What an excellent teammate looks like

by Jeff Smith

"Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates."

NBA Hall of Fame basketball player Magic Johnson's twist on the famous John F. Kennedy quote serves as a tremendous summary of what an excellent teammate looks like.


I personally saw an excellent teammate in action last spring at the Diggin' in the Dells tournament. The team I was coaching went to Wisconsin Dells shorthanded. Our two starting outside hitters and team leaders in kills were unable to play; one had another sports commitment, while the other, Maya, severely sprained her ankle a week before Diggin' in the Dells during the grass court tournament at Serve City's end-of-season banquet. (That grass court idea certainly didn't pan out for my team's fortunes!)

After Maya and her parents got the news that she would be sidelined, I assumed they wouldn't make the three-hour trek to the tournament for obvious reasons. But they would have none of that, bringing their entire family to the Dells, including one set of grandparents. As her teammates began warming up for their first match of the weekend, Maya hobbled over to the court, crutches in hand, and took a seat on the team bench.

"Let's go, girls!" she shouted after sitting down.

Even though she had to feel crushed to be stuck on the sidelines for the team's biggest tournament of the season, Maya shoved aside her dejection and showed no outward signs of disappointment on her face or in her body language, focusing her attention on how she could support the other players. In fact, as I headed over to the bench to grab my clipboard, Maya asked if she could help me keep stats. I handed her a stat sheet and pen, and she dutifully tracked stats throughout the next two days. Between sets, Maya talked to the team while I turned in the lineup sheet to the score table, and no one cheered harder during each of our matches.

When the team claimed first place in our pool and then won our crossover match to advance to the gold bracket, the first player to hop off the bench after match point and congratulate the other players on the court was, surprisingly, Maya, crutches in tow. She didn't pout or feel sorry for herself. Instead, she celebrated her team's achievement as if she had played a pivotal role.

Truth be told, through her presence, encouragement and enthusiasm, she really did play a pivotal role.

That's what an excellent teammate looks like:

  • Putting the team's needs ahead of your own
  • Celebrating others' success as if it's your own -- because, when one player succeeds, the whole team succeeds
  • Supporting your teammates whether you're on the court or on the bench
  • Serving your team however you can with whatever you have to offer at the time
  • Giving your teammates your best effort, even when limited by injury
  • Being fully present and wholly engaged at each practice and match
  • Encouraging your teammates through your words, actions and attitudes
  • Displaying consistent enthusiasm, even when your personal circumstances are difficult

How can you be an excellent teammate this week? This season?

Jeff Smith is Serve City's girls club director.