Do I wish I had done more as a kid than play sports? Yes, I do. As an adult I’ve learned that I have so many more interests and talents than dribbling a basketball or swinging a bat. But, there are also many, many lessons I learned as an athlete that are applicable in nearly everything I do as an adult.
Even though successful athletes spend hours upon hours honing their individual skills with the intention of being the one the team can count on at the end of a game to hit a clutch free throw(or the equivalent), it is the skill set and the roles of every player on the court that makes the team successful both in a game and throughout a season.
When I was in fifth sixth and seventh grade, I was 5’7”, and pretty much the tallest girl in my grade. As (one of) the tall girls in my grade, I was often just expected to play center, even though my strongest desire was to play a point guard or a shooting guard because I was also a decent ball handler and shooter.
I’m not going to lie here and say that I was one who graciously accepted my role easily. The point guards and the shooting guards, sometimes even the forwards, were way more glamorous than the center, so, I made every effort to take over other people’s roles for my own glory. What I learned over time is that when I took over another teammate’s role and wanted my own glory, the whole team suffered.
You see, each of the five players on a basketball court has a purpose. They are placed on the floor not only by their skill set, but by way the system works and by how their skill set will best benefit the team.
This became more apparent to me as I got a little bit older as many of the girls in my school and in other schools hit their growth spurt and passed me up. I was then put into those “dream” roles I had always wanted, but, over my career, it became evident that the time I spent as a center helped me to understand the function of an offense better than if I had always played point guard or shooting guard.
Not only did I grow to understand the purpose and the function of each offensive player as I was assigned to different positions, but I also grew to understand the rotation and the mindset of each offensive and defensive player. (This still doesn’t mean that I was not a dramatic teenage girl because I was.)
When you understand how things work from every aspect and how things are going to work from every aspect, then you can not only act and react in effective ways, but you can also think outside of the box to create new opportunities.
The workplace is not really something you talk about on the basketball court. I mean, you’re there to play basketball. But I am finding that these same principles are applied to the workplace. In junior high or high school, even if there are try-outs, you just kind of get who you get. But in the workplace it is different. Each employer is selective about who they bring on their team based on the skill set they need to fulfill each role.
Sometimes, people get to apply for or be a part of a team where they have always dreamed of working, but other times people just have to take the job or role they get. Regardless of where any employee is on the team, if the members of the team do not understand their specific role and the roles of the other players for the common goal, then it’s hard to get things accomplished.
I took these lessons into my coaching career. To be a coach, to be a leader, you have to have a vision, you have to know the strengths and weaknesses of all your parts and you have to know how all the parts work together for the common goal. If I hadn’t understood (and if I hadn’t played) the point guard, the shooting guard, the small forward, the forward and the center, then I wouldn’t have been able to teach my players how to do their job, how to fill their role on the court.
The same applies to business owners, managers and leaders today. If I, as a business owner, don’t know how to write, take pictures, sell ads, make a presentation, use social media, write invoices, then how can I help guide my employees or clients to do those tasks themselves? Does that mean that I have to actually do all those parts? Does a basketball coach actually have to had played all the positions to have an effective team? No. But, that coach must understand the system and how all the parts work together in order to run an effective program towards a common goal.
What I loved about being on a team is that there weren’t many secret meanings or agendas. When you’re on the basketball court, you listen to all the instruction, all the praise, all the criticism because you’re in an open space. But through that, you learn about the vision, you learn about the process and you learn about how one player’s role, strength and weaknesses will affect the team. You understand where your teammate is going to shine. And more importantly, you understand how to let them shine because everyone is on the same team.
This may seem like common sense to everyone, but just as when you’re teaching a bunch of teenage kids, it doesn’t always work this way.
When everyone from the coach (owner or manager) to the players (staff) understand the roles of all the parts and fulfill their job for the greater good of the team, magic happens. Today, I know that my attitude was often a hindrance to the team. But I can apply these lessons to the workplace as both a business owner and an employee.