, where, whatever will happen, will happen?

Your Experiences With Team Chemistry
  Is there an aspect about teamwork, or being on a team that I missed? And I mean any kind of team. Your team at work; that's a team! What things do you learn from your teammates or co-workers? And how important is chemistry in the workplace?

  I'm also wondering about the differences in the importance of team chemistry within men's teams, versus women's teams. I can obviously only speak from one perspective, but would love to hear the contrary!

CU Alumni game -- still all the best of friends.
  Please, let me know your thoughts and experiences about being on a team, and how it has benefited your life, and how you have grown from it.
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