When my father was playing baseball and softball when I was a youngster, not only did I admire his playing ability but later in life I picked up on something he always said when he was playing. If a teammate made an error or a mistake on the bases, my Dad would say, "My fault, it's my fault Babe." I always wondered why he would admit to a mistake when it clearly wasn't his. As I grew older I began to understand why. He was being a good teammate. He was taking responsibility for that error so he could try to take the pressure off his teammate.
Did it work? I always thought it did because it made that teammate focus on making the next play and then the next one, knowing full well that either way his buddies on the team were behind him.
That made him a better coach in his later years and made me a better coach when it was my turn. Though I used different terminology the point was always the same - stay focused on the game and we're behind you 100 percent.
Too many times these days I hear kids blaming their teammates for making errors or even blaming them for their own mistakes. That is just wrong. I really don't know where accountability went out the window but somewhere along the way, it did and being a good teammate went with it.
You don't have to be a big "rah rah" guy to be a good teammate, though there is certainly nothing wrong with that. For instance, when a teammate strikes out with the bases loaded, just pat him on the shoulder and say, "We'll get 'em next time." To me, that's the same thing as saying, "It's my fault." You are supporting a teammate when they feel bad about failing when the game was on the line. After all in baseball at the plate, even good players will fail two-thirds of the time.
It's the same in any sport. If a football player fumbles a punt, let him know you're still behind him. He probably feels badly enough and doesn't need the extra admonishment because of his mistake.
I'm not talking about a widespread problem here. There are still great examples of being a good teammate, although we may not see them as much as we see the bad examples. Kids are impressionable. And keep in mind they're still learning the game and how to play it. On the great Mickey Mantle's plaque in Yankee Stadium, it says he was "A great teammate." It says very little about his stats or the kind of player he was, but it specifies the fact that he supported his teammates each and every season.
Sports is a wonderful way to build leaders for our society and being a good teammate is a great way to start.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com