7 Traits of Great Team Members

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Whether in the office, at a school, on a sports team, in the warehouse, at a restaurant, on the sales floor, at home, or anywhere else you can think of, there are definite characteristics that most good team members personify.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, or even each characteristic fully explained, but here are 7 traits that make a great team member:

1. Sense of humor.

It’s critical on any team that you be able to laugh… with each other… at life… at corny jokes… and sometimes even at yourself. We should have fun together and learn to never take work or sports too seriously. We should work hard and play hard, but never at the expense of losing sight of the bigger reasons behind such things. When we are having fun that makes any team we are on better.

2. Team spirit.

We should not have any lone rangers or solo acts on our team. It’s never a one man show. We should actually rebuke struggling and working alone! We are part of a team and no one should be carrying any burden on their own, without the help of their teammates.

Especially in the game of basketball, it is impossible to win a game by ourselves. There cannot be any W’s to add to a stat sheet without every player, every coach, or even every person involved in helping the game take place from refs to those running the clock and keeping the facility in shape, all the way to our parents. Similar to how there is no such thing as a “self-made millionaire” in that regardless of how it may appear, they had help and “luck” involved in whatever financial success they’ve achieved, as well as the millions of dollars actually coming from other people… there are no self-made athletes or solo winners in sports. This is all the more obvious in team sports; in basketball there are five players per team actively playing at any giving time, with other players to sub, and opponents. If we attempt to act as if we’ve created our own abilities, earned every achievement alone, and are solely responsible for any success, whether athletic, academic, business, financial, etc. we buy into (and then subsequently try to sell) a monumental lie. When you act as if you are your own creator in any way, it is cosmic plagiarism.

This doesn’t mean we neglect ourselves or don’t try to improve ourselves, but we shouldn’t be working to better ourselves to the detriment of those around us. We should also want to make those around us better. As corny as the old acronym sounds: T.E.A.M. means together everyone achieves more… it rings true. As many rings as Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, etc. have on their hands… not a single one of those rings were earned or won by their hands alone… not to the slightest degree.

3. Work ethic.

We shouldn’t be worried about constantly micro-managing everyone and everything. It is not possible to dictate how hard or how often our teammates will work. We need to simply rely on people having the sense of responsibility and inner drive needed to put in strong effort and work hard. We can only control our own efforts, and we should be pushing ourselves to always give whatever task is at hand our best. The best competition we have is against ourselves to become better.

Each of us must make the effort to contribute to the best of our ability according to our individual talents. And then we put all the individual talents together for the highest good of the group… Understanding that the good of the group comes first is fundamental to being a highly productive member of a team. We want to encourage everyone to work their hardest and passionately give every practice, every game their best, but we cannot control anyone else’s actions.

As a coach for the Dallas Thunder organization, I like leaders who are passionate about Christ and people, and are also willing to do what it takes to accomplish our vision and goals. I want to see all of us resting in the already finished work of Jesus Christ; and from that rest, work in glad assurance that our efforts are never in vain. (The Book of Hebrews; Philippians 2:16; Ephesians 2:10; 1st Corinthians 15:58)

Also, good teammates know who they are and what their role is every time they step onto the court, into the office, on the field, in the store, etc. They assume that wins and losses rest entirely on their shoulders. That’s not true, but the best teammates always think that way.

4. Healthy personal life.

We deal with a lot of messiness in other people’s lives, do we not? No team is immune to the tragic effects of the Fall on the entirety of humanity. Balance is one of the most important components in basketball and it is a very important part of life. We must always keep things in perspective so that we can maintain emotional control. It would make it very difficult to maintain the level of competitiveness required of us if we were not personally living healthy lives spiritually, emotionally, and as much as it depends on us and we can help it, physically healthy.

We should be more concerned with our character than with our reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. We shouldn’t feel like we cannot expose the pain and sorrow we are facing in life at any given time. We should be comfortable enough with our teammates to confess sin, admit weakness, and acknowledge our short-comings; as well as announce good news, proclaim victory over a struggle, and give praise for anything that has turned out well.

5. Open spirit.

We share burdens with one another. Our teammates don’t live on an island all by themselves. Nobody should be trying to live completely alone, ever. The more we learn to trust each other the greater this process of being a good team becomes. We are open to challenge the “system,” the sport, and each other in an attempt to make ourselves and our team better.

We never want to be such a skeptical pessimist that we spurn any new advice on technique, process, or point of perspective. We should be most interested in finding the best way, not in having our own way.

6. Loyalty.

It is imperative in our organizational structure that a team member be dedicated to the vision, organization, and senior leadership of the team.

For any relationship to be healthy, to survive, and to flourish to any degree, there must be trust, respect, and loyalty among all those within the relationship. Once an individual is a part of a partnership or group, they must consider the affect their actions will have not only on themselves, but everyone involved. The characteristic of being loyal and committed to not bailing out of things even when the going gets beyond tough, gives everyone an ironically liberating sense of comfort.

True freedom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die.

“We can become great in the eyes of others, but we’ll never become successful when we compromise our character and show disloyalty toward friends or teammates. The reverse is also true: No individual or team will become great without loyalty.” – John Wooden

7. Servant’s heart.

If one cannot approach their position from a humble point of serving others and Christ then he or she will not be able to work well on our team. It’s the model of our entire ministry and must be represented first by our coaches.

Discipline and self-control are much easier for us when our hearts and affections are stirred for something greater than ourselves. How you treat creation shows how you feel about the Creator. Strong people don’t put others down… they lift them up. In the end, much more can be accomplished by teamwork when no one is concerned about who gets credit.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

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7 Keys to Effective Player Development

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Have you guys ever heard any version of this quote, “Individuals may get better in the off-season, but teams get better during the season.”

I think that while we can appreciate the mindset behind this, that team development must be the #1 priority during the season, this statement seems to imply that individual player development isn’t as important from October to March.

If that is the case, we should highly disagree. Individuals need to get better during the season as well. In fact, the most effective way for us to improve our team is to improve ourselves!

Individual player development (which includes both athleticism and movement training, as well as basketball skills and fundamentals; and even better understanding of and insight into the game on a bigger scale) should be addressed and given priority at every practice. To what extent we should focus on these elements depends on the age, skill level, previous experience of the players, the length of practice, and the time during season (early pre-season vs. playoff time).

I know we can’t win if nobody rebounds the basketball. I’d be willing to bet that some of you realize that for the overwhelming majority, “defense wins championships.” However, the name of the game is to put the ball in the basket. So working on offensive moves and getting up quality reps of game shots from game spots at game speed is paramount to our team’s success.

Before he coached his first practice as the head coach of Butler, a colleague recommended that Brad Stevens have a manager chart how many shots his best player took during a 2+ hour practice. Coach Stevens ran what he thought was an excellent practice (in-depth teaching, sound team concepts, etc). After practice he found out his best player took less than 25 shots the entire practice, which Coach Stevens immediately recognized was unacceptable. From that day forward he began to implement quality shooting drills in every single practice.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden laughs when he hears other coaches say, “We need to get back to working on the fundamentals” after a tough loss. Get back to them? Why did you ever abandon or neglect them in the first place? That may even be why you lost!

“I discovered early on that the player who learned the fundamentals of basketball is going to have a much better chance of succeeding and rising through the levels of competition than the player who was content to do things his own way. A player should be interested in learning why things are done a certain way. The reasons behind the teaching often go a long way to helping develop the skill.” – John Wooden

While the amount of time we spend on everything will vary (and we have a limited practice schedule of only 2 hours – twice a week), I firmly believe every single one of our practices should have at least some aspect and component of individual player development.

Here are 7 keys to effective player development:

1. Build our game brick by brick. Every rep of every set of every practice is important. How you do anything is how you do everything. You learned to walk one step at a time. You build a house one brick at time. You build your game one drill at a time.

2. We have to leave our comfort zones. All of us have to buy into this together. Once a player has the movement, skill or footwork down, they need to push harder than game speed. The harder you practice, the easier things become during games.

3. Know the ‘why.’ Every drill must have some perceived relevance. That means the players can clearly understand how this particular skill or drill will improve their game performance. Will being able to dribble 3 basketballs reduce turnovers when the lights come on and the crowds start cheering on game nights? Doubtful. Therefore it has minimal perceived relevance, but any drill that incorporates something that can be used in a game is highly important and worth the time.

4. Use visualization. Great players like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant don’t just do a drill; they compete in that drill with the same focus and effort as if they were in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. They imagine they are being guarded by an elite defender; not just lazily ‘going around a cone.’

5. Avoid fatigue and boredom. These are two of the biggest killers of player development. We must get in better shape, increase our endurance and stamina. We can combat this issue by being in better basketball shape and by trying to use some more innovative, purposeful drills. But in the end, we must all work as a team to be able to run harder, run longer, and run together. When your body gets tired, your mind quickly follows. Nobody improves their ability to learn when their exhausted and worn out; we are less likely to get better at a skill when our minds and bodies are exhausted… so we must work on conditioning, always.

6. Do everything with precision. Details matter! Perfect form and footwork are imperative. If you want to build a beautiful brick house, you have to lay every single brick with care and precision. Every stone must be in the right place, or it will throw the others off. Once you start sloppily laying bricks… the house suffers (both in appearance and structural integrity).

7. We must learn from our past mistakes. Remember that nobody is perfect. When you make mistakes, be sure to take the time to analyze and learn from them. Don’t dwell on it with regret and lose sight of what you can learn from the mistake, but rather focus on what you can learn from it in order to prevent it from happening again. Great players realize when they did something wrong, admit it, and learn from it.

Also we all need to understand and remember that skill improvement takes time, and is often a process of 2’s:

​• It takes 2 minutes to learn a new move or new skill.

​• It takes 2 weeks to work on it daily until you develop confidence in it.

​• It takes 2 months of constant work to be competent enough to use it in a game.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start in order to be great.” – John C. Maxwell

Little Things in Life & Basketball

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When I was younger, I remember reading an article about how legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to explain to his players how to put their shoes on correctly, and wear at least two pairs of socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters on their feet. (To this day I actually always wear double socks, with the first pair inside out, no matter what the activity because I became so used to it while playing ball.) The reason he did this was to emphasize just how important the little things are in the game of basketball. Although this might be a little bit much, it just shows you the importance of details. Details and little things can be the difference maker in basketball, in your faith, and in life. Paul Tripp put this well when he said, “Life is really lived in the little moments.”

As a player, a constant volunteer for camps, an avid fan of the game, and someone currently pursuing an opportunity to coach full-time, I have been able to catch a decent glimpse of both sides of the player-coach dynamic. As a player I have been apart of some good teams, as well as some pretty bad teams. The difference between the losing-teams and winning-teams for the most part wasn’t a major talent gap or a significant game-plan strategy issue, it was the little details. It had a lot more to do with all the little things than a single big shot or turnover on a crucial possession.

My life has had some big moments: particular birthdays (like the Space Jam themed party in Independence, KS… or the couple birthdays where Texas Rangers baseball was still being played into October and we gathered around a TV with some good friends, good food, and good drinks, to cheer for a Rangers’ win), certain holidays (like our annual Easter, 4th of July, Neewollah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve celebrations), trips and vacations (like Disney World, Red Lodge, Montana, and many trips back to Kansas), my proposal to Kat down by the lake after a nice picnic dinner, our wedding day (that whole day is a blur, with some beautiful highlights and moments I’ll never forget), our honeymoon in Montana (that was a blast), anniversaries, great meals at nice restaurants (like the first time we went to a Brazilian steakhouse… oh my goodness), big games and concerts we’ve been blessed to attend (like the Eagles, The Who, Anberlin, Phil Wickham, U2 & Muse, and Jimmy Eat World & Foo Fighters concerts… or the 2007 NBA Finals, or the final KU vs. Mizzou game at Allen Fieldhouse… that was an amazing and unforgettable game), and on and on I could go with big moments in my life that I’ve been truly blessed to experience… but that is the vast minority when compared to the little moments of life. All the daily breakfasts, lunches, dinners, all the time cooking and waiting for something to heat up, grocery shopping, stopping by the gas station to fill up, all those moments right after walking in the door from being somewhere and getting settled in, all that time spent at work (perhaps sitting in a cubicle starring at a computer screen, just mundanely working one account after another), time spent in the gym, time spent loading and unloading the car, those moments spent watching movies or television, time spent doing laundry, time spent playing video games, board games, card games, etc., all those text messages sent each day, time spent cleaning and organizing, time getting ready to go places, time spent reading or studying, time spent in school taking classes, driving to and from work, time spent putting something together, countless hours messing around on Facebook or other social media, time spent getting ready for bed, time spent day dreaming, the moments of laying in bed trying to fall asleep, the third of your life spent sleeping, and heck, even all that time spent in the bathroom…

Similar to life, the little things make up the vast majority of the game of basketball. That’s why there are highlights for games that last only 10 seconds, for a minimum 48-minute game in the pros (still 40-minutes in college). There is a lot more to basketball than just shooting a ball through a hoop. And even more involved in the preparation for playing the sport than simply practicing one’s shot. Being a minute late to practice, shorting a line in sprints, not going over the mechanics of shooting over and over, ball-handling drills ad nauseam, or missing a class assignment may seem minor, but these things are such a big deal if not dealt with the right way. If a player is willing to short a line in a sprint, then who is to say that he won’t be one step out of position on defense at the end of a game, and instead of a charge he gets called for a block. There are just so many little things in basketball that can add up if you don’t focus on them everyday.

For example: closing out with high hands, talking on defense, putting a body on someone during a rebound opportunity, squaring up for a jumpshot, setting a good screen, making an intentionally crisp pass, setting your man up before coming off a screen, etc. are little things or minor details and the list could go on and on. Each thing individually might not be that big of a deal, but put all, or even just some of them together and it can be the difference between a great season with some hardware to take home… or end with some players losing significant time on the floor being cut/traded, or even the Athletic Director looking for a new head basketball coach for the next season.

From the very first day of practice, and every single day after that you must emphasize the little things. Just like someone in the Christian faith never moves on from the basic and fundamental message of the Gospel, a basketball player never moves on from the need to have the basic and fundamental aspects of the game down. A good ball player is constantly going over and refining their basic, fundamental skills of the game. No player, not even guys like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or Lebron James could ever practice too much, improve their ball-handling enough, tweak their footwork, work on their shot too much, go over too much film, or be in the gym too long, to have reached a level that moved on past the need to continue to work on those basic skills.

Every coach needs to sit down and explain to his players what is acceptable and what he is expecting of them. It may take a little while at first but once the players realize what is expected of them, and they buy into the system with the hopes of achieving an end goal, they will earnestly do what is expected of them. Since most players would have never been held accountable like this before, a little grace should always be shown at the beginning. They need to understand the value of doing the little things and and be committed to doing them. Whether a coach has to run his team or repeat a certain drill for days until they get it right, it is the coach’s job to ingrain in his players the details of this great game until it becomes second nature. Coaches also aren’t to show favoritism, whether it is their best player or the 12th man, they strive to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly and putting forth their best effort.

Just as relationships with spouses, friends, family, parents, children, small groups, etc. serve to expose and uncover deep heart issues in our lives, certain situations in basketball will reveal areas of your game that are lacking. For the sake of maturation and development, coaches should put their team in circumstances that will test them, help them to come up against obstacles in the game that will reveal those who can’t or won’t do the little things. Conditioning is one of the greatest ways to do this. When players get tired or have to do something that is hard you begin to see their true nature. Just as someone who is going through a very hard time, and is extremely stressed out by their current circumstances at home, school, and/or work; how they react to the storms of life will be a greater testament of their character than how well they handle having money in the bank, good health, and they’re at a party having fun.

The players who don’t buckle under a little pressure, the guys who touch the line every time, don’t go down to their knees after every sprint, and who encourage their teammates throughout drills are the players you can trust. These are ones who are going to be able to execute a play the right way at the end of a close game. It is the coach’s job to encourage all his players to do this, to put their heart into it, to give it their all, and to really buy into the team.

During a game or even in practice a coach is not always going to be able to stop play every time a player closes out without high hands, isn’t in the right defensive position, didn’t put a body on someone as a shot went up, didn’t crash the boards, didn’t shoot with proper form, threw a lazy pass, etc. However it is still very important to focus on the details and a great way to do that is film. It is a lot easier for players to correct something if they can see themselves doing it the wrong way. I once heard a commentator say during a review in a big game, “the film doesn’t lie…” And that is exactly true. If a player is continually forgetting to close out with high hands in a game, going right every single time they get the ball, or is always out of position on defense, a coach can use film to sit them down and show them what they are doing wrong.

Similar to how a brother in Christ goes to a friend to help him see something in his life that is harming him in hopes of seeing him repent from that, and then strive together for further sanctification to get more of Christ, to know Him more deeply; a coach pursues the maturation of his players. A coach is to strive to make sure that his players understand their correction and discipline is out of a motivation of love and hope for improvement in their ability to play. A good coach earnestly works hard and puts forth a diligent effort to make sure his players understand this.

It is not easy to do all of the little things in life or in basketball. It takes a lot of effort from the coaching staff to communicate, mentor, and guide the players well in hopes to make sure that every day the players are doing things the right way. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and buying into the team’s plan and strategy from the players. It always takes community and team effort.

Basketball really is like a microcosm to so much of life. The game of basketball can teach us so much about ourselves, as well as us being able to take our strengths in life and apply them towards the game. Something that will help make playing basketball easier is for a coach to sit down with his players and explain to them why the little things are so important. If they understand and really believe in what they are doing then they will work harder to accomplish it. It will always be very difficult at first for everyone, so we must try to remember that and not get frustrated quickly. Because over the years when the team has players return and can have some stability, the returning players will be able to help the new players, and it will be easier on the coach, and the team overall. Similar to life, the little details in basketball are what it takes to be great; it is worth the time and effort.