My Athletic Nirvana Smells Like Team Spirit


“Team spirit means losing oneself in the group for the good of the group.  It means being not just willing but eager to sacrifice personal interest or glory for the welfare of all.”—John Wooden

Team spirit.  It’s a tough one to define, but as has been said about other things…I know it when I see it.  Here are three different ways that we can teach team spirit within our teams.

3 different ways to define team spirit

1.      Willingness to cooperate as part of a team. I’m sure we all know the coach who is willing to turn the other way when she sees poor behavior from one of her players.  She looks the other way because that player is really good and the team would lose without her.  I’d caution that coach to reevaluate her personal coaching goals, because I’d hope that having the respect of her team is high on that list.  Players can smell BS and hypocrisy a mile away, that’s why I believe that we’ve got to be team first coaches.  Team first, you second, me third.  If each person on the team has that kind of attitude, success is sure to follow!

2.      The essence of a group that makes the members want the group to succeed. This definition implies a collective belief that the whole is better and will be more successful than the parts.  It’s also an acknowledgement that there are different levels of skill within each player.  In addition, this definition recognizes that those with higher level skills will represent the group in competition…but that those with lesser skills have a well-defined role within the team.  Though a smaller group will represent the whole…there will be no success without each team member having a legitimate role on the team that is valued.

3.      Willingness to sacrifice personal considerations for the welfare of all. I often sit down with my teams to make sure they understand what happens on game day, because everyone sacrifices.  I want my non-starters to understand that the starters will make infinitely more mistakes in front of their friends, families, and professors by virtue of their being on the court more.  I want those same non-starters to understand that there is a burden to be borne by those starters: wins and losses are perceived to be squarely on their backs.  The starters’ challenge is to represent our team.

On the flip side, I want my starters to understand that their non-starting teammates put just as much time, sweat, and energy into the team…without the “glory” of getting to put on a show.  Starters need to appreciate the non-starters’ willingness to get them ready for competition behind the scenes.  If both sides can respect each other’s sacrifices, then the team spirit of our team will undoubtedly be great.

We all want team players on our teams, but it’s tough to define.  Hopefully this has given you a more solid idea of what it means.

P.S.  I’m hoping you got my wordsmithery (yes, I made up that word) in the title.  Fabulous song, check out the video for some old school goodness.

Join me in a series discussing John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.  I believe his Pyramid can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, how we behave as professionals, and to our lives in general.  This series will cover Self-Control, Alertness, Initiative, Intentness, Condition, Skill, Team Spirit, Poise, and Confidence.