Being the new player on a team is hard. But, first impressions on a team are important. From the first handshake, a team’s direction is decided. From the first eye contact, a team’s mentality emerges. From the first team meeting, a team’s character forms. All of this happens before a single ball is kicked.
Team-building is an on-going process, but the importance of first impressions is often overlooked. I have been a part of teams that believed becoming a team takes time. I agree with this in principle. But often, players just wait for team chemistry to happen. When in fact, all it takes is one person to initiate the start of team cohesion.
I remember seeing a teammate taking the initiative on my first Premier Development League (PDL) team, the Baton Rouge Capitals.
A Learning Experience
I was 15 years old in an old-white-paneled locker room. I sat on a wooden stool with bent legs that felt like they would collapse any second. A chalkboard, which belonged in a second grade classroom, hung on the wall displaying our tactics for the first game. This was the first time our team was all together. It was obvious. Not a word was being spoken. Only the shuffling of shin guards and clanking of cleats on the floor could be heard. There was a sense of uneasiness in the air.
Lapira, on the left, poses with the MAC Herman Trophy. Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.
Until, one player walked in. Joseph Lapira walked in and changed everything. Lapira, a Notre Dame forward, had just won the MAC Hermann trophy, which is awarded to the top college player. His hair was long and uncombed. He was average in height but had a presence that everyone felt when he entered the room.
Our unsettled team waited to see what Lapira would do. He did something we were all thinking but didn’t have the confidence to do. One at a time, he looked each of us in the eye, shook our hands and introduced himself. Now, the tension in the locker room was replaced with team-belief. We were more comfortable and began chatting it up.
One player entered the room and completely changed the team dynamic. As a young player, I learned from Lapira that one player can take the initiative to start building a team’s chemistry.
Team chemistry is built on trust, commitment and hard work. These are all established from first impressions. A player can initiate team cohesion by: establishing eye contact, remembering new names and admiring soccer heroes.
Eye contact builds a connection among teammates. A connection that translates from relationships off the field to relationships on the field. Positive relationships on the field results in team achieving their goals. Simple eye contact triggers positive beginnings for a team.
Lapira valued eye contact. He never broke eye contact when talking with a teammate. This demonstrated his sincerity in building relationships with each of us. Lapira was key to our team’s success that season. Not only with the goals he scored, but the way he brought our team closer together.
Eye contact is awkward for some people. I used to feel the same way. However, Lapira made me realize the importance of eye contact. From that point on, I strived to make eye contact a part of my persona. I gave myself confidence to maintain eye contact by reminding myself daily about the positive effects Lapira’s eye contact had on our team. One situation at a time, I made eye contact a normal thing.
I have found that eye contact has made teammates more comfortable with me. They know that I am paying attention to them and have a genuine interest in what they are saying. Eye contact has helped me initiate team chemistry.
A start to positive team chemistry begins with remembering your teammates’ names after hearing them once. A soccer team consists from anywhere between 18 to 24 players. That is a lot of new names to remember; however, the importance of learning names quickly can’t be overstated.
Entering a new team, each player must make an effort to learn names quickly. Remembering someone’s name seems like a no brainer, but I have been on many teams where this process takes too long to happen. Not only is it embarrassing not remembering a teammate’s name, it can damage player-to-player relationships. It shows a lack of sincerity toward a teammate. More importantly, it shows a lack of sincerity toward the team as a whole.
The damaging effects of not knowing a teammate’s name transfers to the field. On-field communication happens in a matter of seconds. You must be clear, concise and constructive in those few seconds. If you don’t know a teammate’s name this communication process fails. How would your teammate even know you were talking to him or her? He or she wouldn’t.
Once again, Lapira inspired our team’s cohesion by remembering everyone’s name after only hearing it once. I was amazed by this. He simply cared about getting to know each of us. He showed his teammates respect by remembering a name the first time he heard it. The respect showed on the field too as he was the leading goal scorer on our team. But, how could he remember all the names so quickly?
I don’t know Lapira’s way of remembering names, but I have found a way that helps me. When I meet a new teammate, I immediately introduce myself. After he introduces himself, I immediately pause. I take that pause to repeat the name three times to myself. This allows me to associate his name with his face. I then continue the conversation to learn more about him. Taking the time to pause and repeat has helped me learn new names quicker.
Lapira demonstrated how learning new teammates’ names quickly forges team building. I saw the importance in learning names quickly, so I found a way to help me make it easier. All players must find a way that works for them to learn new names. Although often overlooked, remembering names is the start to positive team building.
Admiring Soccer Heroes
A great way to become closer with new teammates is by admiring their soccer heroes. We all have players that we admire and emulate in our own play. The players we look up to show how we view soccer. A player who admires Roy Keane, a defensive midfielder for Manchester United from 1993 to 2005, clearly shows an appreciation to toughness and the defensive side of the game. While a player who admires Cristiano Ronaldo, a forward for Real Madrid, values creativity and the attacking side of the game.
By finding out whom your teammates admire, you can pick up on their style of play before ever playing with them. You can adjust your game to blend with each of your teammate’s styles. This contributes to quicker team unity on the field.
Even if you don’t like one of your teammate’s heroes, you can still strengthen the relationship by respecting their heroes. This is a quick way of getting to know your teammates.
Lapira did not straight up ask me about my soccer heroes. Rather, he figured them out by just talking soccer with me. We just met and knew nothing about each other. But, we did have the common bond of soccer. He used casual soccer conversation to build a deeper connection with not only me but the whole team.
By Lapira taking the time to find out about my soccer heroes, he strengthened our relationship and initiated team chemistry.
Putting the Pieces Together
I had an opportunity recently to use my strategies of joining a new team. A week ago, I joined a new team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) called the New Orleans Jesters. I met the boys for the first time an hour before the team’s second game and my first game of the season.
I settled the ball for a shot in our game against the Knoxville Force. Photo courtesy of Michael Democker, Nola.com/ The Times-Picayune.
I entered the locker room of a football stadium converted soccer field in Ocean Springs, MS. It was a humid southern-summer day. The locker room had an old high school gym fan instead of an air-conditioning unit. The problem was that it didn’t work. A wave of heat smacked my face as I entered the locker room.
20 fresh faces looked at me. My new teammates already had a couple weeks to get to know each other. They barely noticed me walk in. Many of them were talking about practices the previous week or about some funny story that I had no clue about. I was an outsider walking into a team that had already had built some team chemistry.
I approached my first new teammate, looked him in the eye and introduced myself. He told me his name and I paused to take a moment to repeat it back to myself. I wasn’t forgetting his name. I repeated this process until I had met everyone. After I knew all the boys, I felt comfortable in the team.
Entering the team was easier by holding eye contact, remembering new names and admiring soccer heroes. The result of the game showed a team coming together quickly as we won 3 to 1. I scored one of the three coming in as a substitute. My effort becoming a part of the team before the game translated into positive results for me and the team on the field.
Any player can become part of a team quickly like I did. I have offered some ways that I have found to work well when entering a new team. They may not work for all players, but they do work for me. It is important for players to find a way that works for them to become comfortable with a new team quickly. Soccer players are on many teams throughout their career. So, it is important for players to focus on team cohesion quickly because it will produce desirable results on the field for the player and the team.
All it takes is one player to start team building. Don’t be the player to wait for team cohesion to happen. Be the player who stands up and speaks up to start the chemistry. First impressions are everything. Make a lasting one.