Utility Players: Being the Ideal Teamplayer

(This is the sixth post in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

What makes a teamplayer ideal? Patrick Lencioni, writing about this in a 2016 book, may not have meant to highlight attributes that make up an established trend in baseball, but much of his content applies. That trend is the manufacturing, valuing, and usage of the Utility Player (a player who can play several positions competently, a sort of jack of all trades).

My Cardinals certainly are riding this trend with players like Matt CarpenterGreg Garcia, and Kolten Wong. They bring excitement to the clubhouse and the field with their versatility. But the player who has best modeled the worth of the Utility Player over the last decade is Ben Zobrist. Zobrist has been called the Father of Utility, and with good reason. He’s been at it most of his career, which includes playing for the last two World Series champions.

So what does Zobrist have, besides talent, that makes him the ideal teamplayer? What does a Utility Player possess that any teammate could possess, regardless of the team or their position, and be an ideal teammate? Here is a short list:

Hunger

Lencioni includes this as one of his three attributes of the ideal teamplayer. To be hungry means to want it more, to be self-motivated, to have what Bill Hybels calls a holy discontent. Hungry teammates want to be on the field, at the plate in the big moment, or dedicated to every workout and routine. They aren’t satisfied letting the rest of the team outdo them; they are passionate about carrying their weight and taking on more responsibility.

Flexibility

If you’re not careful, hunger can blind you. Hunger could lead you down the “it’s my way or the highway” path. To avoid that road, the ideal teamplayer values and pursues being flexible. If he’s not in the lineup every day, he trusts the coach. If he’s asked to move to another position for a short term to cover for an injured teammate, he trusts the decision. Hunger and flexibility must be present for the ideal teamplayer to maintain balance.

“Team First” Mentality

The Utility Player will fail with a “me first” mentality. Eventually, all teamplayers would. Building and maintaining a “team first” mentality is what the ideal teamplayer does. They show up on time, they meet deadlines, they squelch any temptation to complain, they even offer to give the rookie a shot at glory. The ideal teamplayer knows how to and works hard at staying off any ego trips.

So what about your life teams (family, work, community, ministry)? Maybe you aren’t the skilled Utility Player, but would your leader call you hungry? What’s your flexibility level? Who mostly comes in first in your thoughts, you or the team?

If God has placed you on that team as the Utility Player, how are you managing your perspective on your position? Your position on the team is what God designed for the team and for you. Stay hungry and flexible. Keep team first. Be ideal.

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