Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Winning Attitude

One of the most important responsibilities team leaders have is setting and reinforcing team norms. Defining the right attitude for the team is the easy part; maintaining it throughout a season is the true challenge. And while it is the coaches, captains, and officers that set the team attitude, they can't maintain it alone. Deep in the season's doldrums, players from among the rank and file have opportunities to make an big impact on the team that go beyond the playing field proper. Their contribution in these times is powerful specifically because it comes from an unlikely place, and not the same tired voices.

This season with the Hodags presented the usual mid-season problems. Cabin fever sets in as the indoor season gets long, and tempers and frustation levels rise at practice when results fall below expectations. As we prepared for Centex, the bickering at practice was intensifying, and to my dismay it was coming from the elder statesmen of the team, those who should know better, who should be setting the proper example. Grumbles ran the gamut. If a mistake was made, it was someone else's fault. Someone wasn't working as hard as others. Some people were playing more (or less) than they should be. And so on, you get the point.

As I returned from Austin, I was frustrated and looking for a way to snap us out of it and recommit to working for each other instead of ourselves. And what a breath of fresh air, then, to finally arrive home and check my email and read this:

Dear Hector,

I wanted to let you know how much I truly appreciated the playing time I received this weekend, especially during the Tufts game. I know they forfeited, but I still felt extremely privileged and honored to start that game. Being lined up in the Hodag tunnel, hearing my name called, and having the opportunity to race through it was euphoric. During the eight points I played, I learned a lot from the mistakes I made and the positions I found myself in. The fact that there was a little less pressure made it easier to focus on the fundamental elements of the game, but it didn't change the intensity at which I played at. I just wanted to reiterate how grateful I am for the playing time I receive and that whatever is best for the team is best for myself as a player.

Hodag Love,

Shane Saddison-Bradford

Shane is one of our promising young players. A freshman this past year, his growth through the season was immense and powered by a fuel of the highest octane, a pure love of playing and a constant awareness that it is a privilege to do so. And to play as a Hodag, a team steeped in a rich tradition of success, culled every year from over a hundred tryout hopefuls, that concept of privilege is all the more true.

Shane's email was one of the highlights of my season. I forwarded it immediately to those on the team who needed to be reminded of its message; oftentimes as a leader your role is to get the hell out of the way and let the team learn the lesson themselves. The next three weeks of practice were the best we'd had that year, and we never looked back. And, as I'm sure the rest of his years on the Hodags will prove, neither will Shane.