How to be a Better Teammate

I have excelled in sports and games my whole life. My determination is very high. Creativity flows freely through my brain. And I happened to inherit some good genes to help me quickly learn new skills.

However, I’m not known for being a great teammate.

The daycare I went to kicked me out so I had to start kindergarten a year early. My natural tendency is to explore the unknown versus following the herd. I’m (mostly) proud of who I am and what I have become but I definitely am not naturally a good teammate.

I’ve decided that I want to improve as a teammate. Whether it be at work, while playing in pickleball tournaments with friends and family, or by providing care to those that mean a lot to me.

To become a better teammate I wrote out a quick list to remind me of what makes a teammate good versus a bad one.

6 Characteristics of a Good Teammate

Here are several attributes of people that I’ve enjoyed having on my team throughout life. This is a good list for me to refer back to when I notice myself being a “less than optimal” teammate.

1. Be Dependable

Well there isn’t much worse than a teammate that doesn’t show up! How are you supposed to accomplish anything if there is a 20% chance your teammate bails last minute.

This is a very highly sought after trait that I look for when choosing teammates.

Here are some ways to be a more dependable teammate:

  1. Learn to say “no” – Don’t commit to something you deep down inside know you don’t want to do. Yes these conversations can be difficult, but long term it’s best for you and the person asking.
  2. Improve on self discipline – Do the small things correct in your daily life. When you do this, your ability to follow through becomes much higher (and you also tend to have a happier personal life even when not working with others).

Next up is…

2. Be Helpful and Supportive

It’s easy to be excited and happy when you are winning. But what about when your team is behind? Good teammates are able to win when ahead. Great teammates are able to pull their team out of the dumpster when bad news continues to fly in.

Here are some ways to be a more helpful teammate:

  1. Understand your teammates better – Some people like to be praised often. Others prefer to not be interrupted as they focus on their task. Figure out what makes those around you be their best.
  2. Remember that your fellow teammates are human – This is something that has helped me a lot. It’s very rare that someone is trying to sabotage your teams success. However, it’s quite common that people make mistakes. We are all human and aren’t perfect. Think about this the next time your team starts to get behind, I think it will help.

Good teammates also…

3. Keep Focused

A great teammate focuses on the team and their own self improvement. “How can I do XYZ better to help the team more?” This is very different from the bad teammate that is quick to blame their partners when something goes wrong.

Here are some ways to be a more focused teammate:

  1. Think about what you have control over – Spend most/all of your energy figuring out what you and your team can do better. Not how good or bad your opponents are doing.
  2. Be a good sport – I’ve had trouble with this one before. It’s easy to lose your temper when things go wrong. Having good sportsmanship and attitude will help you stay focused on your teams’ goals.

A great teammate is also able to…

4. Stay Composed

Composure is very easy to know to do. But can be extremely difficult for some to execute on. Over the years I have found more and more success at staying composed, but I had to work at it very hard.

Here are some ways to help keep composed:

  1. Don’t let your opponents get into your head – It’s extremely difficult to play optimally when you’re unfocused because of something your opponents are doing to upset you.
  2. Take ownership – When you make a mistake, recognize it and own it. Then move on. A great teammate doesn’t constantly blame their partners. Even if you aren’t saying something out loud, it affects your composure and body language is hard to hide.

Another characteristic of a good teammate is to…

5. Become Adaptive and Accommodating (Flexible)

I really struggle with this one. This is something that I plan on focusing on in my upcoming pickleball tournaments. There are (many) times when I have an idea or strategy that I think will work. But it’s not the popular or well known strategy that my teammates want to do.

I’ve seriously lost several friends because of my inability to adapt and be more flexible on teams. I get upset that my team doesn’t want to do my plan and lose my composure. Passive aggressive anger turns into outburst which can lead to failed friendships. That’s no fun and something I’m not happy about. Though it is a great reason for me to try being a better teammate so I don’t make those mistakes again.

Here are some ways to be a more adaptive teammate:

  1. Be willing to play what role the team needs – Be willing to do what the team needs. Which is not always what you want. Now I’m not saying to make yourself miserable, I’m just saying an adaptive teammate is one that is ok with using their skill set to fill in on less enjoyable roles.
  2. Follow the leader – Whether it’s one person calling the shots or a vote between team members making the decision. Execute the game plan that is decided on even when you don’t feel it is the best plan. All team members implementing a mediocre plan tends to do better than a split team half executing an optimal strategy.

Lastly, a good teammate wants to…

6. Be Communicative

Having good communication skills is a highly valuable asset to your team. I believe it’s one of the most underrated characteristics of a good teammate.

Often times individuals get focused and become a bit tunnel visioned working on their part of the teams’ strategy. It’s easy to get lost in your own work and not know the progress your other partners have made. Providing simple updates to your team is huge for maintaining a more cohesive execution of a game plan.

Some team sports require quick communication. When I’m coaching pickleball, I really try to push players to say two words at least. “You!” and “Me!” There are a lot of balls hit in between you and your partner. Communicating with your teammate quickly can help you avoid hitting one another or both watching the ball go by.

Here are some ways to be a more communicative teammate:

  1. Be concise
  2. Voice your opinions – Being adaptive and flexible doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t speak up and give the team your thoughts. A great teammate gives input and is still helpful when the group decides to go a different route.

Those are 6 of the primary characteristics of teammates I love having by my side. Now let’s look at common signs of a good and bad teammate.

3 Signs that You are a Bad Teammate

How do I know if I’m a good teammate or not? Well here are 3 signs of a bad teammate. If you meet 2 or 3 of these, it’s likely that you need to up your teammate skills.

1. Your Teammates Frequently Play Worse than They are Capable of

It’s common for players to have an off game here and there. But if you notice multiple teammates and partners playing worse when they are on your team, then you are the common factor.

A few common reasons your partners will play worse when they are on your team:

  1. They feel you are much weaker than them and they are pressured to take more risky paths to victory.
  2. You are forcing strategies that they are not comfortable with doing.
  3. Communication is lacking within the team
  4. You need to up your “helpful teammate” skills
  5. They sense that you are upset about things that are uncontrollable (see “Composure” above)
  6. You are a bad sport. People tend to shut down around people with negative energy. Being a genuine good sport will help raise the morale of you and those on your team.

Another sign you are a bad teammate is…

2. You’ve Mentally Lost the Game Before it Even Starts

“We can’t beat them.”

These words and attitudes would drive me absolutely bonkers when I played high school basketball. When your team is the obvious underdog it only makes sense that you likely won’t win. But going into the with a defeated mindset only lowers your possibility to pull off the upset.

This is also another reason your teammates may be playing worse than their potential. Having a mindset like this is contagious and makes those around you perform worse.

3. You Feel that You are Better and Above Your Teammates

The classic saying of “You win as a team and you lose as a team” is true. Constantly blaming your partner(s) for the teams lack of execution lowers your chance of success. It also tends to make you perform much worse.

4 Signs that You are a Good Teammate

Now that we know what a bad teammate might experience, let’s see what positive benefits a great teammate can yield.

1. You Get Asked by Much Better Players to Play with Them

This is quite rare even for the best of teammates. But it is really awesome when you get an invite from a player or team that you sense is at a much higher level than you are currently.

Maybe they see potential in your skills. Or possibly they just love having you around. Great teammates with good ability tends to be more in demand than mediocre teammates with great ability.

There are plenty of people that are much better than me at sports that I would never even consider playing alongside them because I know I would be miserable.

2. Your Teammates Frequently Seem to Play Much Better than They Normally do

The exact opposite of what happens when you are a bad teammate. When you are a helpful and flexible person, this tends to lift others up and excel past their baseline (their “normal level” of abilities).

If you constantly hear your teammates saying how well they did, some of that higher level of achievement can be due to those great teammates surrounding them.

3. Teams You are on are Extremely Great at Making Adjustments to Come Back to Win from Behind

An amazing teammate is one that meets the characteristics above and more. When you are able to stay focused and composed when your team is behind, it’s much easier to make that comeback.

When you’re down at halftime and “We can’t win” goes through your head, the percentages of winning plummet. When you’re down at halftime and you ask “How can we win?”, that’s how late game legends are born.

4. You are Constantly Aware that Your Teammates are Fellow Humans

I tend to have high expectations of myself and those close to me. This can lead to frustrating moments when I make mistakes. Or when I notice my teammates making silly mistakes.

The older I get and the better teammate I become, the more I remember that my teammates are humans first. We are all allowed to make mistakes and I it’s rare that someone is messing up solely to sabotage the team. Most often mistakes are due to human error and that’s ok. If we were all perfect then the games would all be even.

A great teammate often remembers that those around them are human and are doing the best they can. This helps with managing expectations and lowering frustrations for when your team does mess up.

Conclusion – Being a Better Teammate Will Help Raise the Success Rate of Your Squad

This post kind of felt odd to write. I sat down a few weeks ago to write down what I thought made a good teammate. I did this after realizing that I had a hard time working well with large groups. I’m not awful at it but I definitely needed to improve.

After writing down some thoughts on what I considered a good teammate, I started practicing them and noticed that I was happier and my team benefited from it as well. When I decided to create this post, I broke those thoughts down into the characteristics listed above.

Hopefully this helps others become better teammates and happier humans overall. I’m getting ready for a couple of big pickleball tournaments over the next two weeks and am going to be focusing on being a better teammate so we have a better chance of winning (and because I know my partners will have more fun because of this.)

Feel free to share traits of a good/bad teammate in the comments below. I’m 32 but still hoping to improve at this aspect of life.

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