Applying champion life lessons learned from the game of sports.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dependent or Independent...What is the "culture" of your team?

Well, the break from the end of spring to the start of the fall sports season is over.  With the College and Pro Football seasons at hand and the baseball playoffs just around the corner, I wanted to talk about two different types of cultures that exist on athletic teams and the effects they have.  The success of a team is directly driven by the culture on or of the team.  Specifically, is it a team that is dependent [on one another] or independent [of each other]?

Dependent is defined as: relying on someone or something else for aid and support; A person who needs or relies on someone else for support.  Having reliance, trust and confidence on another.

Conversely, Independent is defined as: not relying an another for support; acting by or on ones own self, irrespective of others.  Not affiliated to a unit, no sense of belonging. 

More and more, when the camera zooms in on an athlete after a big play, like a big run or catch for a touchdown, a goal scored in an intense soccer match or the winning shot in the NBA playoffs, you see an athlete celebrating "self"; that is, his/her own big play.  Increasingly, I've seen athletes run away from or push  teammates away who run to them desiring to celebrate what "they" have accomplished "together" as a team so that they can call for the applause and praise of the fans and make sure the spotlight is squarely on them and them alone.  They will extend their arms in greatness, while continuing to make the effort to remain separated from teammates, to ensure they are the sole focus.  I saw this in highlights from a college game where a touchdown was scored and a teammate came running up to celebrate.  The running back who scored the touchdown held the ball out in his right hand and extended his left arm to push his teammate away.  He proceeded to run the width of the end zone, pushing teammate after teammate away, celebrating himself.  Soon, he found himself alone in the corner of the end zone once he was done facing the fans and calling for their praise of "his" accomplishment.  His teammates got tired of trying to celebrate with him what they had accomplished together, so they celebrated away from him and headed off the field; without a "me focused" event. 

What do you think happens to the culture on the teams where this occurs?  What happens to the unity, a vital component of success to a team?  When an athlete pushes teammates away or moves away from them in order to celebrate "self" and infer to his/her teammates, "no thanks, this is my moment to highlight 'me' and what I've done", it erodes unity and creates a culture of Independence; a culture of Individualism.  This type of culture spells disaster for a team; a culture of Individualism (Independence) will destroy a team. 

When individualism (a culture of Independence) prevails, it reduces loyalty and mutual trust within a team.  Tom Osborne, one of the most successful coaches in college football history states, "to have a great team, there must be a great deal of loyalty, mutual trust and genuine caring and love [by teammates] for other teammates".  He adds that it was loyalty that served as the foundation for the winning teams he was known for at Nebraska.  When a team member is only interested in celebrating him/her self and ensuring they are the focus of attention, it causes teammates to question and doubt him or her.  They have given of their blood, sweat and effort so they could all be successful and celebrate what they have done, together.  It causes them to ask, "are you as committed (dependent) on or to me as I am on or to you?"  "Do you have the best interest of me and our teammates in mind or are you only out here for your personal accomplishments and glory?"  It brings about the opposite of loyalty which is brings about the opposite of a dependent culture on the team, which is an independent one.  Disloyalty is a synonym of Independence.

Above I referenced that a culture of Independence will destroy a team.  With disloyalty (an Independent culture), there is no trust among teammates.  An Independent culture causes players to speak poorly about each other, disrespect a coaches authority and team rules and players to plot against one another in order to elevate themselves and achieve their own personal goals and agenda.  They lose site of "team" and team goals that were set early on in training camps.  Players lash out, quickly challenge a teammate or appoint blame to a teammate during an interview or press conference.  A well managed team doesn't tolerate this.  The source of the Independence on the team is most often either suspended, cut from the team or traded.  A well managed team does what is necessary for the culture on that team to be a culture of Dependence.  One where teammates care for and are committed to others, where there is love for teammates and celebrations are team oriented and not individually focused.

It is easy for a culture of Independence to take over a team.  Conversely, it takes a great deal of effort and purpose to have a culture of Dependence on a team.  Someone has to model the dependence within a team.  Someone has to model dependence on teammates and to teammates.  Someone has to show he/she is willing to be dependent on others so that teammates can be dependent on them.  This process then replicates itself and the desired culture of Dependence is established.

Jesus modeled this behavior and culture of dependence for us many times throughout his life.  The Bible says in John 5:19, "the Son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the son also does".  He showed us what it means to be committed to the good of others (the team) and to live for the benefit of others (the team) and to see to it that personal agendas or goals are set aside for the good of others (the team), in Mark 10:45, "for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 

So what is the culture on your respective team?  It doesn't matter what level you compete at; little league, high school, college or professional, in order for there to be success and accomplishment of goals established by your team, there must be a culture of dependence.  If it already exists, then ensure you're doing your part to ensure it continues on (replicates) from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to month and year-to year.  If your team is lacking a culture of Dependence...good news:  it is never to late to change the culture!  I encourage you to be the one who steps up, takes the lead and models it to your teammates.  Establish the dependent culture, live by it and others will be drawn to it.  Then, great things will be accomplished by the team and great celebrations will be had as a team.