While we don’t teach answering a question with a question, the very broad question of whether you are a good teammate could also be considered through the lens of a more narrow set of questions that can be asked in the mirror.
Since 1986, Babson University head coach Jamie Rice has been an integral part of a college hockey team – four years as a player at Babson, followed by assistant coaching roles at Colby, Dartmouth, Brown and Northeastern before taking over behind the bench at his alma mater for every season since 2004-05. Add in a handful off coaching posts with USA Hockey, coaching youth hockey and his own kids, and Rice has seen an awful lot of hockey over the past 30-plus years.
Photo provided by Silver Peak Studios
And while the game has changed, as have the players over the generations, being a good teammate doesn’t really ever get old. In fact, those good teammates may have a lot to do with Rice coming back, year-after-year, to the sport he loves.
At the risk of answering that question with a question, Rice notes that it starts with accountability.
“Are you doing the things that you should do? Are you doing the things that are right? Are you setting the example that others are expected to uphold?,” he says. “Too often, people think about being a good teammate as patting someone on the back after a bad game. And I think it really it starts at the core of who you are. When you’re brushing your teeth and looking in the mirror, are you looking at someone who has done the right things himself or herself. I think that’s the first step in being a good teammate.”
Accountability, in and of itself, could be an entire bit of study for a young player who is evolving both on and off the ice.
“Being accountable and being present, being on the path of your own pursuit of personal excellence in everything you attempt,” Rice says of accountability goals. “If you are doing that, then you are showing your teammates that it is important to you – that you care – and that you’re invested.”
Rice notes there may also be a dichotomy in the pursuit of becoming or being a great teammate in that it includes an internal selfishness to want to be the best player you can be, but an external selflessness to be concerned with the greater good.
“Humility, I think, plays a large part in being a good teammate,” says Rice, who grew up in Newton. “It’s really a challenge for many kids to develop humility when they’re uber-talented. But the playing field levels out for everybody at some point – except for the Michael Jordans and Kobe Bryants and Big Papis and Tom Bradys of the world. I think at the root of being a good teammate and the selfishness of doing everything right is a real good sense of humility. And I think it’s hard when you’re 8-years-old, or 10 or 12 or 14 because you don’t really know how to identify that yet.”
So, how might a young player add those elements to their games?
A few more questions may be in order.
If you’re a good teammate, what are you thinking about on the bench?
While time on the ice can be a lot of reading and reacting for older players, it can be a kaleidoscope of thoughts that are hard to even square away for younger players who are just learning the game. Being on the bench can be a good time to take it all in – and let the brain go to work.
“What do I have to do when I have to go?,” says Rice of a good foundation for internal dialogue of a good teammate. “I’m trying to watch the game and understand what’s unfolding, the trends and patterns. As a player on the bench, you can almost anticipate something good, or you lean forward on the bench and you get excited about it. The potential for optimism in hockey, because of the speed and transitory nature, are incredible. And it can be a wild swing. Almost every shift is a wild swing of good and bad. And, probably, part of being a good teammate is being somewhat even-keeled because it’s either going to go with you or against you a lot in any given game.”
What is a dressing room full of good teammates like?
Rice loves a loud locker room. Though he may admittedly prefer the music a little lower, is a certain charm to cacophony.
“It’s lively,” Rice says. “It has a lot of banter. It has a lot of conversational. It’s an open place and it’s a safe place. And it’s a place where you can really be yourself, flaws and all, and bear them every moment. But I think it’s loud, and there’s talk, and there are players giving it to each other and there are players supporting each other. The locker room such a sacred space. It’s completely open and very accepting. And I think the acceptance allows for more communication. There’s constant noise and you might not even understand at all. You can just hear the conversations going on. The more noise there is, it’s probably a closer team.”
On the ice, what is it a good teammate doing?
At its core, the game of hockey is fairly straightforward. Two teams are trying to take one puck, generally possessed by one player at a time, in opposite directions.
“We talk about all the time at Babson, and I try to talk about it with my daughter, it’s either you have the puck and you’re thinking about what to do with it, or you do not have the puck,” says Rice. “And, when they have the puck, you’re either defending the person who has it or you’re not. When your team has the puck, either you have it or one of your teammates does. So I think you’re constantly looking for and thinking about, ‘What play can I make when I have it?’ When I don’t have it, it’s ‘How can I help us make a play?’ When the other team has it, I’m thinking about trying to get it back or, ‘Hey, my team is trying to get it back, and what will I do if my teammate doesn’t get it,’ or what am I going to do if he or she does?”
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How does a good teammate treat mistakes?
Watching a game, a parent, or, depending on their familiarity with what a coach is asking of his or her players, even a talent evaluator, may not know whether a player has made a mistake. Coaches know. Particularly at the more advanced stages, a player usually knows. And their teammates often know. It’s how everyone handles the mistake that makes for good teammates.
“It’s hard for people to be a good teammate of somebody who is really negative if a mistake leads to him slamming a stick or her screaming out loud and cursing,” says Rice. “To be a good teammate, you have to understand that it’s a game of mistakes. The other team wants you to make mistakes and sometimes forces you to make those mistakes. So, they’re going to happen.”
Rice considers frustration to be a wasted emotion.
“It gets you nowhere,” he says. “It increases the likelihood that you will carry things over. The best way we talk about it at Babson, and I do talk about it with my own kids this way, is that you can either look at it like it isn’t fair or that it is a challenge. Looking at things as a challenge puts you in a positive framework mentally. The good player says, ‘This is hard, but I’m going to find a way to conquer this. I’m going to find a way to succeed.”
How does a good teammate treat practice?
Ask 100 players how they feel about an ideal practice and you may get 100 answers. But a good teammate is looking to get better.
“The environment needs to be fun,” says Rice. “But there’s a seriousness that anybody needs to approach it with to succeed. You can be serious and have fun, and you can be serious about your development and have fun. It can still be difficult and enjoyable. I think most of us we like to be challenged a little bit. Somewhere in our human DNA is the thought that if I rode a bike five feet and wobbled, can I ride it 10 or 15 or 20? A good teammate in practice, maybe not at 8 or 9 or 10, but 12 or 14 or 16, can you be a little bit better today?
Photo by Nicole Yandon Photography
How does a good teammate treat their coaches?
Coaches, like parents and coworkers and teammates and strangers, are people.
“I think good teammates treat everybody the same – the coaches, the bus driver, the person who makes the ice and the person who sweeps the barrels and the parents,” Rice says. “Humility again comes into it. A good teammate usually treats everybody really well. I’ve never run it across a great teammate who they haven’t said about them, ‘That’s a great kid.’ I think that the really great teammates, they treat everybody well. And it just carries over naturally so they treat their coaches well.”
How does a good teammate treat a win or a loss?
While wins and losses are treated as a team statistic, players are going to handle those differently, and that’s OK by Rice.
“Some people are really good, and they’re just kind of OK, that’s done with and I have to move forward and how can I get better?,” he says. “When my whole family is home, I have five people in the house and we all load the dishwasher differently. As long as everything gets cleaned, it’s great. In the big picture, part of being a great teammate is that not everybody does everything exactly the same way. The person who wants to be serious can be serious. The person who wants to joke can joke. And the person who wants to be upbeat can be upbeat. Great teammates come from teams that are loud, with talking, with banter, and there’s somebody who is really loud and somebody who is really quiet. If we were all the same, that would be boring.”