Sometimes the affection is palpable.
Like when Taylorsville quarterback Dane Leituala makes sure they share the burden and reward of a fundraiser, or when Riverton cross-country runner Joey Nokes, breathless from winning the Highland Invitational, said the reason he pushes himself through the sport’s most challenging aspects is for the guys and girls who suffer with him.
Sometimes, it shows up in a thank you or a compliment, like when Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley takes the time to thank tight end Jake Jackson for the perfect block.
Most of the time, however, it manifests itself through good-natured teasing, like when the Granger football players try to make each other laugh during an interview.
But whether it’s a high school cross-country team that most people don’t pay attention to, or a college athlete fortunate enough to make all the important preseason watch lists, the most intriguing aspect of observing these athletes from the sideline isn’t marveling at what they can do with their athletic gifts.
It’s being lucky enough to watch the way they sacrifice, care for and lift those who sweat alongside them.
Being a teammate is complicated.
It’s friendship, but it’s laced with competition. Most teammates are competing for time, attention and opportunities. Therefore, this friendship can be one of convenience. It can be selfish, riddled with jealousy, resentment and even sabotage.
Honestly, it’s more common to see people struggle with how to find synchronicity with strangers, who just happen to play the same sport they love. They struggled to create chemistry. They work on their ability to trust each other.
And then there are the rare athletes.
They are talented, but they are also confident enough to understand the expression “A rising tide lifts all boats” — and most of the time they understand this innately.
It is just who they are.
They are generous with praise, liberal with compliments. These competitors find a way to be their best while bringing out the best in other people.
And they are, in my opinion, what makes sports so riveting, so transformative.
Yes, there are great individual players. They impress us with their skill, with their abilities and sometimes with their personalities. But it’s those players who find extraordinary success, and at the same time, help other people accomplish more than would have been possible on their own, who make us yearn for our own time on the field.
A couple of years ago, a player told me that being a college athlete is so difficult, so demanding, that if it wasn’t for his teammates, he would have quit. Not only did their friendship ease the challenges, but his affection for them made him want to show up with his best effort every single day.
It is a reality for most of us that what we cannot do for ourselves, we can do for someone else. And when that person is someone who has sacrificed with and for us, that desire increases exponentially.
The best teams have players locked in a cycle of generosity. They are not threatened by or jealous of a teammate's success. Somehow, when they find their way into this loving tide, they feel the joy and satisfaction of that success as if it were their own.1 comment on this story
And this dynamic is at play on fields, in gymnasiums and on cross-country courses all across the state right now. While we discuss the athletic feats of outstanding athletes and the incredible accomplishments of talented individuals, let us also celebrate the dynamic of being a great teammate.
Because while there are many skills and attributes that will transcend the field and help athletes throughout their lives, none is more critical or more necessary than the ability to sacrifice for others, to revel in their joy and to help those around us see greatness in themselves.