Ingredients of a Successful Team: Players, Part Three

By: Captain Myles A. Alexander, USAF - December 18, 2013

-To the Players-

Miguel CabreraI was once right where you are today. You want to be recognized for your accomplishments and talent. You must first ask yourself what level of commitment you are willing to put forth. Do you want to be on this team for selfish reasons or do you want to work together to achieve a goal. Are you willing to do anything for all your teammates or to pick and choose who warrants your attention? A true teammate is one who will care about ALL of his teammates that have endured the same challenges together and prevailed together.

Remember the Titans?

Do you think that college coaches and Pro scouts don’t ask this question about a player? They want to know if you only care about yourself. They want to know if you are an arrogant jerk off the field. They want to know how you are in the classroom. They are about to invest in you and they don’t make that decision lightly. You will be spending a lot of time together and coaches don’t need any extra headaches.

I recall bus trips in college where my Hispanic teammates would help me with Spanish. Another teammate that was good at math would help who he could. I would help others write English papers. We would play cards and pick at one another like brothers do. Those are the moments that I remember just as much as our on field accomplishments. It’s a lifestyle and a closeness not unlike the military.

Coaches will not invite you into that world if they perceive any red flags about you. A selfless teammate will put the needs of his buddies ahead of himself and always have their back. In the military we call that “I got your six.” The term originated in WWII when Wingmen Pilots would always fly in pairs and keep an eye on each other’s six o’clock position which was the blind spot directly behind them. In case you never noticed, airplanes don’t have rear view mirrors.

We have the privilege and challenge while on Deployments to Afghanistan to live, eat, sleep, work and fight together. Nothing builds cohesion better than the feeling of “we’re all in this together” so we better work together. If any one member gets out of line, it’s the team’s responsibility to pull them back in line with the goal at hand. It shouldn’t be your coach that has to perform that task. That is called Self-Policing and that’s when you know you are “clicking.” When peers take on that responsibility, it’s much more effective and you will see cohesion and camaraderie develop before your very eyes. When your teammate fails to get the runner over or commits an error it’s the team’s responsibility to “have their six”, and pick them up.

Take the 2013 Red Sox. Their motto was “Find A Way.” This is a team that lost almost 100 games last year. It would have been so easy for them to set a goal of just being a .500 team this year. And for many, that would have been considered a great improvement and a successful rebuilding year.

But for players such as Dustin Pedroia, mediocrity is unacceptable. He doesn’t do what he does for money. He does it out of loyalty to the team that gave him a shot. He does it to be the best teammate he can be and to help his team win the World Series EVERY YEAR!...Regardless of what last year’s record was. He prepares himself to be the best HE can be, thus challenging everyone around him to do the same. He wasn’t blessed with all the physical qualities of a major leaguer. He is only 5’6”! But he has the most important attribute of all…Commitment. He, better than anyone I have ever seen, willed his way to where he is today through tough determination and self-confidence. Dustin Pedroia is the epitome of Hustle. He is cut out of the same mold as Pete Rose, Jackie Robinson and Ty Cobb. If you don’t remember anything else I tell you remember this…Hustle shows up every day! GET DIRTY!

So, the Red Sox started growing ugly nappy beards during spring training way back in March. Why?  Because they had a goal and a vision and wanted to show an outward expression to everyone else of what they felt for one another - A show of Unity.

The things we don’t get to see like the locker room time, the meals together or the road trips and plane rides are all experiences that those guys cherished as much as game time itself. I guarantee you that when it was all over, as happy as they were to win a ring, they were filled with bittersweet emotions about leaving their brothers and going their separate ways for the winter.

This feeling is not unlike when we go on deployment to war and spend every moment together for months on end. We form a bond.

Does that mean we don’t fuss and fight? Of course not!

Sometimes we want to punch each other. Sometimes we do! But you know what? No outsider better pick a fight with one of us or they’ll have all of us to contend with! And that goes for our own allies, (especially those darn Canadians) not just the enemy! But when it comes time to leave the war zone it is a bittersweet emotion knowing that you are finally returning home to your family, loved ones and safety.  But at the same time, you are leaving this close knit kinship with your brothers in arms. What you think could never seem normal (living under hostile fire) does, in fact, become your life for so long that it becomes your “normal” reality. Only you and the ones you shared that experience with will have that unspoken understanding between brothers that no outsider will ever understand.

Now, although being in war and playing baseball are very different circumstances,  that camaraderie is a feeling I hope you have the opportunity to experience at some point in your life and with your team…but it all starts with selfless commitment to each other and to the ultimate goal.

Myles Alexander Capt USAFAbout the author: Myles Alexander is a former outfielder at The College of Charleston, has worked various Diamond Prospects events and has covered games for DP too. He is presently a Captain in the United States Air Force and has served one tour in Afganistan.