The Power of TEAM

dogs group pack purpose dog team iditarod

Ask yourself an important question – do you have a softball team or a group of players with gloves?

One can win you a championship while the other will cause you heartache.

There’s a big difference between a group and a team. A team works together for the common good with the members putting the team first and themselves second. While a group is just a collection of people, that may have something in common like standing in the same line or attending the same Broadway show, but members of a group definitely place themselves first and rarely think about the group as a whole.

Groups with gloves on are no longer thinking of the team first and themselves second. As a result, they are no longer cooperating and trusting and sacrificing for the team. “Guesting” is more popular than ever and while it seems good for the player involved, it’s horrible from a team perspective. Teams take a lot of time to develop, and the stronger the team the better the season. When players “pop” into one team and “pop” out of their original team there’s no time to create a team in either case. Guesting is a move that only benefits the individual player as teams take time to gel, come together and develop. Moves that only help one player are not things that teams do, but instead, are signs of a group. As a coach, you might feel that getting a strong player for one weekend might help your team on paper, but remember that teams are made with time and sacrifice, not with a pen and paper.

It’s important to make sure your team hasn’t turned into a softball group that only has their gloves in common.

Groups and Teams are completely different. Groups are formed by similarities; like all are left-handed, people with blond hair, the audience at a coaching clinic, in-line at the checkout stand, etc. They don’t have any strong connection to each other and they have no real need to cooperate or work together – they just happen to have something in common that makes them part of the group. Groups don’t have any tight connection to each other so their ability to work together for the good of the group is very limited. Members of a group focus more on their own needs and desires instead of working for what’s best for the group.

Teams are formed by a common cause; a softball team to win a championship, a medical team to perform open heart surgery, a sales team to reach a certain level of product sales. Teams must have cooperation among the members in order to achieve their goal. Teams depend on the members of the group; they trust each other, work together and sacrifice their own personal accomplishments for the good of the team.

The best example I can give between a group and a team is to think of an elevator. It’s filled with people who have nothing in common but getting to their specific floor. Nobody looks at anybody, or talks to them, or even cares about them – they have no reason to work as a team. Suddenly, the elevator gets stuck in between floors – no everything changes. That “group” must now work as a team to figure out how to get out. Someone has to become the leader, others have to follow and everyone must figure out their role to help them all get out. A team is a group with a cause. The more the group buys into the cause, the stronger the team!

If you’ve been coaching very long there’s no doubt you know the difference between a softball group and a softball team. Softball teams that have turned into softball groups with gloves are no longer thinking of the team first and themselves second. They no longer cooperate and trust and sacrifice and work for the good of the team, but instead, they’ve shifted to thinking about themselves just like you and I do when we’re standing in line at the checkout counter or standing in an elevator (both are groups instead of teams). Groups exist everywhere from sports to traffic lights to classrooms to the boardroom.

Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Teams versus Groups:

team versus group strength weaknesses

A simple example of the difference between a group and a team involves dogs; a group of dogs is called a pack but when a bunch of dogs get together with a common purpose, working for that purpose it’s called a team – a dog team is capable of racing across Alaska for weeks on end in a race called the Iditarod, something that a pack of dogs could never accomplish.

dogs group pack purpose dog team iditarod

Teams are difficult to form because they need members that have complementary skills, not a single skill, and they need the members to use their skills to work together for the good of the team instead of simply for the good of themselves. If you’ve selected a team based on a single skill, like all of your players being the strongest hitters in your area, you no doubt quickly realize you don’t have any bunters, or pinch runners, or players willing to share playing time for the good of the team.

Sure, you have the very best players on paper, but teams aren’t made on paper. True teams are made of people with complementary skills, cooperative natures and a single focus to put the good of the team first! With the huge focus on getting a college scholarship it’s getting more difficult to create a “team” environment by finding team players. But, here’s a dose of reality for you – as soon as your players get those scholarships and show up for college softball, its ALL about your role in helping the TEAM win! Team first, players second.

If it sounds like your team has turned into a softball group and all they seem to have in common are their gloves then they’re no longer thinking of the team first and themselves second. As a result, they aren’t cooperating and trusting and sacrificing and working for the good of the team – but instead, they’ve shifted to thinking of themselves first and foremost (just like you and I do when we’re standing in a line at the checkout counter). If this sounds like your “team” then you’ve got a problem on your hands.

One thing I suggest is that you sit down and start a discussion with your team. Ask them a simple question – “what do they think the differences are between a team and a group?” Try to sit eye-level with them instead of towering over them – to help create a less threatening environment. You can’t expect your players to immediately start talking since they’re no doubt afraid to say something wrong. So you’re going to have to start the discussion. Ask them what are the differences between a pack of dogs and a dog sled team? Then just sit back and let the discussion take shape. It can be an interesting discussion and one that can help bring your team back together.

For more help with making sure your softball team stays a team instead of a group, check out our book, A Coach’s Guide to Creating Team Chemistry: Tips on Coaching the Female Athlete.

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