A Team Player? How Does THAT Happen?


Having a “team player” attitude is what most work organizations want and obviously what sports coaches want.  After doing this sports parenting thing for over a decade and deciding to grow up personally and actually have a career and not just a job has led me to the conclusion that I probably am not the best role model for a team player.  As a person who has always been drawn to Sociology and who teaches it, dealing with groups is difficult, because the idea is that we study them; obviously.  When we are part of them (whatever group) terms like “group-think” and “norms”, and “social control” are always there.  More disturbing is the reminder of Zimbardo’s study or the Milgram experiment; i.e. our human capability to just “go along” and become Nazis.  Absolute obedience is something to be feared, maybe not all Sociologists feel this way, but I do….
I remember my first Sociology course and the only college course, where there was a “bell curve”…actually there was no bell curve, because I kept getting 100% on tests  therefore taking away the curve and also giving the Professor an experiment to work with.  He told the entire class what grade they MIGHT have gotten had I not gotten that 100%, yes he used my name so everyone knew who was to blame.  He referenced the “prisoner’s dilemma” in this case and I understood I could either continue doing well or do less well for the good of the rest of the class.  I chose to continue acing tests, because I am competitive and what I found pointless to do in sports (after the time I broke a 3rd baseman’s leg sliding into the base and realizing that even though I did exactly what I was supposed to do to get on base, leg-breaking was not the best skill to hone unless I joined a mafia), I did however find the competitive spirit in getting better grades than others.  Actually, knowing how to run fast and slide did turn into a good skill set when I had to run from a certain classmate, who decided that I was the reason she would fail the Sociology “bell curve” class since I continued to get 100%.
The valuable lesson I learned too is that the class became split, between those who were passing and admired me and those who were failing and hated me.  I could deal with both those things.  Is it better to be loved or feared?- that question has never really been answered, but if you want to be a team-player, you better be loved instead.  You sometimes have to downplay your abilities and you can’t go around breaking your teammates legs (did I mention this was in a scrimmage game Varsity V. Reserves and not against a rival team?)- even if I used perfect form when I slid into base and did just what my dad told me and my brother to do in baseball/softball and obviously he knew what he was talking about since my brother’s picture hangs on the wall at the High School for being a superstar player.  My dad and his dad were also Letterman in sports and evidently so was my uncle until he ran away to New York and finally Florida where he currently lives under an overpass.  My cousin though from the same side of the family is also on the wall of fame for wrestling.  I have obviously surmised that genetics play a big part in this too.  It is split between wondering who will become homeless and live under a bridge in Tampa or who will be a superstar in life.
So having three boys is not some misguided Feminist attempt to allow myself to live vicariously through them in all the things I could not to (or at least play with teammates with sturdier legs) or to prove that a single mom can guide kids just as well as a father could do – well I am competitive, so I do want to prove I can at least teach them some things.  Teaching them to be team players has proven the hardest.  I made that mistake with my oldest, but granted I was still in Graduate School when he started sports and being a younger parent and being confused as my oldest son’s sister led me to begin randomly yelling things out, because no one’s sister actually cares enough to do so.  More education in Sociology and my fear that if my son just went along” with everything, he could become a Nazi, led me to even more sideline yelling and coach confrontations.  That fact that he is an “all about me” teen at this point, should be no surprise, but he should do alright, considering his father owns a business and business-owners don’t have to be team players anyway.
Enter in the middle kid and my sudden understanding that people with grown children, no children, or men did better in their careers, because they had the time to put into them…basically work was their life.  The “women can have it all” myth was shattered and I dealt with it by appointing myself the boss of absolutely everything I was doing, including “coaching” kid 2.  Unlike kid 1, who I put upon a pedestal (and he was a good athlete), kid 2 was not put upon the same pedestal, instead I became obsessed with things like his technique or even worse his coaches choices for plays.  There were times I flat-out told coaches that he would not do “x” play, because “x” play was not working and even hand out a PDF of what plays would work better.  Inadvertently he has become a team player, since his teammates and coaches were obviously more normal than I was at the time and they were an escape from my insanity.  It is also important to mention that this son is from a second and also short marriage and his father also ended up in Florida.  I once thought after not hearing from him in years that he was in the Witness Protection Program, but then he popped up on Facebook and I had to tell kids 2 and 3 that he was not in fact working to build homes for orphans in Africa, but he was in Florida and….changed the subject.  So kid 2 cares about his coaches even more because they are father figures and at least is no longer jealous of those imaginary orphans with new imaginary homes, which is ridiculous anyway.
Kid 3 came as a surprise from the second he was born, firstly I was advised that I was now the parent of a redhead (how is this genetically possible?), secondly the moment I held him, he had a deathgrip on my finger from which I had to literally peel his tiny fingers away to give him to the nurse thinking this one will be the football player and not ever changing my mind because thirdly, he was not a natural athlete at every sport he played (how is this genetically possible?), but the first time he ever got to tackle a kid, it looked like he had been doing it for years.  Therefore, kid 3 became about intensity.  I was at a point in my life where Recession and the knowledge that my CV just-sucked- made it easy to want to give up. I also realized that I was such a competitive student that I actually married “case studies” to have something to do outside of school, because just being married for the sake of being married never actually made any sense to me.  Of course, I can say that my kids are all legitimate and that was important, I suppose.  So, I watched motivational videos and began being a huge Ray Lewis fan (wondering what sorts of things I might have learned from him if I would have picked better case studies).  I didn’t try to overanalyze every thing with kid 3 or put him up on a pedestal, but instead saw that his lack of fear and genetically unexplainable toughness and the rest made him into a natural leader.  Every team needs one, but a leader is still a good team player…because they care enough about their teammates to bring out the best in them by example and from a parenting aspect; quite by accident.  I also realized that as long as they didn’t end up in Florida (which I always say with the same unsubtle distaste as I do when I say “Nazi” or “soccer”) then it can’t be THAT bad.
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