Some years ago, my oldest daughter joined a club volleyball team. I was thrust into a world where I was expected to know what things like “pancakes,” “serves,” “aces,” and “spikes” were. Along with the sudden new vocabulary, I gleaned some unexpected lessons from watching the girls both on and off the court. Who knew you could learn so much from a group of 12-year-olds playing volleyball? And who knew those lessons would apply to our teams at work?

1. Play your position.

Having friends is nice. Before practice, the volleyball girls chatted and laughed just as you would expect a gaggle of 12-year-olds to do. However, when practice began, the entire dynamic changed. The girls laser-focused in on their tasks and truly worked hard to improve. The cold hard truth is this: having friends at work will only sustain you for so long. If you suck at serving or the ball lands at your feet every time, no one will want you on the team for very long—regardless of how cute or fun you are. Everyone has a role to play and if you can’t set the ball when needed, the entire team suffers. Choose to be excellent at what you do, and recognize when you need help to improve doing it.

2. Show support.

Everyone screws up; that’s life. Strong teams know this and they support you when the ballor your facegoes sailing into the net. Having a team to catch you when you fall feels much better than landing on the court.

3. Call the ball.

Strong teams communicate. The ball comes over the net and three players lunge for the ball. Who knows where the ball will go? Keep your team in the loop with your intention. When communication fails, everyone is more likely to get a concussion—metaphorically, of course. Call it out.

4. Let them play it.

When things go right and someone calls the ball, trust them to deliver. Trust goes a long way in a team setting. If someone calls the ball and you go for it anyway, chances for success decrease—and likelihood of that metaphorical concussion increases. Everyone deserves a chance to be the Player of the Game. But remember, sometimes things happen in the heat of the moment, regardless of intention. If your teammate calls the ball and misses, see lesson number two above.

5. Learn everyone’s position.

On a team, each player has a place and a purpose, with a unique set of skills and duties to perform. The team needs all the players to succeed. A team full of setters is just a game of “the floor is lava,” right? To truly understand how your team functions as a unit, it’s crucial to truly understand everyone’s position well enough to play it. But remember, just because you can play it, doesn’t mean you should or will. If you get the impulse to play someone else’s position, see lesson number four.

6. No excuses!

This is one we too often forget. No matter what happens, failure isn’t “someone else’s” fault. Take responsibility. Winners stand up, brush themselves off, and move forward, taking care to learn from their past mistakes.

7. Sometimes you get screwed.

Today the referee made a bad call. The ball was in. Game point. We lost. Shit happens. This is where lesson number six comes in. You won’t always win and it won’t always be glamorous. Sometimes, things are out of our control. Focus on what you’ll do differently next time. Strong teams regroup and win.

8. SWAG.

This part is the most fun. The uniform is only the beginning. There’s also the backpack. The ball. Practice uniforms. Special socks. Hair ties. The list goes on. Everybody feels like they are a part of something together. A real team doesn’t just consist of a group of individuals—two crucial ingredients are purpose and pride.  Build your brand. And hey, maybe brew and share some Kool-Aid too.

9. Keep your eye on the ball.

Always, always, always, keep your eye on the ball. Enough said.


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