Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live by nearly every imaginable metric. Yet he is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Most people would cite his alleged use of PEDs as the primary reason for his exclusion, but they forget one other aspect - Barry Bonds was a bad teammate. It is easy to keep a guy like Bonds out of the hall when none of his former teammates are giving impassioned speeches to get him in.

Jeff Bagwell, a beloved team player from the same era facing the same PED allegations, made the Hall of Fame in 2017. Bagwell was a four (4) time All-Star. Bonds was a fourteen (14) time All-Star and seven (7) time league MVP.

Today, we will discuss how to coach our youth players to be more like Bagwell and less like Bonds.

Great Teammates Focus on Relationships

Being a great teammate is more than just making the extra pass or laying down a bunt. Teammates should strive to make other players better and understand their role within the team. Beyond even this, the best teammates understand that it takes a real relationship with their field or court-mates to really bring a team together.

This is never truer than in youth sports. When we think back on the glory days or playing little league, rarely do we remember how many home-runs were hit. Instead, the true memories are of friendships forged on hot summer days and cool windy nights. Thankfully, many kids understand this concept instinctively. It is still up to coaches, parents, and other coordinators to ensure that the sporting environment enforces the team over individual accomplishment, and fun over wins and losses.

Cultivating Teammates in Basketball and Baseball

So how exactly should a coach and/or parent approach this topic? We all want our youth athletes to succeed as well. This balance can often get lost in the mix. Here are a few ways to cultivate a team-first attitude in young players:

  • Consider team-building exercises and drills within practices. This can include smaller, more individual drills, or splitting up the usual teams to ensure that all kids are on the same smaller team with one another at some point.
  • Encourage communication. In order to build a strong team atmosphere, players must be comfortable to express themselves to coaches and teammates.
  • Establish roles for players. Youth basketball and baseball players likely understand their skill level. Rather than diminishing some and raising up others, try to frame each players’ role as an important responsibility that will help the team.

Listen to your players. This goes hand-in-hand with communication, but can be easy to forget. Players will be better teammates if they feel they are being heard by coaches and parents as well.

Setting Team Goals for Youth Athletes

Within most sports, individual statistics are often given precedence over team goals. Even young players know how many threes or base hits they have in a given game. This is a very easy mindset to get stuck in, but one we would like to avoid when cultivating team players at the youth level.

A great way to avoid this pitfall is to dole out team goals. The concept of a “game within a game” cannot be overstated for youth athletes. Coaches may choose to use this to their advantage in certain situations. Let’s break down two potential game plans which can lead to greater teamwork in basketball and baseball.

Basketball Game Plan for Greater Teamwork

There is nothing more tempting to any basketball player than throwing up fifty shots in a game. Just ask Kobe Bryant. But when we are trying to develop young basketball players into teammates, that isn’t the ideal approach. Here are a few examples of goals which coaches can set for their team before a game to encourage ball movement and overall team play.

  • Aiming for x amount of assists per game. (Note that this can be a difficult metric to plan for unless your team scores at a regular clip).
  • Reducing turnovers from the previous game. This both encourages better ball management and better teamwork in the offensive zone.
  • Set a goal for completed passes in a game/half. Again, it will be up to the coach’s discretion what a reasonable goal might be.
  • Getting more team rebounds and/or offensive rebounds.

Making Baseball into a Team Sport at the Youth Level

Unlike basketball, baseball is a more “individual” team sport. Other than turning a double play and hitting the cut-off, many plays are individual in nature. Despite this fact, there are still many ways to be a team player in baseball.

Going the route of team measurables in baseball is tricky. Players can play their hearts out and still make errors and fail to reach base. In such a luck based sport, even team-centric goals can lead to failure more than success.

Instead, you may choose to encourage communication out on the field. Get some chatter going. Anything which takes the emphasis off of individual performance and places it on encouraging teammates will ultimately develop a better team atmosphere for youth players.