Learning how to take one for the team.
Of all the many lessons that school sponsored team sports are designed to teach, that lesson rises far above the others. Whether it is learning how to set up a teammate for a spike, learning how to draw all the defenders toward you so you can dish the ball and make a great assist, or learning that sometimes you take the “out” at first so that your teammate can slide into “home” — whatever the great play, the lesson is this: sometimes you gotta take one for the team.
My seventh grader would say it like this: no one likes a try-hard show-off. No one wants to play on a team with a guy who hogs the ball to try and be the star. The team is more important that the player. And you want to play with teammates who put their team’s success before their own personal glory.
And the team succeeds when individuals makes sacrifices for the common good. When they learn how to take one for the team.
Knowing that the vast majority of school athletes never go on to play professional sports, it is these lessons learned along the way that mean the most. As parents, it is these nuggets of truth that we hope our children glean from their coaches and teammates. These are the real wins. And when we, as parents, can help to translate field/court lessons into true life lessons, the reward is all the greater.
During these pandemic times, school sports have become a hot topic. (It is always curious to me what people latch onto during times of crisis.) As numbers of COVID-19 cases have soared, and the deaths have come with them, parents have begun to rally around the battle cry “let them play!” and have actually taken to the streets to protest the unfairness of cancelling sports for the sake of the health of the community. Faced with the idea that we might have to postpone games for a few weeks — maybe a few months — parents are rioting.
What an epic fail.
Because in this moment, we as parents have the chance to hit home possibly the greatest life lesson of all — that it our time to take one for the team. In this global pandemic, there is no better moment to reinforce those coaches’ lesson on how to put the greater good ahead of personal gain. To put the good of the team before the glory of the individual. What better moment could there be to concretize this idea, than during an international crisis — when its not just about who wins the game, but actually about who might loose their life. And it won’t be the kids, we know. But it might be grandparents or uncles or neighbors. And instead of parents seizing on this once-in-a-lifetime teachable moment — they are taking to the streets to complain that their players individual needs aren’t being met. In doing so, they are undermining every coaches’ lesson along the way. Their protests are in direct opposition to the very lesson that team sports are supposed to teach: how to take one for the team. As my son would say — they are acting like a bunch of try-hard show-offs, putting their own player ahead of anyone else on the team.
Let me say it again: what an epic fail.
This is the moment we have to rise up and teach our kids the greatest lesson team sports has for us – the one that coaches everywhere want every teammate to learn — that it is time to take one for the team. That it is time to be “out” at first, so grandma can win by sliding into “home.” That the health of our families and communities matters so much more than any players’ individual stardom. We can wait four to six weeks — even four to six months — to have a volleyball season or a basketball tournament. That we should wait, so that when we go back to the games, all the players and fans can be there together. It’s okay to have a football season in March. It’s okay to not start basketball until January. It’s okay to wait. We will play sports again. And when we do, we will have learned the greatest lesson of all: how great it can feel to sacrifice our own need for the needs of the common good.
We will learn how great it feels to take one for the team.