I Don't Think I'm a Good Team Player

February 28, 2021


We were at NEB's Fun World in Oshawa in 2015 for the Open Nationals. Jim Linnen had agreed to coach us for the week. Scores were down 15-20 pins across the board as most of us were struggling with the scoring conditions, even with the pins only 17 inches apart.

I was not bowling well. My strike rate went in the toilet early on. Frustration mounted. I bowled only three decent games in the first two days. I actually remember enjoying winning four of our first five matches, but once the team started losing, I started really feeling like I was letting everyone down. I was the anchor, after all.

Jim even told me at one point, "You're my high-average bowler. I need you to act like it." I felt that he was pushing me to connect with my own confidence, not blaming me. But frankly, I didn't know how to do that. I was struggling to regain my confidence. And then I did the thing that leads me to believe that I'm just not a particularly good team player: I retreated into my own performance.

I didn't entirely disappear. I tried to support my teammates. I was up front cheering them on. Early in the tournament I was trying to stay positive for them. I was offering them little bits of advice, telling them what I was seeing in their mechanics, encouraging them to talk more positively to themselves, giving them a shoulder to cry on or yell at. But at some point, sometime on the second day, I realized that I was just going through the motions. Really, I had retreated into my own performance in a desperate attempt to contribute more to the team. I thought maybe that I was trying too hard to help them as a way to deflect responsibility for my own performance. I figured that it was "the right thing" to look inward and fix whatever had broken.

And maybe that's not what they needed from me, but Jim's words were ringing in my ears. (I'm not blaming Jim. I just explaining what I was thinking and why I did what I did.) I concluded that I would help the team the most by getting my shit together, so I started trying to be relentlessly positive with myself. I remember it distinctly: rocking side to side on my feet gently, breathing deeply, looking down to focus my gaze softly on a single speck on the floor, using all the tricks that I knew at the time to stay calm and in the present moment. I don't know how well it worked. I just know that as I did this, I was almost certainly withdrawing from the team. I don't remember how much I was still cheering them on, how positive I was encouraging them to be, how much I was trying to help them by spotting easy things for them to try to fix. I just remember rocking side to side on my feet, trying hard to get out of my own way, to perform better, and to be the high-average bowler on the team in order to help them to victory.

You see? I actually typed "...to lead them to victory" the first time, then erased it, as though I were ashamed to admit it. Yes. I wanted to lead the team to victory. And in retrospect, I think I cared more about leading the team to victory than I cared about winning.

And that's why I'm writing this now.

I wanted to lead this team more than I wanted to be on this team. The reasons are varied and complex and some of them are sensitive, so I don't feel comfortable writing about them in this space, at least not yet. I have been on a great team once in my life, oddly enough in a recreational three-pitch softball league from my days working at IBM in Toronto. I have had the high-trust experience of being on a great team, even though we never won a championship. (We went from laughing stocks to three-time finalists in seven years.) I have felt what it's like to throw the ball from third base without looking and to know that the first-baseman would be there to make the play. (And he did. I can still see it in my mind's eye.) It wasn't perfect, but it was magical. I've never had that experience again with any team, not in sports, not at my job, never.

When it comes to these Open teams since 2013, I simply haven't done what I need to do to be a better team player. And I'm not sure that I will. And that's more than a little painful to admit.

While I think I've made some strides in improving my personal performance and I think that will help me contribute more to the performance of the group, I don't know what will need to happen for me to become a better team player. Or maybe I know what needs to happen and I don't think it will happen.

In the meantime, I'll be over here, practising, working hard to improve, and reflecting on what it means to be a better team player. I guess I have a choice to make.



Tell me now!