Exposing a Thief of Team and Individual Success

This was written by Indiana University Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach, Ed Schilling. Ed also has several years of experience coaching at the high school level. I believe that the lessons are applicable to any coaching situation and sport.

Exposing a Thief of Team and Individual Success

by Ed Schilling

One of my favorite things about athletics is the friendship and comradery that develops and strengthens throughout the course of a season. Memories from the really good teams that I have been a part of are not my statistics or minutes played. Those most meaningful memories are the brotherhood, the friendships, the good times in the locker room, and the joy of “going to war” together. Ask a professional athlete after he retires what he misses most, and he will probably tell you that he misses the relationships and putting on that uniform with his teammates and going to battle with those whom he has poured out blood, sweat and tears.

As great and fun as athletics can be, the joy can be stolen and the unique opportunity to form life-long friendships can be easily missed when the vision shifts from the “we” to the “me”. The goal in sharing insights from over three decades of my playing, coaching and parenting is to help max out the enjoyment, the recognition, the improvement and the winning and avoid the “thief” of these of athletic delights.


“If you want to be miserable, all you have to do is be selfish.” –Joyce Meyer

“Happiness ends where selfishness begins” –John Wooden.

When playing high school basketball in Lebanon, IN, we had a team that had a blast together. We loved playing ball with each other, whether in the park in the summer or in the gym during the season. We trusted in each other and believed that we had each other’s best in mind. As a result of our trust, we became one of the best teams in the state. Although I later played on a Division 1 conference championship and NCAA tourney teams, I probably never had more fun and enjoyment than I did with that high school team. Perhaps the foundation of the positive experience laid in the fact that neither the players nor the parents had selfish agendas. We wanted to win and we cared about each other. I learned a significant lesson from that team—if one wants to really enjoy the experience, then value the others on the team.

By the way, those parents had a great experience too. They didn’t worry about the coaching, stats, newspaper articles, rankings or awards—they positively supported and encouraged instead of complaining and manipulating for their child’s “benefit”. I have come to the conclusion after many years in athletic, that an athlete cannot truly enjoy the experience if the parents are negative at home. Players listen and absorb what the parents say and carry the emotion of home into the practice and games. If the parents are “killing” the other players or the coach, the player cannot help but to be impacted. The negative impact steals the joy from the game, ultimately hurting the team. When the atmosphere is positive and encouraging those attitudes are reflected in the energy, enthusiasm and effectiveness of the players.

Recognition and Promotion

“As the tide rises all the boats rise.” –John F. Kennedy

A misconception is that individual stats get players opportunities to play at the next level.  The truth of the matter is that every team has a high scorer. Scoring a lot doesn’t make or break a player’s future opportunities.

 If a player can “play”, college coaches recognize it.  Playing well and helping the team win ultimately produces more recognition than getting big statistical numbers.

Yes, “as the tide rises all the boats rise.”

There are examples after examples of players getting attention and promotion because of team success.  On the other hand, if the team doesn’t win, chances are that college recruiters will be skeptical of a player’s ability.  Of course, one cannot promise that when players (and parents) channel their energies into making the TEAM the best it can be, regardless of the player’s role, that everything will work out perfectly.  However, one can just about guarantee that if players (and parents) focus on personal stats and selfish agendas, promotion and recognition will be thwarted.

After decades in the basketball business, I cannot recall a single example of when a player got upset and “concerned” over numbers or minutes played where proved to be helpful to the player or to the team.


“If you STAY ready, then you don’t have to GET ready.” –-David Dawson

The players who don’t get to play in the game or don’t get a lot of minutes in the games are still almost always required to be at every practice and are expected to give their best effort at the practices.  This is a challenging part of athletics.   The attitude and effort given by that “bench player” in practice will significantly impact the team’s success.  Further, the attitude and effort will significantly impact the “bench player’s” potential to do well if, and when, he gets an opportunity in the game.

Unfortunately, I have seen the opposite happen so often when “bench players” lose their drive to practice with passion, then when their opportunity does come in the game, they perform poorly.  Further, staying focused and passionate on the bench during games is important. 

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” –Robert Frost

In every player’s career, he will often come face to face with the temptation to turn his focus toward himself and away from the team. What direction the player chooses at that “crossroad” will impact his future success, the team’s success, and also the quality of the player’s experience.

The decision to turn selfish can be prompted by a well-meaning family member, a peer looking to encourage, or even a sports agent trying to help make his client appear more marketable.

Subtle comments like, “you ought to be playing more minutes”, “you were open a lot and didn’t get the ball”, “you need to score more”, “don’t understand why so and so shoots so much”, “you are being played out of position”, “you need to show the scouts your shooting range”, etc., etc., can be the little spark that sets the forest of selfishness ablaze for the unsuspecting athlete.

The “disease of me” can affect the leading scorer or the player at the end of the bench. This can also impact a coaching staff member as well. An assistant coach who thinks his ideas need to be used more readily by the head coach can fall victim to the “sickness of selfishness” which could potentially weaken the team.


One of Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions for cancer: “something evil or malignant that spreads destructively”

When a team member (players and/or coaches) comes to the crossroad of moving his thoughts (which eventually will become actions) from what is best for the team to what is best personally, that negativity spreads on the basketball team and is detrimental force. It must be dealt with like cancer. Cancer treatment is often immediate, aggressive and fierce. To rid the body of cancer may require painful surgery or chemotherapy that uses strong chemical agents to kill the cancer cells. Perhaps you have heard of a player being referred to as “a cancer” on the team. A bad attitude acts like cancer to the body of a team. One player with a bad attitude has the potential of soon becoming two. Misery does love company.

The potential to be sucked into unhappiness is available to all who play. The “strong chemical agent” on a team is the head coach and it is often he who must recognize and diagnose the most appropriate treatment to rid the team of the cancer. However, the assistant coaches can be significant in helping cure the selfishness if it is caught in time. In many situations, a fellow teammate can see the “sickness” brewing and can try to save the player before he becomes too contagious.

Tornado Watch Vs. Tornado Warning: “A tornado watch is just to let folks know to be on the lookout for a possible tornado as conditions are favorable for one to occur in the area; whereas, a tornado warning is a notification that a tornado has been seen in the area.”

The key for a team is to understand that conditions are always right for a self-serving tornado to wreak havoc on the team and to be alert. And, if a selfish and bad attitude has been sighted, then urgent measures must be taken to protect the team from potential and pending disaster.

Protect What Matters Most

“Gentlemen, we will be successful this year, if you can focus on three things, and three things only: your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers.” –Vince Lombardi

Athletes invest a lot of time into their abilities. Players put in at least the required two hours plus per day of practice in season, and additionally work out in the weight room. The time investment into a season is almost impossible to calculate. That time is wasted if a season is corrupted by selfishness and negative attitudes. The good times, the life long relationships, and exhilarating victories that are prevented by a team infected with the horrible “cancer of selfishness” are worse than lost for they never happen when selfishness invades a team.

A Final Warning

The wise coach, athlete and parent will be constantly aware of the dangers of the insidious “disease of selfishness,” the thief who has the potential to steal, kill and destroy the unsuspecting athlete and team. Alertness and protective actions facilitate the highly positive desirable by-products of being part of a team—incredible enjoyment, recognition, life long friendships and victories.

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